My Life in Library-Land: Grad School, The Pride Library, and OLA

For those of you who may not already know, I’m in graduate school studying library and information science (LIS) to become a librarian. The experience has been a mix of ups an downs, but the ups are totally worth the all-nighters and endless group projects. I’ve met some really amazing people in the program as well, and of course they’re all book lovers. Some of them even read this blog! Crazy.

The Pride Library

My university boasts Canada’s only queer academic library, collecting everything from titles on queer theory to queer graphica to vintage erotic magazines from the ’50s. And yours truly has the privilege of working there! It’s been an amazing, eye-opening experience for me, both professionally and personally. Plus I mean…check out that q-shaped office window. How freaking amazing is that?!

Pride Library 1

The Pride Library is a donation-based library and archive collecting materials by and about queer people and communities. It was actually started by Dr. James Miller, a prof who wanted to teach a course on gay and lesbian literature in the mid-1980s but found that there was no usable material in the campus libraries to support his proposed syllabus (because everything was either homophobic or full of misinformation). So being the complete hero that he is, Dr. Miller started his own private library collection, which eventually grew into a full-fledged lending library. Kind of mind-blowing when you think of it, especially since he only felt comfortable enough to start the library once he got tenure…because he knew that after that point he couldn’t be fired for being gay.Β Dr. Miller is a pioneer and an inspiring activist. And I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss!

Today, the Pride Library has more than 10,000 titles. All of these were donated by either individuals or their estates, and without this community support the Pride Library wouldn’t exist.

During a typical shift I might answer some reference questions (“I’m looking for information on the Canadian trans community prior to 1990,” for example), help create a display highlighting a specific collection (right now we’re featuring our kink collection),Β and sort through donations. It’s been a really cool experience because it gives me the opportunity to work wiPride Library 2th books and also to reach out to other queer students, and to create a safe and welcoming space for everyone. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this here before (because why would anyone care, really?) but I’m bi and out, and unfortunately people are not always cool with that. Having a safe space on campus that facilitates and encourages the study of queer culture and topics is really important to me.

Libraries. Who knew, right?

 

OLA Superconference 2016

The Ontario Library Association’s annual conference was held in Toronto this year, and the stars aligned so that I was able to attend. With hundreds of presentations, workshops, and vendors, there was a lot to see and do. Some highlights:

  • “Choosing to Walk a Path: Library Services with Indigenous Peoples on Purpose.” Addressed how libraries can purposefully engage with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit individuals and communities to support their information needs, activism efforts, and the Indigenous cultural revival.
  • “Prisons and Libraries: A Relationship Worth Incubating.” This session focused on developing relationships between libraries and local prisons. Incarcerated people comprise one of the most chronically under-served groups when it comes to libraries and education, which is particularly troubling given the proven causal relationship between increased literacy and decreased recidivism. Super interesting and empowering presentation.

I’m planning on submitting a presentation proposal to another conference in a few weeks, so fingers crossed for me everyone! My second semester in grad school is almost at an end, two more to go! The library-land adventures continue…

Are there any cool bookish spaces in your area? Have you visited any unique or beautiful libraries? What are you up to in your lives these days? Let me know in the comments, because y’all know that I’m nosy!

Related Posts

  • Oh, you are at Western University?! That’s awesome, I almost went there before deciding to stick closer to home at UofT and then McMaster πŸ˜€

    • Yes, I am! I really like it. πŸ™‚ The nice thing about Southern Ontario is that you don’t need to go far when you’re going to a new university, haha. I have lots of friends who went/go to UofT and Mac, I’ve heard good things!

  • This is so interesting! We do have some similar libraries here, but they are on a much, MUCH smaller scale and usually very “underground”, i.e. you have to really look for them in order to find them. They’re more private collections of societies / associations that work with lgbt+ people and nothing even close to an academically curated library. *sigh* I know that there are several courses on gender studies and such available at the departments of sociology, the faculty for social science, and the faculty for social work, but the books/magazines themselves are scattered through their libraries, not collected in one place (which would make MUCH more sense).

    I didn’t know you were bi, I don’t think you’ve mentioned it here (at least not while I’ve been reading your blog). I’d been wondering about it, though, with your interest in the queer characters – and this is where I have a question: do you find (working at the library) that most people who study queer culture (in academic terms) are also gay/bi/…? Or is it a mixed bag of individuals? I think that in Slovenia, it’s still mostly a personal interest, however sad/unsatisfying that is. But I imagine that in a more open culture, like Canadian seems to be, things have progressed farther.

