It has been well documented that the information needs of minority groups has been a struggle in public libraries across the country and beyond. Notwithstanding, there is one group of individuals who are–more often than not–poorly represented or go totally unnoticed by librarians. As described by Loverich and Degnan, the “invisible minority” includes members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning community or (hereafter) LGBTQ.
Even when librarians work to develop collections that reflect the diversity of their communities, the LGBTQ segment of those communities often goes unacknowledged. As a public institution, it makes sense to expect public library collections to be representative of their diverse community.
Recent literature indicates that there is a lack of information materials on LGBTQ individuals and the unique lives they lead in our public libraries. Historically speaking, three significant studies have been published which discuss the information needs of lesbians and gay men. All of the studies focused on a single segment of the LGBT community, with little to no attention being paid to “questioning persons, or those who are just beginning their voyage of self-discovery and exploration in terms of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.” In 1990, Creelman and Harris focused their study on lesbians and their information needs during the initial phase of coming out and accepting their lesbian identity and what they discovered was that libraries actually do play a major role during this time of their lives. Furthermore, their project showed that their participants were aware of the library being a [vital] source of information and that they relied on “printed sources second only to other lesbians”.
Whitt took on the charge of finding what the information needs of lesbians were in a study conducted in 1993. This study surveyed 141 lesbians living in and around a metropolitan area of North Carolina. Their assessment included not only library usage and library satisfaction, it also examined information needs as they exist within the situational contexts of the women’s lives. The results concluded that during the initial stages of identity acceptance, the library is used frequently and is viewed as a vital source of information. This is especially true due to the fact that typically, when women are in the mist of discovering their true sexual identity, they have yet to become a part of the LGBT community and therefore, have not forged relationships with other lesbians. Hence, the library was the chosen entity that these individuals relied on time and time again to help them through the early stages of coming out. Upon the acceptance of their new sexual identity, the information needs for lesbians changed in that they became “more specific and resources were consulted with more discrimination.” Lastly, the study revealed low satisfaction with the library’s services due to a meager and outdated collection and that librarians typically were unable to serve this [unique] population adequately due to their own lack of ignorance, understanding and homophobia.
One sui generis mentioned in Whitt’s study was about how a woman found a creative solution to the problem with lesbians having a safe, comfortable place to go when seeking information. This place happened to be her home where she, over several years collected materials directly related to the lesbian lifestyle. Indeed, her collection of over 600 titles, including works by women outside of the United States or Western Europe were being lent out at the rate of about 20 per month.
Whitt’s study focused on the information needs of lesbians who were in varying stages of accepting their identity. Additionally, Whitt stressed the importance of additional research that needs to be conducted and  that “research into the attitudes of librarians is also needed.”
Likewise, Garner’s Changing Times article (2000) delves into the information needs of the LGBT community of Denver, Colorado, particularly during the “coming out” phase. The results showed that “the Denver LGBT community was more likely to use the community center and LGBT bookstores than the library when seeking LGBT information. Furthermore, the survey echoed past similar surveys in many ways (e.g. Creelman and Harris and Whitt), but it also uncovered a few new trends that were not previously evident, such as the explosion of the Internet 
Braverman prize essay winner, Jennifer Downey’s 2005 paper addresses issues surrounding the invisible minority, also known as the LGBT community and public library settings. Downey contends that ”librarians have a responsibility to provide quality, fair service. Being public in nature and identification, it is reasonable to expect public library collections to reflect the diversity of their communities.” Historically speaking, books that dealt with homosexuality-either directly or indirectly-oftentimes, were presented as a medical or psychological issue that had to be alleviated or stifled. Today, society, in significant ways, has made [positive] strides in relation to LGBTQ individuals. No longer are they seen as people with some type of mental illness or associated with profound psychological disorders such as bestiality and pedophilia.
