Symposium Recap of ‘Celebrating LGBTQIA+ Librarianship in Tough Times’
Pride Month Symposium
Published: August 31, 2023 by Eori Tokunaga
As part of the national celebration of Pride Month, the San José State University iSchool hosted a free online symposium on July 5th, 2023, titled “Celebrating LGBTQIA+ Librarianship in Tough Times.” The symposium began with a brief introduction of keynote speaker, Deb Sica, by Dr. Anthony Chow. The symposium also featured a panel discussion with speakers Melinda Borie, Ana Elisa de Campos Salles, Michael Wallace-Davis, Jr., SJSU iSchool Alumnus Angela Ocaña, and SJSU iSchool Alumnus Dontaná McPherson-Joseph.
Keynote speaker Deb Sica opened up the keynote presentation with a historical background on LGBTQIA+ representation in the field of Library and Information Science. Sica highlighted the first time that the “Task Force on Gay Liberation” met at the ALA Annual Conference in Detroit, Michigan on July 1st, 1970, just one year after the Stonewall Riots took place. In 1971, the ALA Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas announced the first winner and only entry of the Gay Book Award (now known as the Stonewall Book Award): “A Place for Us” by Isabel Miller (also known as “Patience and Sarah”). The culmination of years of supporting LGBTQIA+ folks in librarianship, creating bibliographies, and questioning subject headings would eventually transform the Task Force on Gay Liberation into the modern-day ALA Rainbow Round Table.
Sica then went into her personal background about how she grew into the librarian that she is today, while also talking about the rising anti-LGBTQIA+ legislative efforts and efforts impacting the United States.
“We have come close to what our late and beloved activist and thinker, Urvashi Vaid, coined as virtual equality with just enough rights to feel better, but not to be truly protected. Just enough space so we weren’t dehumanized in public or harassed in the workplace. Just enough, nearly equal, not unequivocally equal. But in all honesty, there has never been an end to our struggle.”
After the keynote presentation, the symposium moved into a Q&A session with Deb Sica and some of the panelists before heading into the panel discussion portion of the event: “How LGBTQIA+ Librarians Shape Libraries Today.”
The panelists talked about a variety of topics impacting LGBTQIA+ librarianship, such as banned book challenges, librarianship burnout, collection development, job discrimination, and diversity tokenism.
“Don’t just put up the LGBTQ books during June. Put them up in all of your displays. When Black History Month comes around, put up Black Queer books. When Arab American History Month comes around, put up Queer Arab books. We don’t just come out and exist in June. We exist all year round. So, I think for both supporting the LGBTQ community and also educating others about the LGBTQ community, having our books in all of the displays where we are relevant, which is all of them, I think is a definite consideration.” - Dontaná McPherson-Joseph, Collection Management Librarian, Oak Park Public Library
Below are some best practices as provided by the speakers during the symposium:
- While it is important to have all staff members respect patrons and be educated on LGBTQIA+ matters, it’s even more important to have youth librarian staff members who are attentive, in touch, and able to support LGBTQIA+ youth.“That is the time, I think, when all people come into the realization of gender and realization of sexuality.” – Deb Sica
- Understand, and help your staff understand, the reasons for
why it’s important to be educated on LGBTQIA+ issues. “If
your team isn’t on board, you can fall into toxic allyship where
you’re trying to do something and then folks are pushing back.”
- Angela Ocaña
- Everyone’s efforts are required in making the library a more
welcoming space.“Do your part no matter where you are in the
library or the section of the library that you work in.” -
Michael Wallace-Davis, Jr.
- Inclusivity is about teamwork. “You can’t have one person
who is raising all these issues…People stop listening if it’s
always the same person…maybe you need to get someone who is
traditionally a little quieter to raise that one [issue] so it
doesn’t seem like it’s just your issue because it’s not.” -
- Know where your patrons are coming from and value their need
for privacy. “Some teens have trepidation about coming up to
the desk and voicing what they’re looking for…what’s been really
popular at some branches where I’ve worked is doing a short Dewey
Decimal Subject…in a bookmark form or someplace in the teen
section to just help them find the information they’re looking
for.” – Ana Elisa de Campo Salles
- Make sure to have policies in place that stand behind your libraries DEIA efforts. “In addition to having a reconsideration policy that’s up to date, I think that you should also have a collection strategy statement or some kind of collection statement that is public on your website…On our website, in very clear language, it tells people what our priorities are at the library and among those are we strive to have a diverse and inclusive collection as we possibly can, given the constraints of the publishing world.” – Dontaná McPherson-Joseph
To watch the full symposium, click here.
To view the transcript via DOCX, click here.
To view the transcript via PDF, click here.