Suzie Day, Australia: Subverting the system: Catering to the LGBTI community in your library when your boss says “no dough”

"You are showing a young teenager that you won’t laugh at them for wanting to find out about safe sex. No matter what you do, you will be inspiring hope in other, showing them that they are not alone."

 Genre labels on LGBTI literature
Suzie Day studies Library and Management Studies at Curtin University in Western Australia. In this paper, she gives advice on how to make school and public libraries more attractive to the LGBTI community even when there is no extra funding available. How about, for instance, labeling LGBTI literature with a small pink triangle, or organizing a special event during Pride? 

Which of Suzie Day's tips do you find most helpful? Do you have any other ideas on how to make libraries more appealing to the LGBTI community? 

To read all of Suzie Day's tips, click on "read more". Enjoy, comment, share and discuss!

Subverting the system:
Catering to the LGBTI community in your library
when your boss says “no dough”

By Suzie Day 

At the time of writing, the recession is taking its toll around the world. In American and the UK, libraries are “in crises”, and are being closed all the time. Funding is scarce, which means there is almost no chance of a library receiving grants to provide services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersexed (LGBTI) community. This paper will provide a brief outline on the kinds of positive changes that can be made to school and public libraries, while spending little or no money. As it stands, LGBTI services in Australian libraries is still in its infancy, which means that staff are finding new and creative means of reaching out to their users, without official funding. The ideas presented here have been gathered using crowd-sourcing using various social media forms, and have been used in a number of different settings and cultural climates around Australia. Finally, it will also provide a number of practical suggestions on how to make a difference to your community, without the big bucks.


In recent times, economic downturn across the globe resulted in the reduction of spending, to the point where American and British libraries are said to be “in crisis” (Hertz, 2011). It is in times like this that libraries become even more vital to communities, providing free services such as internet access that cannot be offered elsewhere (Rooney-Browne, 2009). Libraries have a reputation of being safe and welcoming places, a sentiment which is echoed in the fiction book, The God Box (Sanchez, 2007). The author uses the school library as the setting for the one place in the school where students of diverse sexuality and gender (DSG) felt safe enough to be themselves, and eventually, form a Gay-Straight Alliance (p. 234). Both school and public libraries have the potential to provide services specifically relevant to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex community (LGBTI), even when there is little or no funding. And for a community as marginalised as the LGBTI people, any and every effort for inclusion is valued and recognised.

Collection management

If you have the opportunity to be involved with the ordering of new stock for your library, make sure you have titles in your collection that are LGBTI inclusive. You don’t need to set aside any specific funding, but try and introduce LGBTI titles as a matter of course. This includes adult, Young Adult (YA), and junior areas. It is also possible to do this with serials, and if funding allows, take out a subscription to a LGBTI magazine from your country. If disclosure of your sexuality in your workplace is problematic, it is still possible to order LGBTI-related stock. Try ordering items such as Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli books, which is a series of detective stories where the central character just happens to be a lesbian (2012). By doing this, you are providing your users with content which is directly relevant to them, as well as showing the people who visit you library that it is a safe space where everyone is welcome.

Story Time and Children’s Programs

Why not have inclusive Story Time? Try including some LGBTI friendly picture books every once in a while. Many parents will thank you for explaining to their kids why their Uncle Frank and Uncle Bill live together. Not to mention the fact that LGBTI parents will be thrilled, and will quite possibly spread the word within your local community that your Story Time is awesome. This can be done as part of a larger program, such as Pride celebrations, or as part of you general children’s services. Librarians and teachers must be aware however, of potential for public controversy that may arise as a result. The children’s picture book, And Tango Makes Three (Richardson & Parnell, 2005) was the fourth most banned book of the decade in the United States, according the American Library Association (2012). Yet caving to censorship is not the answer, and would likely result in more attention being draw to the topic if censorship does occur, as happened when a Western Australian public library book appeared with warning label attached (Dorrington, 2011). Silence and non-involvement is also not possible, as continued silence and avoidance of the topic only becomes more and more noticeable as time passes, as proved when the soap opera As the World Turns went 211 days between gay kisses, despite the characters in question being in a steady relationship (Ayers, 2008). Inclusive children’s programs, should they weather the controversy storm, have the potential to become a hugely positive influence in the lives of your users, and that is a reward greater than anything.  


