Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Places for all? Cape Town’s public library services to gays and lesbians

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

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)- Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections?

Reviewed By: Corin Balkovek, Helen Cate, Juliann Hilton, Garrett Purchio

Link to article: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1012828.pdf

For this assignment, we chose to examine the article, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections?”, published in 2013 in the School Library Research Journal of the American Association of School Libraries. The study outlined in this article focuses on the prevalence of LGBTQ works (both fiction and nonfiction) in today’s public high schools. With the rise of LGBTQ rights and issues within current society, the issue of representation within public schools is an important and at times polarizing topic.

This study sought to determine if LGBTQ high school youth have access to LGBTQ materials in their school libraries. The study analyzed the collection of 125 high school school libraries in an undisclosed state of the United States to see if LGBTQ resources were available to students. The authors provided background information on LGBTQ resources and cited previous studies on LGBTQ youth in which the results showed that having access to relevant, useful resources helped this group of people. The data gathered from the searches was presented in four charts, as were two lists of prominent LGBTQ-themed literature. The authors concluded that these schools were lacking sufficient LGBTQ-themed literature in their collectives, which could prove harmful to LGBTQ youth. The authors acknowledged that even though librarians may face opposition and other assorted challenges related to serving LGBTQ youth, they must attempt to provide these resources to this group given how valuable these resources can be.

The study was conducted by using the online catalogs of the selected libraries to look for LGBTQ materials using four different search terms: “homosexuality”, “gay men,” “lesbians”, and “transsexualism”. Each item that turned up in each of the searches was tallied. Additionally, searches were conducted for highly recommended materials from a prominent LGBTQ literature collection.

Findings of the study showed that, overwhelmingly, public schools within the state that was studied were under-serving the teenage LGBTQ population. In regards to LGBTQ-themed works- including fiction, non-fiction and biographies – half of the schools studied held fewer than 31 titles. The number of titles held by these schools ranged from 1 to 157. The average number of LGBTQ-themed titles held was 35.7, and on average made up 0.4% of their collections. The authors also studied the inclusion of a highly-recommended core collection of LGBTQ-themed literature, as laid out in Webber’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teen Literature: A Guide to Reading Interests. Of titles from Webber’s collection, 65.3% of schools held fewer than five of the fiction titles, the most commonly held title being The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and 19.3% of the schools held none of the titles at all. Schools held even fewer of the recommended nonfiction young adult works, which focus on LGBTQ history and various issues like coming-out and safe sex practices.

There are a few questions that remain unanswered through the course of this study, many of which could be resolved by increasing the scope and depth of the study. This study was constructed from research done on a handful of schools from one state in the southern part of the U.S.; while the results are a good look at the LGBTQ curriculum found in high school of this particular state, to extrapolate this information as being representative of the entire country would weaken its case. However, if a large sample size was taken from throughout the country, the results of this larger study would be a stronger representation of what the national outlook of LGBTQ literature in high school libraries.
In addition to expanding the scope of the study in terms of sample size, looking into other extenuating factors that could lead to the development (or lack thereof) of LGBTQ literature in high schools could work to answer questions and concerns regarding the methodology of the study. For example, the authors of the study list out the number of LGBTQ books each library held, but did not mention what percentage of the total library’s collection those books entailed. By focusing on the actual percentage of LGBTQ books within a collection rather than the number, the researchers would create a metric that would be universal despite the size of the library being studied. While only having 31 books focusing on LGBTQ themes and issues is low, is it 31 books out of a collection of 1,000 (which would be 3.1% of the total collection), or out of 10,000 (which would be .31% of the total collection)?
The authors of the study touched on another underlying issue that possibly affected their results: the variance in cataloging practices between the schools that were studied. The researchers searched the OPAC of high school libraries using the Sears subject headings “homosexuality”, “gay men,” “lesbians”, and “transsexualism”. As they discovered during their work, there were many times where a book in one school would be cataloged using one of these search terms, but in another school would not. These differences in cataloging practices create a certain margin of error on the results of the study: just because a book didn’t come up while using these search terms in the OPAC, doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t in the collection. Additionally, some youth may not feel comfortable coming to ask a librarian for a list of LGBTQ works; how might they find the collection of works when the cataloguing system might not include everything, or include works that should necessarily be labeled as such? Perhaps if the recommended books on the lists came with suggested cataloguing headings, there would be more consistency and that would make searching for LGBTQ works somewhat easier. By working to find other ways to determine the LGBTQ collections that circumnavigate these cataloging differences and issues – for example, requesting a list of LGBTQ works directly from library staff who may know of works that aren’t tagged using the subject headings above – researchers may be able to get a clearer picture of high school library collections.

Another remaining question concerns the biases of librarians, teachers, and administrators. Are those that purchasing the books for collections allowing their own beliefs, thoughts, and feelings on the matter effect which LGBTQ books they buy and how many? If so, how might this be overcome or minimized? The possibility that lack of variety and low level of purchases of LGBTQ works comes from personal biases can’t be completely dismissed. At times, there is pressure (real or imagined) from an outside source that affects choices in library collection development.
All in all, the study works to highlight a serious issue facing diversity in modern high school libraries. By first discovering the weak spots in library collection development in terms of LGBTQ literature, steps can be made to improve the situation and work to ensure that the libraries held in today’s high school are inclusive for all students.