Indeed, since the 1980’s and 1990’s, there has been an explosion in the publishing world of GLBT-themed books, magazines and articles that give voice and affirmation for people who identity as same-gender-loving (SGL) individuals. However, it is no secret that many public libraries still lag behind when it comes to their collection of GLBT materials. ”Many choose to take a passive stance when it comes to collecting GLBT-themed materials, thus perpetuating the heterosexist status quo and allowing the GLBT population to remain ignored and invisible”.
Downey’s essay’s section named Suggestions and Solutions, notes that there are a few exceptions of public libraries that have stepped up and taken action in making their collection more inclusive. The Berkeley Public Library, The Oakland Public Library, and The San Francisco Public Library, all located in California’s Bay Area are three shining beacons of light as they have recognized the LGBTQ community as an important, viable sector of their communities and, in as much, have made strong “efforts at building extensive GLBT-themed collections”. Below are a few examples of their efforts:
Oakland’s library marks its GLBT-themed books with a rainbow sticker on the spine for easy identification.
San Francisco’s library is home to possibly the largest and best collection of GLBT-themed materials in any public library, with a thriving Gay and Lesbian Center containing books, magazines, films, sound recordings, photographs, and other materials.
Suffice it to say, GLBT-themed collection development efforts must be proactive.
Librarians have an obligation to ”challenge the myths and misconceptions that prevail about GLBT patrons and their information needs.” Therefore, homophobia and discomfort have no place in the selection process. On the same token, internal censorship can be curtailed ”through library workers’ proactive stance and creativity.”All the suggestions and solutions outlined in Downey’s essay will take effort and being proactive plays a major role in making them come to life and in the ”spirit of partnership and proactive thinking, librarians can help ensure that the “invisible minority” receives the attention and information it deserves.”
Downey’s essay echoes many sentiments outlined in the article Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Library Users: Overcoming the Myths authored by Ellen Greenblatt in 2003.
She contends that “lesbians, gay men, bisexual, and transgender people are bound together by common values, concerns, histories and oppressions.” Additionally, these individuals form [meaningful] ”affectional and sexual relationships with members of the same sex and suffer from heterosexist prejudice because of these relationships. To that end, this invisible minority are ”profoundly affected by social and legal repression stemming from sexism and genderism.”
In her article, Greenblatt explains that ”too often members of the LGBTQ community–and thereby their needs and desires–have been rendered invisible or subsumed under the needs of others. ” The traditional estimation of the gay and lesbian community is about ten (10) percent of the population of the United States, courtesy of the groundbreaking Kinsey report published in 1948 and 1953 respectively. Since that time, other survey estimations ranged anywhere from 1% to 9%, with most clustering at the high end of the range –from about 6% to 9%.
Greenblatt identified two major obstacles facing LGBTQ users in libraries and they include misinformation and prejudice. ”Heterosexism and genderism pervade library policies, services, and collections.” Unfortunately, ”many library workers are either unaware of these biases or have never questioned their validity.” Furthermore, these kinds of issues are notoriously ignored in library and information science schools across the world and are not a priority of national and state library organizations. In the end, it is not surprising that librarians are commonly uninformed about or indifferent to the needs of LGBTQ patrons.
In addition to identifying obstacles, she also outlined three (3) common myths associated with LGBTQ patrons.
Myth #1: “LGBTQ people don’t live in my community or attend my school.”
According to the Denver Post, the 2000 United States Census documented gay and lesbian same-sex households in all but two of Colorado’s 63 counties. However, this number does not reflect the number of questioning or transgendered individuals residing in and around the area. Therefore, the likelihood of LGBTQ people living in communities [in North America and across the world] is viable.
Myth #2: “LGBTQ people don’t use my library.”
Due to the perceived (and oftentimes very real) stigma attached to sexual identity and gender expression issues, LGBTQ patrons tend to be very private about their information needs and therefore are reluctant to check out books, let alone interact with staff members. It is of the utmost importance for library staff to realize that LGBTQ people are frequently “stealth” patrons who do not appear on their radar. Hence, it would behoove library staff to not assume SGL people don’t live in their community.
