Libraries celebrate GLBT Book Month

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By Steve Zalusky

Libraries are open to all. They are welcoming places where people of all ages and cultures are comfortable.  For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender individuals, libraries provide valuable information and resources, in particular promoting GLBT literature in their collections.

This month, libraries throughout the nation will be acknowledging that role by celebrating June as GLBT Book Month™. Originally established in the early 1990s by The Publishing Triangle as National Lesbian and Gay Book Month, the annual celebration will be held this year for the first time under the umbrella of the American Library Association (ALA).

The nationwide celebration of the authors and writings that reflect the lives and experiences of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is coordinated through the ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT). The GLBTRT is the oldest LGBT professional organization in the United States. Over the years, the ALA has supported LGBT literature, establishing in 1971 the Stonewall Book Awards and, in 2011, launching the Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children's & Young Adult Literature Award, which is part of the association’s annual Youth Media Awards celebration.

The Publishing Triangle, which has been a leader in positioning GLBT books at the forefront of literature, had the foresight to initiate this event almost a quarter century ago, and we are very proud to continue this important observance.” said ALA President Courtney Young. “We are incredibly appreciative of the historic work and brave first steps taken by many authors and publishers over the past 50 years to bring recognition to GLBT literature.”

“It is an awareness campaign to celebrate authors and writings that reflect the life and experiences of the GLBT community,” said Ann Symons, chair of the GLBTRT. Symons said it is important to spread awareness because, although materials are easy to find in urban areas, in some libraries, such as small, rural public libraries, materials may be more difficult to find. Also, she said, in elementary schools, for example, some librarians “shy away from buying things they believe will cause controversy in their community. Or people think they have no GLBT population that they are serving. So, for us, it’s an advocacy campaign as well as focusing on the literature, to get libraries involved in serving their public.” The need to advocate for great collections is shown, she said, “When you take a title, even a Stonewall award title, and you go to OCLC and you look to see what libraries in the U.S. have it, and you find whole states that don’t own a title of an award-winning book.”

Symons believes that  libraries should be conducting programs featuring GLBT books or holding discussions about the importance of building GLBT book collections.“Libraries serve everyone who lives, works and learns in their community, whether it’s a school community or an academic community or a public community.  “You can’t tell who is walking in the door what their interests are. It’s easy to not buy materials. ‘My budget is limited. We don’t have anybody who wants it.’ And so we want to turn that discussion around.”

Symons said libraries are fortunate in being able to draw from lists of books such as the Stonewall Book Awards winners. In addition, the GLBTRT has a Rainbow Book List Committee that recommends titles, as well as the Over the Rainbow Book List Committee. “(With) those three lists, a library that’s looking for the best of the best should be easily able to put together a basic collection.” In addition, Symons said, the GLBTRT recently entered into a collaboration with Lambda Literary Foundation to use the Rainbow Booklist in their GLBT writers in the school program.

When it relates to promoting GLBT literature, “Who better to do that than librarians?” said Peter Coyl GLBTRT chair-elect. “People look to librarians as experts, because we are experts about literature, or we at least know the questions to ask, to help people with readers’ advisory or finding the answers to what they are looking for.” Individual libraries, such as the Dallas Public Library, where Coyl is the southeast district manager, a book a day is being tweeted for the month of June with the GLBT Book Month hashtag.

To help libraries mark the occasion, ALA has launched the GLBT Book Month online resource center, featuring tipsheets and downloadable materials. Also featured will be an ALA Graphics poster and bookmark available for purchase highlighting “This Day in June,” written by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Krystna Litten, and published by Magination Press, an imprint of the American Psychological Association.   Pitman’s book about gay pride is the 2015 winner of the Stonewall Book Award, Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award.

GLBT Book Month will culminate with many GLBT events and programs at ALA’s 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco.  ALA will kick off its annual conference’s Opening General Session with speaker Roberta Kaplan, “superstar litigator” and adjunct professor at the Columbia Law School whose involvement in United States v. Windsor helped to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Other programs at Annual Conference will include a preconference on library outreach to GLBT people, sessions on curating the history of GLBT activism, the evolution and acceptance of collecting LGBT materials in libraries, use of GLBT materials in libraries, serving transgender patrons and the Stonewall Book Awards Program. 

Visit the GLBT Book Month website for suggestions about ways to celebrate GLBT Book Month in your community, including links to awards list of GLBT materials and listings of GLBT-themed events at ALA conferences. The site is new, so check back often for new information and resources as they are added.