Sources Cited:
Hughes-Hassell, S., Overberg, E., & Harris, S. (2013). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections?. School Library Research, 16.

Young Adult Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Non-Fiction Collections and Countywide Anti-Discrimination Policies

By Lyn Betts, Melissa Feinberg, Lucy Johnson-Sims, Angela Larkin Crosher, Julia Wells

Link to article: http://ojs.gc.cuny.edu/index.php/urbanlibrary/article/view/1247

Post by: Lyn Betts, Melissa Feinberg, Lucy Johnson-Sims, Angela Larkin Crosher, Julia Wells

The Background
Although the American Library Association Bill of Rights states that “library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves” (ALA, 1996), LGBTQ populations continue to be underserved by public library collections, particularly in the Southeastern United States. When “30% of teens [cannot] find LGBTQ-related materials they want…and only 20% [feel] safe from harassment in their local public libraries”(Martin & Murdock, 2007), you know something needs to change.

Glossary of Terms
Collection: Only non-fiction appropriate for the young adult reader is included in the term “collection.”

Gender: Distinct from biological sex; gender is a person’s social and cultural expression of masculinity, femininity, or some combination thereof. A person’s gender identity/expression may or may not match his/her biological sex.

LGBTQ: An acronym for lesbians (females who are attracted to other females emotionally and erotically), gay males (males who are attracted to other males emotionally and erotically), bisexuals (who may be attracted to both males and females), trans young adults (whose biological sex is different from their physical, emotional, and psychological expression of sex) or questioning young adults (who are seeking more information about gender, gender identity, and sexuality).

Young Adult: A person between the ages of 12 and 18.(p. 4)

The Study
Stringer-Stanback set out to test two hypotheses:
1. Counties that have LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinances will be more likely to have YA LGBTQ non-fiction materials in their public libraries.
2. Counties that do not have LGTBQ anti-discrimination ordinances will be less likely to have YA LGBTQ non-fiction materials in their public libraries.

Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia were chosen because it is not illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or (with the exception of some counties in Florida) their gender identity.

The focus was on the four most populous counties in each of the five states, and if they had anti-discrimination ordinances. To find this information, the author looked to newspaper articles, county websites and national organizations.

With a list of twenty-three non-fiction books (culled from Lambda Literary Foundation Awards, ALA Stonewall Awards, and an ALA LGBTQ Roundtable bibliography), the author searched public library catalogs in each of the counties, to find out how many of these titles were held by each library.

Why include only non-fiction books? Although Stringer-Stanback acknowledges that fiction titles are also important, the young adult LGBTQ community is also looking for “real stories by real people” (Martin & Murdock, 2007).

There was no relationship between anti-discrimination ordinances and the volume of LGBTQ material.
More demographically diverse counties had more LGBTQ titles.

Thoughts and Questions

Demographics and Budgets
1. Budgets of the libraries were not taken into account. Even though the counties were chosen by total population, budgets of each library system may vary widely between the counties.
2. Libraries with no or few members of a community may, by necessity (financial for example), have smaller collections of items that are for that community. Knowing the demographics of the community (how many members identify as LGBTQ) is valuable to knowing if a community is being adequately served.
3. What are the socio-economic and education levels of the library communities in the study? Could these factors affect collection development?
4. What are the religious beliefs of the counties surveyed? Would these demographics play a role?

The Materials

1. Only twenty-three non-fiction titles were searched for in the catalogs. Could there have been a larger collection of both fiction and non-fiction relevant to LGBTQ youth that were not found in this limited search?
2. Data suggests that more YA LGTBQ non-fiction titles were collected in the year 2000. What factors contributed to this leap in collection development during this particular year?
3. The authors state that public libraries should provide more non-fiction materials to young adult LGTBQ readers in the South. By what criteria (focus on what issues) will selections be made?
4. LGTBQ populations are not a homogenous group. Different needs require different information and material choice.

Ideas for Future Studies

1. Look at the LGTBQ demographics of each county and whether libraries are meeting the needs of these populations.
2. Look at the socio-economic, educational and religious demographics of each community and how these may correlate to libraries’ LGBTQ collections.
3. Do a follow-up study on any changes in these counties. Have there been any other counties that have passed anti-discrimination ordinances since the article was published? Has anything changed in South Carolina since none of the four counties had passed anti-discrimination ordinances at the time of this study? Has anything changed in these counties since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in June, 2015?
4. Study the entire collection of LGBTQ-related materials in each public library: fiction, non-fiction – separated by age level. Information needs will differ greatly between 12 year-olds and 18 year-olds.

American Library Association Council. (1996). Library bill of rights. Retrieved from:

Martin, H. J., and Murdock, J. R. (2007). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.