Out of the Closet & Onto the Shelves: Librarians and the Oldest Gay Professional Organization in the U.S.

June is pride month, which means that our exhibit Out of the Closet & Onto the Shelves: Librarians and the Oldest Gay Professional Organization in the U.S. is up in the Marshal Gallery at the University of Illinois Library. This exhibit documents the early history and development of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association. This organization has a rich history documented in the archives, and we are excited to display these materials to library patrons this month. However, we couldn’t fit everything in the exhibit and we know that not everyone can make it to campus, so here we will share some highlights of GLBT Round Table history. Be sure to stop by the Marshall Gallery June 1-30 to view the exhibit, and visit the American Library Association Archives to see more of this exciting collection.

Barbara Gittings and author Isabel Miller kiss at the Task Force on Gay Liberation’s kissing booth at the ALA Annual Conference in Dallas 1971. RS: 13/6/16 Box 20.

Janet Cooper and Israel Fishman met in 1970 at the ALA Annual Conference in Detroit at the Social Responsibilities Round Table session, and decided to form an official gay and lesbian caucus at ALA. The Task Force on Gay Liberation would be the first of its kind in any national professional organization. It formed in a climate of social and political protest including the anti-Vietnam War movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, and the gay liberation movement in the wake of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Barbara Gittings, a self-described “full-time gay activist,” got involved in the Task Force soon after its formation and began compiling the first Gay Bibliography, a list of gay-positive books and information resources.

Header for the second edition of the “Gay Bibliography,” 1971. RS: 49/35/10 Box 1.

In its early years the Gay Task Force focused its efforts on improving library service and information access for gay and lesbian library users, and on the professional needs of gay and lesbian librarians including job discrimination. Gittings’ Gay Bibliography was part of this initial effort to improve patron access to gay information and materials that have a positive view on homosexuality. The Task Force also started the Gay Book Award in 1971, which would later become the Stonewall Book Awards.

Sign for the “Hug a Homosexual” booth run by the Task Force on Gay Liberation at the 1971 Annual Conference in Dallas. RS: 13/6/17 Box 1.

In June 1978, Sanford Berman’s article “Gay Access: New Approaches in Cataloging” was published in the Gay Teachers Association Newsletter, and later reprinted in Gay Insurgent. Berman argued that the current methods of classification and subject headings for gay materials were largely insensitive or even homophobic, including the headings “Homosexuals” and “Homosexuals, Male.” Berman proposed new headings like “Gays” and “Gay Men,” and called for more consistent application of these subject terms to fiction and non-fiction materials to facilitate access and discovery. He also proposed expanding the Dewey Decimal Classification schedules to have more specific notation for different subject within gay materials. Berman’s papers are also held by the ALA Archives, in Record Series 97/1/40.

Members of the Task Force on Gay Liberation at the ALA Annual Conference in Dallas 1971. Left to Right: Steve Wolf, Israel Fishman, Michael McConnell, Jack Baker, unidentified, Barbara Gittings, Mary McKenny, unidentified (half face in rear). RS: 13/6/16 Box 20.

Another highlight of the Gay Task Force’s early history is their efforts to combat job discrimination for gay librarians. In 1970, Michael McConnell was offered a job at the University of Minnesota Libraries, but his appointment was rejected by the Board of Regents after McConnell applied for a marriage license with his partner, Jack Baker. McConnell contested the rejection of his appointment, and spoke about his experiences at the 1971 Annual Conference. At this meeting the ALA Council also approved a resolution condemning discrimination again non-heterosexual library users and employees. The 1971 Annual Conference also played host to the Gay Task Force’s “Hug a Homosexual” kissing booth, which aimed to cause a scene and gain publicity for the newly formed Task Force.

The Task Force on Gay Liberation originally formed as a task force of ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT). It has been known by many names over the years, including the Gay Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Gay Lesbian and Bisexual Task Force (GLBTF). In 1999 the ALA Council voted to promote the GLBTF to round table status, and it became the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table, or GLBTRT. Because of this history the papers of the GLBTRT are held under the SRRT record series, in 49/35/1 and 49/35/10. More materials on the history of the GLBTRT can also be found in the personal papers of members of the Round Table, including the Roland Hansen Papers (97/1/75).

To see more materials from the rich history of the GLBT Round Table, visit our exhibit in the Marshall Gallery of the University of Illinois Library, on view June 1-30, and visit the ALA Archives to see the full collection!

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