Myth #3: Offering services and materials to these people is promoting their ‘lifestyle.”
Of all the myths, this is perhaps the most commonly expressed by librarians. Statements such as “That stuff doesn’t belong in libraries” or “I don’t approve of that lifestyle” are commonly used by librarians as a way to reason their exclusion of materials they deem as unworthy of being a part of their collection. As with other professions, librarians are instructed to avoid making moral, self-righteous judgments on materials that don’t fit the mold that they have designated as right. Librarians have an obligation to resist efforts that ”systematically exclude materials dealing with any subject matter, including gender or sexual orientation.”
Lastly, Greenblatt calls for library organizations and associations to provide help with outreach projects, programming and collection development and discussions of affairs that directly affect LGBTQ patrons. Thus, by understanding, being proactive, and taking advantage of the available resources, librarians can assure LGBTQ patrons of a friendly and supportive atmosphere in their libraries.
In the winter of 2006, Pascal Lupien addressed user perceptions and satisfaction in an academic environment at three universities located in Canada. The students were enrolled in GLBT and Sexual Diversity studies in collections and information services. Thus, these students had full access to GLBT resources, instructional resources and the quality of reference service that students receive from library staff . The study aimed to determine whether [or not] students enrolled in GLBT/Sexual Diversity programs at Canadian universities felt that their information needs were being met by their academic library.
Additionally, the study focused on ”collections and information services, with collection specifically dealing with availability and access to GLBT studies books, journals, research databases and other materials.” Likewise, ”the information services component includes the service students receive from their library’s research help desk–including level of expertise and comfort level of staff with GLBT/Sexual Diversity issues–as well as the availability of instruction and instructional resources for GLBT/Sexual Diversity studies.”
Lupien utilized a written questionnaire as the survey instrument. This questionnaire was distributed to students enrolled in GLBT/Sexual Diversity programs and courses and to faculty and staff members. Participants were made aware of the purpose of the study was to assess their [specific] needs in order to help the library community improve services and resources for them According to the study, 410 surveys were distributed and a total of 148 forms were returned and analyzed, which was a response of thirty-six (36) percent.
Many of the results and conclusions Lupien expressed in his study are similar, if not exactly the same when compared to other related research studies. For example, it showed that the “importance of having an up-to-date print collection of GLBT studies materials cannot be overstated.”Additionally, poor visibility was also cited as an issue. To help combat this, participants suggested that “academic libraries with GLBT/Sexual Diversity programs could do more to promote resources and services to students.” As echoed in Greenblatt’s 2003 study, among others,
In 2003, Saeki wrote a philosophical paper entitled “Outing the library: Lesbian and Gay Collection Development and Access in Public Libraries.” This paper examined the issue of alleged self-censorship at the Lexington (Kentucky) Public Library’s downtown branch. The library decided to pull Lexington’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization’s newsletter, GLSO News and the Louisville-based The Letter, both gay-produced publications from its front lobby tables, citing a policy that forbids the distribution of political materials written from a single viewpoint in November 2003.
This action led the GLSO News editor to protest the library, stating that the newsletter was indeed not political propaganda, but was designed to foster community-building by advertising gay and lesbian events and information. Notwithstanding, after the local newspaper (Lexington Herald-Leader) printed a story documenting the removal [of the gay-produced publications], the library decided to reinstate the GLSO News, claiming that it was a ‘misunderstanding’ and that only The Letter was supposed to be moved because it was not locally based.
Furthermore, Saeki posed the question of whether or not the Lexington case was a ”blatant example of heterosexism or even homophobia.” She explained that “nearly invisible instances of heterosexism occur daily in libraries, making it difficult for lesbian and gay patrons to find information about themselves in public libraries.” Saeki adheres to the notion that librarians must make a deliberate attempt to embrace and understand their lesbian and gay patrons, beyond the confines of simply storing books on the library shelves.
