The Evolution of Libraries as Welcoming and Inclusive Spaces

An interesting history.

Happy Pride Month! A great month to look at how libraries and library workers around the country support the LGBTQ+ community.

A History of the Rainbow Round Table

An excellent place to start is with the American Library Association’s (ALA) Rainbow Round Table. Founded in 1970 as the Task Force on Gay Liberation, the group had monumental goals when it formed. To fight job discrimination within the library world, to revise library classification schemes that list LGBTQ+ people as ‘mentally ill’ or ‘deviants’, and build and improve library collections to reflect those community members. It also created the Gay Bibliography, a list of gay-positive books, magazine articles, and pamphlets. Programming during Pride months followed, and the group also developed a Gay Book Award and created panels on LGBTQ+ literature for the ALA’s annual conference.

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Modern Libraries

Today library workers have several initiatives to make libraries more welcoming and inclusive and provide materials of interest and value to the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. Perhaps one of the most pressing issues at the moment is the rise of book banning, both in public and school libraries. Many challenged books are by and about members of this community. As part of their mission to make sure libraries are relevant to the community overall and provide resources equally to everyone, fighting these bans is a high priority for many libraries.

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Programming and Initiatives

But there are other ways libraries work to support the community. The Seattle Public Library has several initiatives, including Rainbow Storytimes for children, oral histories of the Seattle LGBTQ+ community, themed podcasts with contributions from authors, artists, and abolitionists, Pride-related programming, and an extensive resource list.

The New York Public Library has an enormous LGBTQ+ history collection with 100,000 volumes and more than 300 collections, including thousands of letters, manuscripts, photos, and posters. It’s also home to a social history of AIDS collection, which continues to grow. Other groups housed at the library include the National Archive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender history and the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Cincinnati Public Library has a robust set of local, regional, and online resources on its website, curated and updated by its staff. The listed resources include books in the library on LGBTQ+ topics, specialty health resources, information for teens, and a page dedicated to “Escapism” — a list of the best books, movies, TV shows, and podcasts focused on the LGBTQ+ community. There’s also a feature called Queer Gabby, in which people can ask questions focused on this community and get responses from library staff.

The Cherry Hill Public Library in Cherry Hill, NJ, has many resources and lots of programming. Everything from children’s events like Drag Queen Story Hour and Flamingo Rampant, a new story offered every weekday morning (currently, both story events are virtual), to resources for LGBTQ+ seniors. They also have extensive listings for local and national resources, including booklists, healthcare resources, and crisis resources.