Most public libraries have a number of posters decorating the walls, usually themed around reading, as well as local current events. Make sure you have some that are inclusive of DSG. In Western Australia, The Freedom Centre (a drop-in centre for youth with DSG) prints some fantastic posters which state “This is a safe space in which everyone is welcomed and respected”, superimposed over a rainbow (Wright, 2011). This is ideal for a school library, as it informs students that the library is a no-bullying zone, as well as assuring DSG that they are not invisible, and they have just as much right to protection as their peers. Others, such as Victoria’s Rainbow Network, take a humorous approach within a football context (2010). Perfect for your Young Adult section.

Community information and publications

It is not uncommon for public libraries to provide local community services information, as well as free publications, such as newspapers. Leaflet, pamphlets and brochures can usually be obtained from your local LGBTI organisations, as well as places such as Family Planning/Planned Parenthood, which promote free access to sexual health education for everyone (Family Planning Australia, 2008). This means that if your library can’t provide the services or material within their collection, they can provide their users with referrals to organisations who can.

Spine/genre labels

It may seem simple, but having an inverted pink triangle or a small rainbow sticker as a genre label can do a lot. To people who have an interest in LGBTI literature, this is a flashing neon sign. To everyone else, it is just another book (see photo from City of South Perth) Research show that the use of spine labels is often preferred by library users, because it allows them to find items of interest, while avoiding items they are less likely to enjoy (Ooi, 2008, 84). The same holds true for LGBTI literature. Those with an interest in in lesbian romances are much more likely to pick up an item that had a genre label that reflects the content of the book. Whether it be a colour coded sticker, or an LGBTI symbol such as an inverted pink triangle or a rainbow, you can turn a select few library items into a flashing neon sign to those with a vested interest. This is being done in a number of Australian libraries, including the City of South Perth, with relative success (Kelly, 2011).


Pride is celebrated around the world, sometimes in the face of extreme violence and opposition  (St James, 2011) . Most major cities will set aside three or four weeks of the year for events, lectures, fairs and celebrations, finishing in the epic Pride Parade. So why should your library miss out on the fun? In the US and Canada, more and more public libraries are providing dedicated programs during Pride Month, which is unfortunately not being replicated in Australian libraries at this point in time. Examples of this include the New York Public Library providing lectures on the history of the gay civil rights movement (2012), and a web portal of LGBTI-themed picture books for children created by the Toronto Public Library (2012). Set up a display, host an LGBTI themed movie night, invite queer authors in for books talks, or have a special Pride-themed Story Time If you like, you could even march in your local parade. Do anything you like for Pride, so long as you have fun!

Be “out”

More than anything however, be out. Whether you identify as being part of the DSG spectrum, or you are a heterosexual ally, make sure people are aware of your beliefs and views. Blogger Emily Lloyd felt that when you show your pride, you inspire hope in others (2010).  Wear a LGBTI themed button, t-shirt, a rainbow headband, whatever you like. You will be showing your colleagues that they are free to share part of themselves that would normally be censored. You are showing a young teenager that you won’t laugh at them for wanting to find out about safe sex. No matter what you do, you will be inspiring hope in other, showing them that they are not alone.


American Library Association. (2012). Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedbydecade/2000_2009

Ayers, D. (2008, April 23). Gay Teens Finally Kiss Again on ‘As the World Turns’ | AfterElton.com. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from http://www.afterelton.com/TV/2008/4/lukeandnoahkiss

Dorrington, B. (2011, August). Warnig label found on LGBT children’s book. Out in Perth, p. 5. Perth, Western Australia.