Lending to her stance, she pinpointed previous studies conducted by Whitt (1999), Joyce and Schrader (1997), among others, about how lesbians and gays identify the library as a significant source of information, but because of antagonistic encounters during the early stages of coming out, many never returned later in their lives. Additionally, as stated by Loverich and Degnan in 1999 and Greenblatt in 2003, perhaps the most basic problem that could lead to a lesbian or gay patron’s dissatisfaction with a library is its mediocre and often outdated [LGBT] collection.
Along with collection issues, “Library of Congress Subject Headings has historically been slow to adopt words in common usage as controlled vocabulary.” For example, the term ‘homosexuality’ is no longer solely a cross-reference term from sexual perversion; however the bibliographic control concept of colocation still places bisexuality, homosexuality and lesbianism next to sexual deviations in the LC classification scheme.”
This collection development practice makes accessing LGBT materials much more difficult for patrons to locate and often when materials are found, they usually have a negative view of LGBTQ people, and, thus, are rendered useless by LGBTQ patrons.
LGBTQ library users are often embarrassed or afraid to ask a librarian for assistance when seeking materials related to their circumstances. Therefore, it is the librarian’s responsibility to take the initiative in making it easier for these patrons to access their collection. Access tools such as pathfinders and booklists, as well as in-house displays timed with such events as in-the-life pride celebration month would provide interested parties with a guided tour of the library’s collections.
Saeki stated in her paper that, in the end, librarians are representatives of their respective libraries and in their quest to serve all members of their community; they must put their moral compass to the side and at the same time, ensure that their collections don’t “perpetuate heterosexist social structures.”
In 1997, Joyce and Schrader treaded into new territory in regards to information needs and unique communities. In their study, they focused on the hidden population of gay males in Edmonton (Alberta) and their perceptions of how successful the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) met their needs. Additionally, their article noted that while collection teams 
To answer the survey question, the researchers utilized a questionnaire, with 21 questions, which was distributed to a self-selected sample of gay males in the Edmonton area. Additionally, it was organized into three categories:
Coming out [stage] and ongoing information needs
Perceptions of EPL collections and services, both general and gay-related
They identified the ‘personal interview’ as a viable method that would allow for complex and probing questions and hence, for free and unstructured answers. However, “the self-administered questionnaires were more likely to facilitate less bias in the research instrument, greater frankness on the part of respondents, and, perhaps most important, anonymity and confidentiality.”
To that end, “the questionnaires were neither coded nor numbered and a self-addressed envelope was included. Additionally, the researchers surmised that the written questionnaires would comprise the basis of an initial investigation, to be followed up in the future with personal interviews or focus groups in the effort to grasp more qualitative information and insight.” Furthermore, the questionnaire was formally pre-and post-tested by five respondents to ensure among others, its relevancy, bias and validity. Lastly, there were 46 individuals, ages 18 to 49 years of age who participated in the survey.
The survey results resonated with previous empirical studies that focused on the information needs and library perceptions of lesbians and gay men. These studies concluded that libraries are a significant source of information, particularly during the coming-out stage of sexual identification, the high relevance of libraries as a ongoing information source for LGBT people as over time, their needs change from seeking facts and a [better] understanding of their sexual identity, to more general needs such as locating gay-friendly establishments, clubs and other venues that cater to the LGBTQ community.
This study is the first of its kind, in that its lens specifically focused on gay men residing in the Edmonton area and their perceptions of EPL. Their findings concluded that these individuals are frequent users of EPL, but do not consult library staff often. On that same token, they discovered the patrons held positive attitudes towards staff members, but perceived the library’s LGBT collection to be lacking. With this, the researchers pinpointed apparent anomalies and they include:
EPL may be lacking in gay-related materials for Edmonton’s gay males or;
Edmonton’s gay males may hold inaccurate impressions of the extent and quality of EPL holdings.
