What makes an object queer? Collecting and exhibiting LGBT stories in regional museums and archives

Reviewed By: Jarrod Chilton, Eleanor Hill, Naomi Hill, Juliet Howard, Lain Krikourian, and Britton Roseberry

Link to article: https://www.webcitation.org/6vOFeSJkI

Reviewed By: Jarrod Chilton, Eleanor Hill, Naomi Hill, Juliet Howard, Lain Krikourian and Britton Roseberry

Link to article: https://www.webcitation.org/6vOFeSJkI

Article Synopsis

Dr. Jessie Lymn and Samantha Leah’s (2016) “What Makes an Object Queer? Collecting and Exhibiting LGBT Stories in Regional Museums and Archives,” presents the early findings of a case study approach (featuring the Museum of the Riverina’s We Are Here: Riverina LGBT Stories exhibition) to help collection managers, curators, and donors build a better understanding of how to capture queer objects within a wider context by considering the social histories associated with LGBT experiences of people from the Riverina regions in New South Wales, Australia. Lynn and Leah’s (2016) introduction begins by noting that the most common challenges associated with LGBT materials relate to classification and curation—most of which stem from the article’s recurring question: what makes an object queer?
The research supports the argument for a curatorial process which includes input from relevant (i.e. Riverina LGBT) community members, and, most importantly, creates a space for more than just physical objects to be stored (Lymn & Leah, 2016). The adoption of the suggested curatorial process brings depth to the collection and helps enable others to recognize and have empathy for the lived experiences of the diverse LGBT community (Lymn & Leah, 2016). The process which the article continually asserts is built on the notion that: “[l]ibraries, archives and museums are responsible for collecting, preserving and making accessible the important stories of all members of the community, including those whose stories may have been hidden or invisible in the past, such as the LGBT community” (Lymn & Leah, 2016).
In order to authentically represent the diverse experiences of the LGBT community in regional collections, community consultations—both group and individual meetings—were facilitated by the museum’s curator to gather accurate information directly from community members who identify as LGBT (Lymn & Leah, 2016). The article also notes how a pop-up exhibition was held at a local pub where the museum’s curator extended an invitation to community members and encouraged them to bring LGBT-centered stories and artifacts to share with others (Lymn & Leah, 2016). To further combat the dominant narrative which highlights the progress of the majority by excluding the social histories of those who don’t fit within the norm or the dominant narrative’s definition of progress, the Museum of the Riverina must thoughtfully collect and curate the queer objects to begin to interrupt linear notions of time and history (Lynn & Leah, 2016).
The We Are Here: Riverina LGBT Stories exhibition creates a unique space to help facilitate alternative ways of thinking about the regional history, and above all, challenges its audiences to, “…think about the object as more than the physical object, but instead as part of a broader object of queer practice, and in this case, regional queer practice” (Lymn & Leah, 2016). Lymn and Leah’s (2016) conclusion emphasizes that the recognition of queer objects doesn’t change the object’s roll within the collection, but rather enhances its classification and invites more depth into the collection’s content.

How this Article Represents an International Perspective

The article, based on research done in Wagga Wagga, a small Australian town, contributes to an international discussion about geography’s impact on the stories of marginalized communities. It examines “regional optimism” and how a region’s history is often presented in progressive terms, and difficult parts of its narrative are relegated to a national level (Lymn & Leah, 2016). In examining how Wagga Wagga’s history is told, the authors found that the “massive social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s seems to pass the town by,” (Lymn & Leah, 2016) effectively erasing the history of those on society’s fringes. This research has international value, as regional exhibits anywhere might be curated with greater awareness of queer communities and ownership of controversial historical events.

Core Research Question

As the title of the paper suggests, the core research question this article explores is, what makes an object queer? Lymn and Leah do well to explore this quandary and in that process get to a question even more focused on the context of an information organization, “how is that queerness represented within the collection and in the record of the object’s provenance?” (2016, p. 1) One of the objects donated to the exhibition was a whistle used by a community member during a notable queer march. The authors want to know how to link this context to the object in a way that makes it useful and self-explanatory for the future.

Methodology

Using what was coined a scavenger methodology by Halberstam, the authors employed methods that “refuse[d] disciplinary coherence,” pairing dominant institutional practices with “fringe stories and encounters” to answer their research question (Lymn & Leah, 2016). Direct consultation with the local LGBTQIA+ community was made through multiple events, which also garnered items for inclusion in the exhibit, and allowed for those members to self-determine what made an item queer and worthy of inclusion: namely, that it was the use of the object in regional queer practice and not the item itself that made it queer.

Findings and Conclusions

The objects curated for the exhibition influenced the museum’s curation process. Their collection management system expanded its categorization of LGBT materials. The exhibition’s researchers found objects are categorized as queer when “oral histories and donor interviews…contributed to a wider sense of boundary object” (Lymn & Lean, 2016, p. 8), creating a better understanding of their significance in queer culture. However, the exhibition failed to provide the “lived experience of homophobia” (Lymn & Leah, 2016, p. 8) for cisheteronormative museum staff, who continued to believe their region was not bigoted despite LGBT stories saying otherwise. There’s a need to preserve the social histories of marginalized communities, and researchers continue to work with information services staff and donors to collect, curate, and develop an understanding of queer objects.

What American Libraries can Learn from Global Practice

Through Lymn and Leah’s article American libraries can begin to build on the foundational writings that seek to define what makes an object queer and how queer objects are represented. Of special importance that can be applied to many areas of LIS research in America is how the LGBT community is treated on a national level while remaining nonexistent in more regional historical narratives. While focusing on the specific narratives of the LGBT community, several diverse populations exist in America that can benefit from both a nonlinear methodological approach as well as the leveraging of community consultations that respect their information exchange preferences and community remembering, (Gorichanaz & Turner, 2018).

References:

Gorichanaz, T. & Turner, D. (2018). Collaborative connections: Designing library services for the urban poor. Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 88(3). pp. 237-255. Chicago. Retrieved from: 130.065.109.155

Lymn, J. & Leah, S. (2016). What makes an object queer? Collecting and exhibiting LGBT stories in regional museums and archives In Proceedings of RAILS – Research Applications, Information and Library Studies, 2016, School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, 6-8 December, 2016.. Information Research, 22(4), paper rails1618. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/22-4/rails/rails1618.html