Reviewed By: Brianna Anderson, Jennifer Mays, Julie Smith, Michael Vinyard
Link to article: https://doaj.org/article/4d9eab3dcad54d41849d504a8aafb9df
Synopsis and Research Questions
Hart and Mfazo (2010) found that most of the research and literature on public library service for the LGBT community was done in North America. Because South Africa has a history of struggling to overcome discrimination, the authors saw the need for research on the topic specific to this geographic area. They also found that the LGBT community tended to be overlooked as a minority group with specific needs. Their goals were to determine librarians’ awareness of information needs and how well libraries met those needs.
The research project had three distinct questions. The first was whether or not gay and lesbian library users should be considered a special user group with particular information and reading needs. Second, they wanted to know if public library staff were aware of the human rights issues surrounding services to the LGBT community. Lastly, they wanted to know if the public libraries in South Africa were providing for the special needs of the LGBT community through their collections and information services.
To help answer the first research question, the authors performed a literature review. Answering the remaining two questions involved looking at the collection development policy for the library system and conducting a survey composed of four sections administered to the main librarian responsible for branch collection development at each branch.
The first three survey segments included personal information about the respondent, professional details regarding awareness of the collection development policy and criteria used to make selections, and questions regarding information services. In the fourth segment, the Likert scale was used to help the authors examine the personal views of librarians regarding the provision of resources and services to the LGBT community and how these views may impact library service.
Findings and Conclusions
While the authors concluded from their literature review that the “professional, philosophical and research literature” (Hart & Mfazo, 2010, p. 106) considers gays and lesbians a special user group, the survey of 69 Cape Town librarians revealed that only 55% “consciously consider” (p.103) this group when developing their collections. Even though 79% agree that access for the gay and lesbian community is a human rights issue and 91.5% are aware of policies that mandate a diverse collection, only 29% of librarians who responded agree that an explicit statement should be made in the policy for this user group. Thus, the authors concluded that overall, the librarians do not consider gays and lesbians a special user group.
The authors describe the findings on how Cape Town libraries meet the needs of gays and lesbians as “spotty” and suggest “librarians’ prejudices might affect services to LGBT people” (Hart & Mfazo, 2010, p. 107). Opinion regarding the provision of services was dependent on size and location of the library. Only 15% of librarians agreed that the needs of gays and lesbians are met at the city and regional libraries, but 33% of community librarians believed they were meeting needs. Services were provided in some locations but not the majority, and in many categories, the number of libraries that practice inclusion of gays and lesbians in their regular services is woefully inadequate. Only 6 of the 69 responding librarians stated that they have community information and pamphlet files for gays and lesbians while 55% of those that have display boards dedicate space to gay and lesbian information. Librarians in charge of collection development even admit to rejecting LGBT literature based on the perception that it is pornographic. The actual purchase of LGBT books averaged less than one per year and only three librarians reported subscribing to an LGBT magazine or newsletter. Half of the librarians did not buy any materials for LGBT patrons and 23 of the librarians either could not or would not answer the question, which is contrary to how the librarians said they consider gays and lesbians in collection development. Their acknowledgement of collection policy did not translate to purchasing decisions. Finally, only 20 librarians reported being approached with LGBT related questions within the last year but due to inadequate study design, the authors could not conclude whether the librarians were able to adequately help those patrons. The low number of queries may be due to librarians’ lack of awareness of gay and lesbian information needs and the perception by gays and lesbians that librarians are not aware of their needs.
Questions and Future Research
There are a number of areas where future research will be necessary to have a more complete picture of the needs of LGBT patrons in Cape Town and whether those needs are being met. Hart and Mfazo (2010) state that, as a public service and embodying the South African Constitution, libraries should provide “service impartially, fairly, equitably, and without bias” (p. 99). Yet, as the study shows, these are not being provided. The survey showed that the librarians in the Cape Town Library System are self-censoring LGBT items from the library by not buying them, seeking them out, or displaying information regarding the LGBT community. This leads to one of the biggest questions: How can Cape Town, and similar libraries, use this information to change their systems to create an equitable LGBT collection that integrates and displays that collection alongside the existing one?
One of the biggest omissions in the research is on the LGBT community itself. The research conducted is merely on the library system serving this community with very little information about the LGBT community. It would be helpful to know what the LGBT community thinks about the Cape Town Library System’s collection and if they think it is pertinent or helpful to them. How do they view the library and librarians? Do they feel their information needs are being met?
This leads to another area that may need future research: what kinds of information does this community seek and are they finding what they need? An answer to this would help close the gap in the library services. The information that Hart and Mfazo (2010) present is a bit vague in regards to which kinds of materials and literature are in demand. Are these fiction, non-fiction, periodicals? It would be interesting to research what information and materials are physically on the shelf, instead of relying on the answers in a survey. In addition, for the libraries that do include LGBT materials, it would be beneficial to know where they are finding these materials and if these vendors could be put on the list of provincial selectors. Currently, many of the libraries in Cape Town are buying less than one LGBT book a year but the study couldn’t conclusively pinpoint as to why this is the case except to say that it was the librarians’ choice. Are there other factors involved besides possible self-censoring by librarians? One librarian commented that “the Provincial library provides material but no-one has ever suggested buying specifically for the gay community from COCT [City of Cape Town]” (Hart and Mfazo, 2010, p. 105). Perhaps this is a system-wide issue and not just a problem in branch libraries. Finally, this study focused on gays and lesbians, but the LGBTQ+ community is a broad of spectrum of people and further investigation on the variety of needs is warranted.
Unfortunately, Hart and Mfazo’s research showed that there is a definite gap in public library services to the LGBT communities of Cape Town. The library system has a lot of work to do to provide equitable services to their LGBT community. A review of library collection development policies may warrant the addition of purchasing and service considerations for this specific community. Librarians and staff would benefit from professional development and diversity training. This training would enable librarians and staff to better understand the need for information services for all people, as mandated by the South African Constitution.
Hart, G. and Mfazo, N. (2010). Places for all? Cape Town’s public library services to gays and lesbians. South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science, 76(2), 98-108. DOI: 10.7553/76-2-73