According to the researchers, EPL may not possess an exhaustive LGBTQ collection, but their collection is fairly inclusive of materials relating to the LGBTQ experience. Moreover, it appeared that the patrons/respondents (gay males) did not take full advantage of the collection, maybe due access issues or fear of asking for assistance or because the collection was filled with outdated materials. Once again, the researcher’s findings reflect earlier studies in that it is the library’s responsibility to offer accurate, current and accessible information focusing on issues that affect homosexuals as they do for other populations.
These studies have a running theme of pervasive issues that continue to hinder the information-seeking needs of SGL people. They include:
1. Insufficient and/or outdated collections
Time after time, researchers pointed out the chronic problem of library collections being filled with old, useless information that does nothing to properly inform and uplift LGBTQ individuals. Instead, these books tend to attack, condemn or even demonize people for simply loving someone of the same gender.
2. Homophobic library staff
Libraries are deemed as a place people from all walks of life go to for knowledge and understanding. The studies discussed in this paper show that the library is often the first place LGBTQ people turn to when seeking information. Therefore, it is the innate responsibility of libraries and library staff to make their environment welcoming to individuals who identify as
LGBTQ. In fostering camaraderie, they need to check their moral compass at the door, step out of their comfort zone and genuinely reach out to this community.
3. Poor visibility of LGBTQ materials
Some libraries purposely bury materials that deal with sexual orientation, same sex love, and other gay and lesbian topics. This action is not only despicable, but, more importantly, it impedes access to materials directly related to an essential part of their lives.
The presumption of heterosexuality being the norm and therefore superior to same sex relationships is absurd. Library workers have the charge of providing services to the people in their communities with no regard to their sexual orientation, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity or any other expression has no bearing on their right to information.
The pervasiveness of genderism in library tenets has a very negative effect on those who are in search of self-discovery, self-identity and/or affirmation of who they are or wish to become in their life journey.
The use of censorship has long been well documented among some librarians. However, libraries are not venues for casting out the moral compass during the selection process. In fact, the selection process can be utilized as a way to curtail misconceptions, half-truths and myths surrounding LGBTQ patrons and their unique information needs.
7. Embarrassment and/or Harassment
Oftentimes, LGBTQ library users are too afraid or too embarrassed to request assistance from library staff for real or conceived fear of being harassed, ridiculed or shamed. This should never be the case; the primary reason libraries exists is to provide materials and services for all people residing in their communities. Moreover, libraries are often the only place LGBTQ individuals have to turn to because they either don’t have or trust anyone else.
In her study, Whitt stressed the importance of further research needing to be conducted on the topic of the LGBTQ community and their information needs. Additionally, she gave voice to the dire need of broadening the scope of such future studies that go beyond the conventional needs of one population [the gay and lesbian community), but should expand to include the lives of gay men and their [specific] information needs. Additionally, in respect to inclusiveness, people from ethnic groups (e.g. African Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc.) should also be surveyed. Indeed, because of their unparalleled existence in a Anglo-Saxon world, they already have to contend with the double or triple jeopardies:
Being born a person of color (male or female)
Female (for lesbians)
A member of the LGBTQ community
Change is difficult for so many of us as human beings. But, change is also a part of life; it is how we grow, enhance our understanding of the world around us and other people . It often is the bridge we need to bring about camaraderie in our communities, no matter their skin color, sexual orientation or identity. Therefore, by stepping out of their comfort zones and laying down their moral compass, librarians will be then be in a place to address the incomparable needs and concerns of this distinct subset of our communities and take advantage of the many available resources for LGBTQ library users.
Loverich, Patricia and Degnan, Darrah. 1999. Out on the shelves?: not really. Library Journal. 124, no.11 (June): p. 55.
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5 Creelman and Harris, 40.
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10 Garner, 4.
 Sponsored by the Progressive Librarians Guild, for the best student paper on progressive library issues.
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 A description for homosexuals, particularly in the African American community.
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 [The act of] preventing access to appropriate materials by those employed by the information agency, particularly those responsible for collection development and management.
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