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The Library as a Queer Space: Investigating Access and Provision for LGBTQ+ Patrons. Mark Ward

This paper investigates access and provision for LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer,+) users of Dublin’s public libraries. It seeks to build a complete picture of access and provision by surveying not only LGBTQ+ users on their experiences, but also by surveying heterosexual and LGBTQ+ staff on their attitudes towards providing an accessible service, as well as interviewing management on their approaches and policies. An unresearched aspect of Irish library life, this crucial research looks to integrate LGBTQ+ experiences with the landscape of literature on the subject, as well as staff policies, procedures and provision.

This paper details the work undertaken for this author’s MSc thesis, In Dublin’s Fair City: An Examination of Access and Provision for LGBTQ+ Patrons in Dublin’s Public Libraries and discusses and synthesises the responses gathered, culminating in a number of evidence-based, literature-supported, easy-to-follow set of recommendations that can be applied to any library service, showing how to make your library a welcoming, engaging and inclusive space for your LGBTQ+ patrons and community.

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The Library as a Queer Space: Investigating Access and Provision for LGBTQ+ Patrons. Mark Ward

  1. 1. The Library as a Queer Space: Investigating Access and Provision for LGBTQ+ Patrons Mark Ward, South Dublin Libraries March 2019
  2. 2. Introduction - Remit (4 Aims – to investigate access for LGBTQ+ patrons in Dublin’s libraries; to examine whether LGBTQ+ patrons’ information needs are being provided for; to explore library staff’s attitudes to access and provision for LGBTQ+ patrons; to investigate library management’s approaches and policies regarding LGBTQ+ patrons) - First of its kind / Acceptance, but lack of ‘comprehensive research’ - LGBTQ+ = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, + - Presentation Scope: Surveys
  3. 3. Literature - “LGBT people continue to struggle with discrimination and prejudice” (Higgins et al., 2016) - LGBTQ+ community needs to “see themselves reflected (…) within a library’s four walls” (Ritchie & McNeill, 2011) - Libraries are/have been hugely important to the community (too many quotes to list!) - Notion of Demarcated LGBTQ+ funds. (If community is 5% of Dublin, then it has a stock purchasing power of €132,591.90) - No Irish policies by libraries or national associations, inclusion advocated - As basic as considering barriers: for trans/nonbinary patrons, avoid gender-specific bathrooms, give ‘other options’ to existing ones. - “there is no monolithic queer experience” (Clarke) – and this is reflected in LGBTQ+ information needs, although white gay men are the best provided for, and bisexual and trans patrons the worst provided for. No literature on bisexual library patrons anywhere.
  4. 4. Literature on Access - To interfile, or not to interfile? (Gay ghetto/de-queering the library/items found serendipitously/third way: spine-labelled and interfiled/separate collection will put some off/ recommendation; interfiled and spine-labelled with regular displays) - Cataloguing: Specifics, not generalizations. Also, libraries need to tell publishers what they need from readymade MARC records. Also, tools out there: DeWal’s Homosaurus (and look at how community tags) - Bibliographies for the LGBTQ+ community are ESSENTIAL. - Provision of LGBTQ+ community information is ESSENTIAL AND FREE.
  5. 5. Literature on Provision - Provision for LGBTQ+ patrons are often overlooked. - Chapman’s List: Staff awareness raising; not using budgetary cuts as an excuse not to provide; a lack of direct request not taken to mean a lack of interest; LGBTQ+ stock may not be immediately visible through suppliers and/or may require special purchase; that such items are made known; that acquisitions team remain up-to-date; library education should focus more on diversity. - Huge amount of calls, including Irish calls, for more staff awareness training, since it makes ‘a notable difference’ - LGBT Library Certification (Brandstedt, 2013; 2017): increased visibility of materials, of purchase requests, and positive comments on initiative. This could work with local or national Irish LGBTQ+ organizations, or even a Rudai23 course.
