Mehra, Bharat and Donna Braquet, "Progressive LGBTQ Reference: Coming Out in the 21st Century." Reference Services Review 39.3 (2011): 401-422.
Read via Emerald.
I found this to be a pretty good, practical article, and I will probably share it with the campus sex education specialist. Maybe it will spark a conversation or two. The basic question of the article is whether reference services have kept up with ways and tools to meet the learning and information needs of the LGBTQ community. The article presents a practice-based framework for these services. The authors also mention that library outreach needs to affirm its mission by seeking out and developing partnerships with other campus units such as student organizations; that is a lot of what I do here in my current role as the Outreach Librarian. However, the article did give me some additional ideas that I hope to apply in expanding that mission here. Such partnerships can facilitate new and better library programs. In addition, the authors state that virtual reference can also be an important service tool for LGBTQ patrons. This is due to the anonymity element virtual reference can offer, which the authors discuss in the article.
The article presents research done at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, which, as the authors cite, is an area "known for its conservative social views stemming from strong held religious influences, [that] is in the heart of the 'Bible Belt'" (405). The description of that area is very applicable to the area I currently work in. So, if those folks can make some positive efforts in regard to LGBTQ issues, maybe we could take some steps here as well. The review portion of the article goes on to state various diversity and LGBTQ-friendly initiatives the campus has taken. The authors also describe their libraries as having been "a leader on campus with regards to diversity initiatives" (405). That is something every academic library should aspire to do.
The authors go on to describe their research methods including use of qualitative study in the form of interviews of self-identified LGBTQ people. The questions asked that were related to the library and information services are useful ones to gather some good data. For the authors, this led to a reflective process that included doing a SWOT analysis and identifying opportunities and potential partnerships in order to move forward. The article then includes excellent, practical ideas for action.
Selected notes from the article:
- This quote from a patron, cited by the authors, made me think: "When you are coming out and digging for information, it is really important to be able to find information about yourself. You want to read stuff about you and what you are trying to figure out. Maybe a website that directs you right to the areas where you can find LGBTQ books or spotlight a gay books now and then on the library homepage. So having something that they can discover on their own, something that they don't have to go too far into the library website or the university website, for that matter, would be good. If you promote that you have these resources and let people know where they are, it will do a lot for those struggling to come out" (408).
- Online information is crucial, especially since people at times may not feel comfortable asking a reference librarian at the reference desk. Online resources need to be relevant, local as well as external, and promote knowledge growth for the LGBTQ patrons, their allies, and I will add those people just wanting to learn more. This also includes virtual reference.
- Again, I am reminded that I need to develop an LGBTQ research guide for us here. We use LibGuides here, so I've got that tool. The usual challenge is the lack of time (plus the possibility someone up above may say "what do we need that for?" or slightly worse).
- On how librarians need to change: "In order to make this possible, traditionalist reference librarians will have to poke their 'ostrich heads' out of the proverbial sands of heterosexism and prejudice and learn to discard using outdated efforts towards LGBTQ matters and outgrow resistance that in the past have included (Mehta and Braquet, 2007b): ignoring or excluding any LGBTQ references in communication and information exchanges; being ignorant of LGBTQ concerns and thinking that is an acceptable excuse; maintaining status quo and refusing to change the way things function; not discarding heterosexual assumptions; using delaying and strategic actions of diverting attention or bureaucractic procedures; and making token gestures that do not make real changes" (409). For librarians, ignorance is not an excuse nor an option. And any librarian who behaves as described above, whether to LGBTQ patrons or any other patron that may not fit their paradigm or prejudices (racial, ethnic, orientation, etc.), as far as I am concerned they are as bad as those unethical pharmacists who refuse to provide legal contraception because their sky fairy beliefs take precedence. Those people should be fired and removed from their profession for they have failed to be professionals, not to mention failing at being human beings.
- Why we need knowledgeable librarians in this regard. The authors cite another patron, and what happened to this patron should not have happened as far as I am concerned. Not in my library if I can help it. The scenario: "I contacted a librarian by e-mail for a paper I was doing and we never could meet, so she left me a packet behind the reference desk. She was helpful and not discriminatory or anything but over half the resources she gave me were not what I needed. They were off-the-wall and conservative. She wasn't doing it on purpose or anything; it was just not at all what I needed. So, having someone there who is familiar enough with subject matter to lead you in the right direction would have been helpful" (409). I think this patron may be a bit more charitable than I might be. Sounds like the librarian failed to do any form of reference interview, and she just picked out whatever she could find guided by her own prejudices. I will go so far as to tell colleagues that if they do not want to deal with someone based on something like this, refer them to me. I will be happy to take care of them.
- Community engagement is crucial.
- Training for librarians, especially those who may be less knowledgeable, is important. "For reference services to become a beacon of support to all LGBTQ individuals, this will mean, first and foremost, for reference librarians to spend some time to become familiar with the coming out profess so that they can effectively assist a range of LGBTQ individuals. . . . "(411).
- The library's outreach role is crucial as well. This is something I work and strive for. The authors write, "instead, in order to stay relevant in the twenty-first century there needs to be a paradigm shift in the outreach liaison functionality of the academic library (including reference) to promote itself as a proactive player and supporter of LGBTQ concerns in the campus and surrounding community (Mehra and Srinivasan, 2007)" (qtd. in 412).
- More on outreach, the authors describe this scenario. This is something I do try to do when I am doing outreach work; I do quite a lot of tables and booths at events, which makes me in essence a public face for the library. They write, "when the library does outreach, say at tables or booths at events, the library should get across the message the library is the place to find resources on all types of issues of diversity, including LGBT" (413).
- I found the idea of using a university library's chat service intriguing. The authors describe a collaboration with local school librarians and GSA groups promoting the academic library as a resource for all, whether they are affiliated to the university or not. This is facilitated by the fact the chat service is anonymous and requires no log-in. What we use now is also anonymous and requires no log-in. Given the restraints I face, I am not sure I could propose this for the library's chat reference, but it might work for my own Meebo chat box in my research guides so folks needing assistance from schools and the community could contact me. I would like to investigate this further.
- This quote on social justice also made me think. I find myself often going back to the ideas of social justice because it goes with who I am in spite of the prevailing environment I currently work in. It also takes me back the idea of library neutrality that I have reflected upon before. The quote in question: "It suggests the need for traditional academic librarians and others to play a more proactive social justice and social advocacy role to meet the needs of LGBTQ populations and other minorities who are pigeon-holed on the margins of society owing to prevailing trends of heterosexism, homophobia, racism, sexism, and other unfair and unjust legal, social, cultural, economic, and political rhetoric, values, behavior, and discriminatory practices" (417).