booknotes: serving LGBTIQ library and archives users

The most recent batch of Early Reviewer titles offered at LibraryThing included this collection of essays for library and archives professionals: Serving LGBTIQ Library and Archives Users, edited by Ellen Greenblatt (Jefferson, N. C.: McFarland & Co., 2011). Being a librarian, I naturally put my name in for a copy and, lo!, I recieved it in the mail earlier this week.

Serving LGBTIQ... is a follow-up volume to Greenblatt's Gay and Lesbian Library Services (1990), now twenty years out of date. As Greenblatt observes in her introduction to Serving LGBTIQ, a lot has shifted in the queer community and in the world of library and information science during the past two decades.

Most obviously, the scope of the book has broadened to include more letters in the alphabet soup of sexual identity and orientation. Linguistically speaking, I really, really wish they'd just gone with "queer." The repeated use of "LGBTIQ" throughout the text was so clunky it made me want to scream ... plus it just makes me think of the identities they've left out (neither asexuality or poly make it in) rather than reassuring me they've been all-inclusive.  At the same time, there does seem to have been honest effort put into the contents of the volume to provide a diverse range of topics -- not simply essays about gay and lesbian folks under the guise of writing about non-straight communities in all their glorious iterations.

Another way in which the world of queer library services (indeed all library services) has irrevocably shifted since 1990 is the advent of the internet and the way in which online access to information and social networking has so rapidly saturated our culture. In 1990, few of us had heard of or made us of the World Wide Web; today most of my professional life is spent interacting in some fashion with the tools available to me via the internet (including the acquisition of this book and the blog post I'm currently writing about it). A significant number of essays in Serving LGBTIQ discuss the particular importance of internet access to queer folks as a source of information and as a space in which to connect with other queer people and explore their sexual desires. Given the popular concern about not only non-straight sexuality but also access to sexually explicit material online in general, a number of the essays stress the importance of ensuring that queer adults and teens (particularly) are not blocked from accessing needed information and social networking resources because of internet filters or other use policies.

I feel like I repeat this mantra a lot when it comes to anthologies, but it really is a truism: anthologies are almost by default uneven in nature. If you think this book might have something of use to you, I'd suggest at least browsing the table of contents before ordering ... unless you happen to have a book budget and this particular text fits the bill of a professional purchase. This is a book geared distinctly toward practicing librarians (and, to a lesser extent, archivists), with an emphasis on praxis over analysis or theorizing. There are a lot of essays that trend toward case studies or profiles light on analysis, and pieces which read more like policy recommendations rather than in-depth examinations of the topic at hand. I actually found the profiles of various institutions (such as community-based archives), initiatives (oral history projects, web-based history projects) and political case studies (attempts to ban YA literature with queer themes) to be the most interesting part and potentially useful part of the volume. The recommendations for collection development, outreach initiatives, and other ways to be "queer friendly" felt fairly boiler plate to me. Maybe for folks who feel intimidated by the idea of reaching out to, or supporting, non-straight patrons, the practical advice in this volume could cut through a lot of the anxiety or fear. As it was, I'm not sure I learned a whole lot I don't already know about the basics of being open and welcoming to all folks, regardless of orientation and self-presentation.

And ultimately, I suppose, the hope might be that guides like this will eventually become redundant or superfluous, as community spaces like libraries and archives move away from exclusionary practices (whether through intentional discrimination or simple thoughtlessness) and toward more democratic, inclusionary ones. It will be interesting to see what a volume of essays addressing these same (or similar) concerns will look like in 2031 - twenty years down the road.

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