Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services

19Oct/10Off

Library service to LGBTQ @ University of Michigan

I went to college at 17, knowing with little uncertainty that I would graduate with a dual bachelor's-master's in civil and environmental engineering, go to law school, and then practice environmental law and policy, before running for congress at 25, senate at 30, and president at 35. A few funny things happened during my first semester on campus, and my life plan didn't quite work out that way; instead, I got active in campus, state, and national LGBT politics and activism, before becoming disillusioned with the failures of organization-based social movements. I was about to finish my undergrad (in Sociology and Math) when I discovered, quite by chance, the field(s?) of information and library science via the website of the University of Michigan School of Information. Three and a half years later, here I am: finishing a degree that I sometimes wish was an MLS (and is instead an MSI) and bursting with ideas of how to integrate librarianship into organized activism, in order to cut costs and optimize outcomes by developing and executing more efficient programs based on better-researched information (whew...still working on the short version of that one).
From September 2009 to August 2010, I worked at the University of Michigan Spectrum Center [link: http://spectrumcenter.umich.edu] (est. 1971) as an intern in their library. Named after Spectrum Center co-founder Jim Toy, the collection was 2,000 volumes strong, had been weeded once (for duplicates) in institutional memory, had no designated budget, no library-trained staff, and yet circulated items regularly. At the time I began my exploratory internship, cataloging staff from the UM Library [link: http://lib.umich.edu] were beginning the implementation phase of a project 3 years in the making—adding holdings records for each of our books in the MLibrary back-end database and OPAC. Having facilitated coming-out and speaker's bureau programs as a volunteer for the Spectrum Center since 2005, I felt confident that I knew the users reasonably well, so I set about getting to know the collection itself—a task made easy by the mass-reshelving precipitated by the cataloging project.
During the first four months of my work, I talked with staff and student-users of the space and collection to figure out what were the current library practices and where they were breaking down; from this, I designed several projects to rectify, or at least ameliorate (I hoped) the problems. During the remaining eight months of my internship, I worked with the UM Library's subject specialist in LGBTQ & Women's Studies [link: http://lib.umich.edu/users/stricklb]to get the projects rolling—writing a collection development policy, doing internal cataloging and classification to aid user discovery of materials without librarian mediation, evaluating circulation processes, and, my favorite, identifying what modes of practice for public services (reference and instruction) best fit the needs of the Jim Toy Library's users.
I found that reference in a student affairs office takes two major forms: information & referral from the front desk (walk-in and phone) and in-depth research and readers' advisory in the collection space. I was pleased to find that reference interactions worked very similarly to the way they do in the academic library settings I was accustomed to—in particular, patrons are often shy about asking questions, even when the information-helper (librarian or other staff) are present and clearly not doing anything important, and when they do ask, patrons ask the question they think they should, instead of the one they actually want an answer for. I noticed that basic relationship-building with patrons (starting with a simple, "Hi! How are ya?") increased their likelihood of asking a question, and standard reference interview techniques helped us find appropriate information quickly and efficiently—all good news in uncharted territory!
Besides the methods of librarianship working well in the new environment, I also noticed that the reach of our work expands far beyond the range of our intended user population (another commonality with academic and public libraries). When one of the Spectrum Center's staff vacationed in Texas over the summer, she met the friend of a friend who had a depressed and closeted gay nephew in a small-town Tennessee high school. Working with a student volunteer on the task of finding resources for the teen, our office in Michigan was able to research and aggregate locally accessible books and organizations (including a –thankfully—nearby PFLAG chapter [link: http://www.pflag.org]) for the Tennessee teen.
The exploratory work I did in my internship solidified my hunch that adding organized information practices to the exiting work that campus LGBT resource centers do can augment the support the centers provide without substantially altering the infrastructure of these offices. There are scores of LGBT resource centers on college campuses throughout the world today, dozens of library and information schools, and hundreds of academic libraries. Collaborations among these three types of organizations can emerge anywhere the three convene, improving the quality of life for queer students everywhere and making quicker work of the our duty as citizens and librarians to promote and foment equality and access for all people.