    I’ve joined the Slovenian section of IBBY in a more active capacity this year, so I’ll be cooperating with the magazine Bookbird, which could be fun (but will also be time consuming, I really don’t know why I keep doing this to myself). πŸ™‚

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you! πŸ™‚

    • Underground libraries are so cool – they usually have some really great history behind them. There’s one kind of similar to what you describe in Toronto called the Gay and Lesbian Archives, which started as a grassroots project in the 80s, I believe. Well if you ever decide to change careers (but why would you, you love your job!) it sounds like you’d be well suited to librarianship, Kaja! I completely agree that it would make more sense to have a dedicated collection for LGBTQ+/queer works.

      Yeah, I always kind of feel like it’s narcissistic to mention…like who would care? Haha. We definitely have some people coming into the Pride Library who are allies, but I think you’re right in your guess that the majority of our patrons and staff are queer. Obviously I don’t have any data about this, but my intuition is that queer people are drawn to researching/studying queer topics because they’re/we’re concerned about representation. So much of the study of queer sexualities and culture has been conducted by cis het people historically (usually people in the medical field) and unfortunately a lot of it is either homophobic or not very nuanced. There are a few doctoral research projects that I know of right now at my school that are being conducted jointly by members of the queer community and cis het people, which Im excited about because that suggests queer topics are becoming more mainstream. Yay! πŸ˜€

      Ahhh that’s so cool, Kaja! I’ve been considering getting involved with IBBY too, since some of my classmates have really enjoyed it. LOL of course you’re taking on more projects, while Baby is on the way too. You just can’t help yourself! πŸ˜‰

      Thanks, Kaja!

  • Oh wow, this was insanely interesting to read! I actually saw it on my feed a couple of days ago when you posted and I absolutely knew I had to wait for a the weekend where I could read and comment properly and I’m glad I did.

    I think you may work in the coolest library I’ve ever heard of! I mean, the fact it began with just one person needing books to support a course they wanted to run is amazing. It’s so cool that it’s all donation based and the fact that there is such a range of books and magazines, etc. I would totally get absorbed in just discovering everything there was in the library with sheer range of different things. I think the fact you feature different collections is really interesting too. Is there a way which you choose what collection is being featured? Obviously you work in an academic setting so is it geared to the academics and their interests when you feature things? I think that would one of the more interesting parts (apart from sorting through donations, that’s probably even more fun) but actually doing some research to create the display in the first place would be great. I really like researching stuff, it’s one of the things I miss from university, the discovering of new things was great, I just didn’t enjoy having to put my new discoveries into words and think critically on the things I’d discovered to answer an essay question.

    I have to say I am very unaware of what libraries we even have by me. I know I am stuck with a severely underfunded library in my area, there are continually cuts being made to libraries and museums by my local council that I’m glad we still have local libraries. I wish there were more libraries and bookish spaces available to me. It’s one thing that is severely lacking in my local area, any kind of decent bookish space. I don’t even have a good local book ship outside of Waterstones. We do have the local archive near me which is so interesting I continually want to work there but they require you to actually be qualified for archival work, which I can’t blame them.

    • Yay! I’m so glad you found it interesting, Becky! Personally I love reading about what people are up to outside of blogging, so I thought I’d give it a try myself.

      It’s seriously the coolest job I’ve ever had, that’s for sure. The library director has put decades of work into building relationships with donors from all across Canada (and we even have a few from Southeast Asia!) to help develop the collection. At the risk of sounding super cheesy, I think the story of how this library came about is a great example showing that if you think something’s missing in your community, you should try to make it happen.

      Oooh good question! Yeah, at the moment we’re focusing on under-represented populations. So typically we feature micro-collections of materials that are either under-represented in our collection (because of a lack of topical donations, etc.) or collections that pertain to a marginalized queer group. Right now we’re working on creating a launch and display for our trans collection, for example! I love research too, that’s why I’m really happy in library school, haha. It can definitely be difficult trying to research the answer to a complex question from a patron on the fly though, particularly if they want their answer quickly!

      I’ve heard a lot of weirdness surrounding UK libraries at the moment, which is so odd to me. I saw somewhere (maybe on Twitter?) someone saying that library cuts should be made because only like 20% of the population use them or something, but the response to that was well, that’s still tens of millions of people! Unfortunately like all public works, libraries tend to come under fire during strained political times. Waterstones is a chain bookstore, right? I’m shocked that there isn’t a local independent bookstore. Clearly Hollywood has lied to me (shocker) about how many bookstores there are in the UK!

      • I know what you mean, it’s so interesting getting an insight to people’s lives outside of blogging. No matter what you’re learning about it’s all really interesting. I think it’s sometimes just nice to be reminded there’s an actual person behind the blog.

        And it sounds like the coolest job ever and you obviously really care so you get to be proud and cheesy about it. It shows that if you think there’s something missing you do it yourself.

        And I can imagine that the researching can be both fun and a bit frustrating. I suppose most of my researching is for me alone so there are no time limits involved but having to do it on the spot under pressure when it’s something you don’t know off hand can be difficult. Still so interesting. No day will be exactly the same and that’s good.