  6. 6. More Literature on Provision - Purchasing LGBTQ+ stock: One Size Does Not Fit All, but its purchase does validate. - Keep up-to-date (Look at Lambda Literary Awards in US, Polari Prize in UK or Publishing Triangle Awards, also American Library Association’s Over the Rainbow biannual list) - Fiction for all, not just “white, gay, middle-class men” - It’s important to remember that LGBTQ+ stock provision must be in a variety of formats: eBooks, eAudio – added privacy, available 24/7 - Web resources are crucial to the community – LGBTQ+ people are more frequent internet users, usage is crucial to “community health and wellbeing” although unverified sources abound: curation of these sources would be hugely beneficial. Also, “internet is no substitute for a well-stocked library collection” - LGBTQ+ Library Portal/E-Resources. Committed presence advocated by O’Leary, 2005: screen for LGBTQ+ patron requests, details on LGBTQ+ services, bibliography, etc.
  7. 7. Methods - Branching survey – Total responses = 70. Three branching routes: LGBTQ+ library patrons (n=34) Heterosexual library staff (n=28) LGBTQ+ library staff (n=8) - Low number of responses, despite promotion and library staff survey delivered to entire sample.
  8. 8. LGBTQ+ Library Users - 50% of responded identified as gay – gay men? - 70% of LGBTQ+ library users found their libraries accessible - “Do you feel included in your library’s range of services as an LGBTQ+ person – 35% said Yes and 35% said Sometimes - City Centre locations were favoured, with libraries further out attracting diminishing results, supporting notion of gay migration.
  9. 9. LGBTQ+ Library Users – Shelf Arrangement - All Dublin public libraries interfiled stock BUT respondents favoured a separate collection. This is not advocated however, as a separate collection would only have a set amount of space, against the ebb and flow of interfiling, so, perhaps, permanent LGBTQ+ display shelving alongside an interfiled collection? - Respondents are not interested in spine-labelling BUT this could be important for library staff, and for efficient retrieval
  10. 10. LGBTQ+ Library Users – Bibliographies - Despite the wealth of literature supporting their usage for this community, 87% of respondents said their library either didn’t provide one, or they were unsure if they did. Despite labour-intensive when creating them, they are essential, particularly with an interfiled collection.
  11. 11. LGBTQ+ Library Users – Staff - Would LGBTQ+ users approach staff with an LGBTQ+ query? Over half said yes, or currently do, which is positive, however, almost a third said “it would depend on the request” – privacy? Explicitly lgbtq+ in title/cover? - Are staff knowledgeable on LGBTQ+ issues? Close to half answered ‘Some Staff Are’ but only 12% said ‘Yes’ – a further reason to advocate LGBTQ+ awareness training.
  12. 12. LGBTQ+ Library Users – Information Needs - 59% said the libraries met their needs, whilst 38% said they sometimes met them – very good, but if 50% of the respondents are gay men, is this indicative of the community at large’s needs? - This survey had a very small number of bisexual (9%) and trans (3%) respondents. Impossible to draw any conclusions, further research needed.
  13. 13. LGBTQ+ Library Users – Provision - Fiction, which the lit review identified as important, was here too with it garnering the highest response rate. - Items, however, weren’t easily found – over half of the respondents only ‘Sometimes’ found desired items. All retrieval overall seems to be meet, but eventually. - When asked if library provided a good collection for the LGBTQ+ community, over half were ‘Not Sure’ and a quarter said ‘No’: consultation with the community could help this. - Does your library provide events/exhibitions to the LGBTQ+ community? 70% combined said ‘Not Sure’ and ‘No. If not a lack of provision, then certainly a lack of marketing. - From things identified earlier in the lit review, very little of the specifics were met.
  14. 14. LGBTQ+ Library Users – Community Information - No more than six respondents identified any avenue of community information. Most responded ‘none of the above’. Considering that the literature and policies, including Irish policies (Higgins et al., 2016; Olesen & Galway LGBT Interagency Working Group) are calling for this, and its acquisition is largely free in nature, this is a serious issue that needs rectification.
