by Matthew S. Bajko
Long a cheerleader for LGBT books, the American Library Association has increased its support for such literature by assuming oversight of GLBT Book Month, annually celebrated in June.
Originally established in the early 1990s by the Publishing Triangle as National Lesbian and Gay Book Month, this year marks the first commemoration of the 30-day promotion under the ALA’s auspices.
The association’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services and its Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table are coordinating the initiative. It is promoting its Rainbow Books list for youth and its Over the Rainbow Books list for adults online and on twitter through the hashtag #GLBTBookMonth.
The promotion culminates at the ALA’s 2015 annual conference being held later this month in San Francisco with a number of events and programs focused on LGBT issues and services.
“The Publishing Triangle, which has been a leader in positioning GLBT books at the forefront of literature, had the foresight to initiate this event almost a quarter century ago, and we are very proud to continue this important observance,” stated ALA President Courtney Young , the head librarian and an associate professor of women’s studies at Penn State University’s Greater Allegheny Campus. “We are incredibly appreciative of the historic work and brave first steps taken by many authors and publishers over the past 50 years to bring recognition to GLBT literature.”
Karen Sundheim, the program manager for the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library, told the Bay Area Reporter that the ALA bringing its “love of books” to focus on LGBT literature is sure to have positive impacts.
“I think it will really help to have the library association promoting its GLBT Book Month. We are talking about libraries all over the United States, not just in San Francisco,” said Sundheim, who will be taking part in a number of panels and events at the ALA’s conference. “In that way the ALA taking it over will mean a much bigger reach and it is very exciting.”
For five decades now the ALA has supported and promoted quality LGBT literature. In 1971 it launched its Stonewall Book Awards, yearly honors for the very best in LGBT books, including adult literature, non-fiction, and children’s and young adult titles.
The oldest such library association, the ALA is known as “the voice of America’s libraries.” By marshaling its 56,000 members to celebrate GLBT Book Month, the ALA believes it can attract far greater attention among the public to the annual event.
“We can have more of a reach in terms of our exposure among librarians who do a lot of book reading, purchasing, and recommending,” said Peter Coyl, 35, a gay man who is the incoming chair of the ALA’s GLBT Round Table. “Because of the unique work we do with a wide population and the type of people we reach, we can give it more exposure.”
The district manager for the Dallas Public Library, Coyl said marking GLBT Book Month is “pretty new” for the Texas city’s libraries. Through its Twitter account @DallasLibrary, it is tweeting out a book suggestion each day in June.
So far it has recommended Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones‘ 2014 book of poetry, and the 2014 children’s picture book This Day in June by Sacramento-based author Gayle E. Pitman. The book’s cover illustration by Kristyna Litten has been turned into a poster to promote this year’s GLBT Book Month.
As librarians, “we are unbiased in terms of what we recommend,” said Coyl. “We are able to recommend or suggest books to readers that maybe other groups wouldn’t be able to because of their focus.”
Even as LGBT issues gain more prominence in the culture and growing public acceptance, censorship of LGBT titles continues to be an issue. Over the past decade, 361 challenges due to “homosexuality” were reported to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
In third place on its 2014 top ten list of most frequently challenged books was And Tango Makes Three, a 2005 children’s picture book that features two male penguins raising a chick. Among the reasons the book is flagged, according to the ALA, is because it “promotes the homosexual agenda.”
“I think some people are naive. They take for granted the freedoms they enjoy in the Bay Area. But actually banned books is a serious problem in many places, including as you say California,” said Sundheim, who has overseen the Hormel Center’s collection of 10,000 titles since 2007.
Support among publishers and booksellers for diverse books, whether by LGBT authors or people of color, also remains an issue. It sparked the creation last year of the We Need Diverse Books campaign to promote a wider array of titles for children and young adults.
Ilene Gregorio, a founding member of the campaign and its vice president of development, said promotions like GLBT Book Month can help to raise awareness about books that may not receive the same marketing attention as titles by established authors.
“Writers can write diverse books but publishers have to buy them and sales teams have to know how to sell them so they are available. The lifecycle of a book is very short; if it doesn’t sell well the first month it will be off the shelves,” said Gregorio, who this spring published her first novel, None of the Above, inspired by an intersex youth she met while attending Stanford’s medical school.
The ALA’s Coyl said one of the main purposes for GLBT Book Month is to ensure librarians and others are made aware of the wide variety of literature out there that deals with sexual orientation or gender identity, especially for young readers.
“I think it is important for libraries, no matter what kind, to have a wide variety of material available for their customers. Libraries, even school libraries, serve a wide variety of students with different backgrounds,” said Coyl. “A student may question their sexual orientation or gender identity, or may have parents of the same gender. They come to the library looking for things about them or about their life and that reflect their experiences.”
For more information about GLBT Book Month, visit http://www.ala.org/glbtrt/glbt-book-month.
Lesbian Berkeley city manager resigns
More than three years after Christine Daniel became the first lesbian and the first woman hired as Berkeley’s city manager, she is stepping down to take a job with the city of Oakland.
In a letter dated June 2 Daniel informed Berkeley officials that she would resign effective July 24. She will be working in the administration of Oakland’s new mayor, Libby Schaaf , as an assistant city administrator.
“It has been an honor to have served as your city manager for the last three and one-half years, and to have spent 15 years of my professional career with this very special community,” wrote Daniel, who was first hired by the Berkeley City Attorney’s office.
Daniel left to work for the city attorney of Fremont and then returned to Berkeley to work for Phil Kamlarz, the city’s longtime city manager who retired in the fall of 2011. Having been groomed for the job, Daniel was named to replace Kamlarz that October.
“Berkeley is filled with creative, passionate people who are not afraid to try something new or to challenge conventional wisdom, while at the same time remaining committed to preserving the unique character of this wonderful place,” wrote Daniel. “It has been a pleasure to work with so many.”
In an email to the B.A.R. announcing the news, gay Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington‘s office said it “was sad to report” Daniel’s decision to step down but was heartened “that she will continue her service in the East Bay.”