Family Planning Australia. (2008). Sexual health and Family Planning Australia. Retrieved July 3, 2012, from http://www.shfpa.org.au/about-us

Hertz, A. (2011, July 5). Library Cuts: UK Closures Ahead Of US, And More To Come For Both. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/05/library-cuts-uk-closures-_n_890686.html?utm_hp_ref=libraries-in-crisis

Kelly, E. (2011). Hey @MissSuzieDay, looky what I did today. Retrieved November 8, 2011, from http://yfrog.com/nyifjdsj

King, L. R. (2012). Kate Martinelli series. Retrieved July 3, 2012, from http://www.laurierking.com/books/kate-martinelli

Lloyd, E. (2010, October 2). Being Visibly Queer-Friendly: Please Consider It. Poesy Galore. Retrieved from http://poesygalore.blogspot.com/2010/10/being-visibly-queer-friendly-please.html

New York Public Library. (2012, June 4). June Happenings: ‘Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution’. nypl.org. Retrieved July 3, 2012, from http://www.nypl.org/node/168996

Ooi, K. (2008). How Adult Fiction Readers Select Fiction Books in Public Libraries: a Study of Information-Seeking in Context. University of Wellington, Wellington, NZ. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10063/1268

Rainbow Network Victoria. (2010, July 27). Coming Out Footy Posters. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from http://rainbownetwork.net.au/resource/coming-out-footy-posters

Richardson, J., & Parnell, P. (2005). And Tango Makes Three. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

Rooney-Browne, C. (2009). Rising to the challenge: a look at the role of public libraries in times of recession. Library Review58(5), 341–352. doi:10.1108/00242530910961765

Sanchez, A. (2007). The God box. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

St James, C. (2011, May 29). Moscow Pride turns violent. samesame. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://www.samesame.com.au/news/international/6851/Moscow-Pride-turns-violent.htm

Torronto Public Library. (2012). Rainbow Families. Retrieved July 3, 2012, from http://pinterest.com/torontolibrary/rainbow-families/

Wright, D. (2011). Useful Downloads from FC. The Freedom Center. Retrieved August 8, 2011, from http://freedom.org.au/Professionals/Info/useful-downloads-from-fc-a-other-places/menu-id-166.html


  1. Great ideas! I am so glad to see that public & school libraries are being represented in this conference. I work for a medium sized public library in Oklahoma City. I think this topic is especially relevant to areas like mine, which have sadly been traditionally hostile to the LGBTI community. I saw a number of schools & churches participating in this year's Pride events, tho not a single library...it is certainly an area of frustration, considering how much impact we can have on these users. I think the library is probably just worried about being seen as too "political". What are your thoughts about creating online library resources for LGBTI users? I know there are a number of free & inexpensive ways to do this.

    1. I have seen this done by the San Antonio Public Library in the US, who have a dedicated web portal and resource guides each year for Pride Month (http://guides.mysapl.org/pride), I don't know how successful it has been, but I sure liked it!

    2. That is a good one. This semester I wrote a paper about online library options for LGBTI young people who may feel uncomfortable approaching the reference desk in person, such as here in Oklahoma. Definitely a lot of possibilities. Looking forward to meeting you in Amsterdam!

  2. I have always appreciated and noticed as you have said the triangle or rainbows and am always so happy to see them!
    Thanks for all these great ideas!

  3. Hi Suzie,

    I will be at LGBTI ALMS in Amsterdam, and would be happy to share a copy of the presentation that I give to college students and librarians about how to justify LGBT collection development in an academic library. Many points would also apply to public or K-12 libraries. Maybe we can work on a project or paper together in the future on this topic.

    Rachel Wexelbaum
    Collection Management Librarian
    Saint Cloud State University
    Saint Cloud, MN

    1. I would love to see a copy of your presentation! One of the hardest thing I have found is that most other librarians don't think there is any need for dedicated services. Keep an eye out for me at the conference, I will be the one with the rainbow crutches!

      Suzie Day

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