Submitted by Anand Kalra, University of Michigan

I went to college at 17, knowing with little uncertainty that I would graduate with a dual bachelor's-master's in civil and environmental engineering, go to law school, and then practice environmental law and policy, before running for congress at 25, senate at 30, and president at 35. A few funny things happened during my first semester on campus, and my life plan didn't quite work out that way; instead, I got active in campus, state, and national LGBT politics and activism, before becoming disillusioned with the failures of organization-based social movements. I was about to finish my undergrad (in Sociology and Math) when I discovered, quite by chance, the field(s?) of information and library science via the website of the University of Michigan School of Information. Three and a half years later, here I am: finishing a degree that I sometimes wish was an MLS (and is instead an MSI) and bursting with ideas of how to integrate librarianship into organized activism, in order to cut costs and optimize outcomes by developing and executing more efficient programs based on better-researched information (whew...still working on the short version of that one).

From September 2009 to August 2010, I worked at the University of Michigan Spectrum Center (est. 1971) as an intern in their library. Named after Spectrum Center co-founder Jim Toy, the collection was 2,000 volumes strong, had been weeded once (for duplicates) in institutional memory, had no designated budget, no library-trained staff, and yet circulated items regularly. At the time I began my exploratory internship, cataloging staff from the UM Library were beginning the implementation phase of a project 3 years in the making—adding holdings records for each of our books in the MLibrary back-end database and OPAC. Having facilitated coming-out and speaker's bureau programs as a volunteer for the Spectrum Center since 2005, I felt confident that I knew the users reasonably well, so I set about getting to know the collection itself—a task made easy by the mass-reshelving precipitated by the cataloging project.

During the first four months of my work, I talked with staff and student-users of the space and collection to figure out what were the current library practices and where they were breaking down; from this, I designed several projects to rectify, or at least ameliorate (I hoped) the problems. During the remaining eight months of my internship, I worked with the UM Library's subject specialist in LGBTQ & Women's Studies to get the projects rolling—writing a collection development policy, doing internal cataloging and classification to aid user discovery of materials without librarian mediation, evaluating circulation processes, and, my favorite, identifying what modes of practice for public services (reference and instruction) best fit the needs of the Jim Toy Library's users.

I found that reference in a student affairs office takes two major forms: information & referral from the front desk (walk-in and phone) and in-depth research and readers' advisory in the collection space. I was pleased to find that reference interactions worked very similarly to the way they do in the academic library settings I was accustomed to—in particular, patrons are often shy about asking questions, even when the information-helper (librarian or other staff) are present and clearly not doing anything important, and when they do ask, patrons ask the question they think they should, instead of the one they actually want an answer for. I noticed that basic relationship-building with patrons (starting with a simple, "Hi! How are ya?") increased their likelihood of asking a question, and standard reference interview techniques helped us find appropriate information quickly and efficiently—all good news in uncharted territory!

Besides the methods of librarianship working well in the new environment, I also noticed that the reach of our work expands far beyond the range of our intended user population (another commonality with academic and public libraries). When one of the Spectrum Center's staff vacationed in Texas over the summer, she met the friend of a friend who had a depressed and closeted gay nephew in a small-town Tennessee high school. Working with a student volunteer on the task of finding resources for the teen, our office in Michigan was able to research and aggregate locally accessible books and organizations (including a –thankfully—nearby PFLAG chapter for the Tennessee teen.

The exploratory work I did in my internship solidified my hunch that adding organized information practices to the exiting work that campus LGBT resource centers do can augment the support the centers provide without substantially altering the infrastructure of these offices. There are scores of LGBT resource centers on college campuses throughout the world today, dozens of library and information schools, and hundreds of academic libraries. Collaborations among these three types of organizations can emerge anywhere the three convene, improving the quality of life for queer students everywhere and making quicker work of the our duty as citizens and librarians to promote and foment equality and access for all people.

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