I read a lot as a child. I read across a variety of genres, formats, and topics, but I also read titles for a variety of age groups, from picture books to the adult fiction I found on my parents’ shelves. And even though I read basically anything I could get my hands on, it wasn’t until my late teens that I first read a title with LGBTQIA+ main characters. The title was The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, and a school librarian suggested it to me. That librarian probably wasn’t trying to do anything other than suggest a book I might like, but she had inadvertently inspired my interest in queer fiction and acted as the starting point for a pattern of self-discovery. For many years after and even still today, libraries have been present at each step in my queer journey, from books that helped me sort out my identity to my library account being one of the first places I changed my name (for a more in depth look at the queer books that helped me, check out this previous blog post). And libraries were not uniquely helpful to me, they are influential to many queer people from all different backgrounds. That’s why, to kick off Pride month this year, I want to share how libraries can be uniquely important, impactful, and necessary for queer communities.  

The most obvious way that libraries provide a service and sense of safety or community for their queer patrons is the same way they do for most communities: by providing books that reflect their experiences or allow them to learn more. Whether other patrons are like me and come across some of their first queer characters and stories in a library, or readers have already developed a sense of queer pop culture, libraries serve as access points to queer stories through fiction, memoirs, DVDs, and even video games with queer representation. This representation can act as validation, instill a sense of community, and provide an opportunity to educate, even for those that have already found queer representation elsewhere. For those who are questioning their identity or unsure if they are part of the queer community, this opportunity to read about LGBTQIA+ folks, whether real or fictional, can provide an avenue for reflection and self-discovery. And library users that aren’t part of the queer community having access to these titles benefits queer folks indirectly too, by helping others learn and become better allies.  

Queer-focused materials in the library also connect queer folks to their community’s history, which can be difficult to access otherwise. Many young LGBTQIA+ Americans struggle to learn about or hear from queer elders in their community because previous generations have been forced to hide in the closet, were decimated by AIDs, or otherwise weren’t visible to the younger members of their community, making learning about queer history from first-hand accounts very inaccessible. But libraries can provide an option for learning about these histories, reading memoirs, and much more that helps younger generations connect with older generations and historical events in other ways. And in an era when challenges happening in schools are disproportionately targeting materials with queer themes (for more information about anti-LGBTQIA+ trends in book challenges and education reform, check out this article from NBC), access to this information through the library is more valuable than ever.  

As many library patrons are aware, libraries are more than just their books (and DVDs, CDs, videogames, and other materials), and this extends to how they serve the queer community as well. Libraries offer a safe space for queer people, who are statistically more likely to be poor, unhoused, or otherwise vulnerable and in need of safe public spaces. They also offer safety in terms of patron privacy and allow patrons to read or research without being outed to parents or anyone else. And through programming, libraries facilitate opportunities to connect with other queer folks during LGBTQIA+ programs, both in June and all year long.  

It’s no secret that libraries and librarians can have lasting impacts on their users (just look at the feedback Kristin shares in her recent post about school libraries), but for marginalized groups like the queer community, the safe space for questioning, learning community history, and connecting with other queer stories is immeasurable. If you’d like to use the library to learn more about queer history or people this Pride month, check out a book from this list, or consider tuning in for this month’s Windows in Time program about queer histories in Southern Oregon, which you can learn more about here. And whether you’re queer yourself or an ally, consider connecting with the local queer community at the library through one of our Pride-themed programs this month!