  15. 15. Surveying Staff - 80% of staff surveyed identified as heterosexual, with the remaining 20% as LGBTQ+. This survey was sent to the complete sample of Dublin library staff. - Heterosexual staff (n=28) mostly felt confident in answering LGBTQ+ queries (60%) but an overwhelming amount of staff said they would attend LGBTQ+ awareness training (89%). This training should be implemented. - LGBTQ+ staff (n=8) were ‘out’ to varying degrees. Only half were involved in promoting LGBTQ+ avenues in their library. - Like the LGBTQ+ library users, but more so here given the complete sample penetration, the low response rate is problematic.
  16. 16. Surveying Staff on Access - Regarding library accessibility, heterosexual staff were more positive, with LGBTQ+ staff more negative. - Regarding shelf arrangement, all LGBTQ+ staff were aware of their library’s arrangement, contrasting 70% of heterosexual staff. All of Dublin’s libraries interfile LGBTQ+ stock. - Regarding this arrangement, 82% of heterosexual staff were unsure if this arrangement was the most accessible one, with half of LGBTQ+ staff arguing that it wasn’t. - Regarding if their library validates the LGBTQ+ community, heterosexual staff largely answered Yes, with only 37% of LGBTQ+ staff agreeing.
  17. 17. Surveying Staff on Provision - Regarding if their library provided for the LGBTQ+ community, with its stock, staff and services, LGBTQ+ staff (60%) were much more aware of the provision, with the same amount of the staff unsure. Consultation with willing LGBTQ+ staff is advised. Emphasis on the willing. - Regarding LGBTQ+ community groups, which the literature advocates participation with, the highest affirmative involvement came from heterosexual library staff, almost 30% of whom said ‘Yes, we would work with them’, however, NO LGBTQ+ library staff answered any variation of Yes.
  18. 18. Conclusions - Largely, LGBTQ+ users found their libraries accessible, and that they provided for their needs, but neither were without their issues: users advocated a separate collection, and for increased visibility and validation, as well as easier retrieval of items, and more marketing of LGBTQ+ events/exhibitions. - Also, whilst large-scale access and provision were mostly provided, the smaller but crucial issues that make up these concerns, such as accurate cataloguing that reflects the community’s needs and ensuring provision – across the board – of satisfactory community information, are not adequately provided for, and thus such success in access and provision will be short-lived without this attention to detail.
  19. 19. Conclusions - Heterosexual staff, in line with LGBTQ+ users, found the libraries accessible, but requested more training on the topic. - LGBTQ+ staff were more critical of the levels of access and discussions with both LGBTQ+ staff and LGBTQ+ community groups are advocated. - Whilst not discussed much in this presentation, due to most being covered with management interviews, library policies need to address LGBTQ+ users; if not local, then certainly national policies. One option would be to look at a national LGBTQ+ library initiative, similar to Healthy Ireland, which would certain aid visibility and validation - There remains more than can be done – from increased marketing and promotion of LGBTQ+ stock, services and events, to organizing events outside usual times (e.g.. Pride), as well as a stronger LGBTQ+ presence in city centre libraries.
  20. 20. Recommendations Arising from Research - Discussions with willing LGBTQ+ staff to address criticisms - Discussions with LGBTQ+ community groups, from welcoming them to the library to partnering with them and providing space for events. - Providing training on LGBTQ+ users and their issues, for all library staff. - Investigate a national strategy or initiative arising from these issues - Encourage the use of tools already known specifically for this community, such as LGBTQ+ bibliographies, and more accurate cataloguing. - Encouraging more diversity in provision, as well as providing both general – such as a listing of LGBTQ+ community groups – and specific community information. - Visibly validating the community is key.
  21. 21. Recommendations for Further Research - Specific research targeting underrepresented members of Dublin’s LGBTQ+ public library users, such as trans and bisexual users. - Replicable research throughout Irish public libraries to see what more can be learned on the topic, and how the topic shifts geographically, and outside of a capital city. - Complementary research in other library contexts; academic, special, health, etc. - Research undertaking a more qualitative approach - Stocklists to see if the depth and breadth of LGBTQ+ literature is being provided
  22. 22. Any Questions? Mark Ward, Librarian Library Development - South Dublin Libraries