        And UK libraries are a bit odd. I’m no expert (not even close) but at the moment there are a lot of budget cuts, mostly by councils and councils don’t want to shut the libraries but then they’re struggling to pay for the things being demanded in libraries. There are a lot of libraries with reduced opening hours, staff cuts and a rise in reliance on volunteer staff. Some people take volunteers as a good thing and others as bad but it’s helping to keep libraries running, regardless. My own local library has slowly developed an ebook lending library due to the rise in ereaders but there isn’t enough money to invest in new books either digitally or physically so book stock itself isn’t great which doesn’t exactly encourage people to go. There is demand for libraries but then the actual service you get from library to library is very different depending on which council the library comes under. It’s all really frustrating. What can I say? We’re the UK under a conservative government, austerity is key right now. As long as people keep using libraries there will always be libraries available, and if there aren’t then we’ll have to run our own. I read a really interesting article on the BBC about how the cuts are affecting libraries and about the change in demands in libraries, though.

        And Waterstones is a chain. There are independent bookstores in the UK, Hollywood isn’t completely lying, they just aren’t everywhere in the UK. Unfortunately, Birmingham, the city I live by isn’t filled with good independent bookstores but some cities do. London has a lot of bookstores of all shapes and sizes and there are good independent bookstores about I’m just unlucky enough to not close to them.

  • Oh my gosh, wow, Dr. Miller! A queer academic library?! That’s insanely awesome!
    It sounds like a wonderful experience to work there and I’m glad it feels like a safe place for you! Libraries <3
    The conference sounds interesting too – best of luck with your proposal!
    Aahh I really love this post, thank you so much for sharing, Danya!

    • Right?! I thought so, too! Dr. Miller is such an awesome guy.

      Thanks, Annika. I think a lot of other people see it as a safe space too, which is awesome because let’s face it: even on a university campus people need safe spaces!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! πŸ™‚

      • Definitely! Safe spaces are always needed. I really am so glad that you shared this! Restores faith in humanity, you know πŸ™‚

  • That’s so cool! I never knew there was a queer academic library – and it’s amazing that Dr. Miller decided to set one up! Also very smart that he waited till he got tenure, especially around that time πŸ™‚
    It sounds so cool to be working there!
    I don’t think my city has any libraries like this, or any cool bookish places πŸ™
    Geraldine @ Corralling Books

    • Honestly, neither did I until I came to this university! He’s honestly the best, it makes me mad that he felt like he had to wait until he was tenured but you’re right, it was a very smart move in terms of university politics at the time.

      I really love working here, it’s been a great experience.

      Oh no! That’s such a bummer. Well, you can always take a page out of Dr. Miller’s book and start your own library. πŸ˜‰

  • Maraia

    This was so interesting. Thanks for sharing! I haven’t heard of any libraries like this near where I live, but I have a feeling that I’m just not aware of them. It’s great that libraries can be a safe and positive space for people.

    I would love to hear more about the “Prisons and Libraries” workshop at some point!

    I just got back from a week in Bonaire with my family, which was the best way to spend my birthday. We go there to snorkel, and we always meet really cool people from around the world at the little B&B where we stay. πŸ™‚

    • I’m really glad people have been finding it interesting. As I was writing this post I was thinking “man, will anyone even care about this??” Glad to hear that it’s a good read. πŸ™‚

      Yeah, I think there are a lot of informal community libraries and archives that are similar to the Pride Library, but since many of them are grassroots organizations they’re probably somewhat “underground.” Which is too bad really, because I think a lot of people would be interested in accessing their resources if they knew they existed!

      Oh my gosh, it was SUCH a good workshop! During my undergrad I volunteered doing literacy outreach in a medium security women’s prison and ever since I’ve been very intrigued by the possibility of prison librarianship. I thin it would be really difficult for me though, since forming personal, friendly relationships with library patrons is my favourite part of working in libraries (and obviously the boundaries are much different in a prison, and you are strongly discouraged from being overly familiar with inmates which I think is messed up, honestly). We should definitely have a Twitter chat about it, just remind me at some point because otherwise I’ll definitely forget! XD

      Okay so I had to look up Bonaire because I’d never heard of it, haha. But it’s so beautiful! I’m glad you had a wonderful time with your family, and happy belated birthday, Maraia! B&B’s are the best, aren’t they? The communal breakfasts are a great way to meet other travelers. πŸ™‚

      • Maraia

        That’s amazing! I’ve always wanted to do something like that. I think I would have the same problem with boundaries, though. It’s hard for me not to connect with peopleβ€”especially if we’re bonding over books. I agree that it’s messed up. I’m not sure how bad your prison system is, but we have a lot of problems here. Hopefully between the two of us we can remember to have a Twitter chat. πŸ˜€