Current information organization practice frequently obscures access to materials by and/or about historically marginalized communities, particularly lesbian, gay, and transgender communities of color (de la tierra, 2008; Olson, 2000; Valentine, 2007). This erasure results in a lack not only of appropriate materials in users’ search results, but also of sufficient context for the incomplete list materials generated by a search.
Current cataloging practice, and the current list of Library of Congress Subject Headings, result in unreliable application of appropriate subject headings to materials about queer people of color. In current cataloging practice, catalogers at the Library of Congress or other institutions (sometimes including UT) use the (generally slow to evolve) Library of Congress Subject Headings list to add subject headings to the record for an item. The catalogers upload these records to the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) database, and libraries, including the UT Libraries, copy available OCLC records for materials they add to the collections. Sometimes UT Libraries catalogers update the records, but this is not always possible.
As a result of this process, current subject headings insufficiently describe the subjects of African diasporic lesbian, gay, and transgender materials (Valentine; Olson, 2007). For example, What We All Long For (Knopf Canada, 2008), a book including a central Asian lesbian character and written by well-known Black Canadian lesbian author Dionne Brand, features the four subject headings: “Toronto (Ont.) -- Fiction; Vietnamese -- Ontario -- Toronto -- Fiction; Female Friendship -- Fiction; Refugees -- Fiction.” A keyword search in the catalog for “Black lesbian fiction” or “lesbian fiction” or even “lesbian” would not retrieve What We All Long For. Also, current U.S. cataloging practice does not consider the identity of the author as a subject; therefore, the author’s identity does not affect subject headings assigned to their material.
Such obstacles to locating material about and by queer people, and especially about and by queer people of color, are pervasive, as librarian and author tatiana de la tierra points out: bibliographic records without possible or known search terms in their bibliographic record “are effectively erased from catalogs. To not name is to eradicate, to make invisible. It is like banning a book that no one ever knew existed to begin with” (de la tierra, p. 100). When, as a result of inadequate cataloging innovation, search terms generate too few results, the meager results list lacks the complexity of a full context for that search or field and the false indication that there is not much material available is detrimental to researchers seeking personal and/or academic validation (Furner, 2009; de la tierra).
With the introduction of the Black Queer Studies Collection, the UT Libraries acknowledge that a catalog is not neutral. The virtual collection begins to redress the erasure of Black diasporic lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender materials by the current absence of information organization tools, and this practice models a way for library professionals to counteract anti-professional claims to objectivity and take a rightful role in critical engagement with knowledge organization’s production of meaning (Andersen, 2006; Dunbar, 2006; Furner, 2009; Olson & Schlegl).How can we use the Black Queer Studies Collection?
You can use the UT Libraries Catalog to browse or search within the Black Queer Studies Collection.
To browse the collection: in the catalog, you can perform a keyword search for “Black Queer Studies Collection” (using quotation marks); this search will return all of the materials currently designated as part of this collection-in-process.
To search within the collection: in the catalog, perform a keyword search for “Black Queer Studies Collection” and [enter your search terms here].
This is a collection in process, and it is only one tool to facilitate research with Black queer materials. The collection started as 50 items; the second phase of the collection will add in all of the materials listed in Carry the Word: A Bibliography of Black LGBTQ Books(RedBone Press/Vintage Entity Press, 2007) and currently owned by the UT Libraries. This collection would not have been as powerful without the vital resource Carry the Word, edited by Lisa C. Moore, Steven G. Fullwood, and Reginald Harris; the book is evidence of the significance of small presses and bibliography projects to queer visibility. Throughout this process, UT Libraries catalogers have also been revising some of the subject headings, thus further improving access to these materials. In the ongoing third phase of the collection, faculty will add currently-owned and new titles to the collection through an annual review process.How did the Black Queer Studies Collection happen?
This proposal began in 2009 when UT professor Matt Richardson, faculty in the English Department, the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, asked UT subject specialist Lindsey Schell whether it would be possible to improve catalog access to and representation of Black Diasporic LGBT materials at the UT Libraries. Kristen Hogan, a PhD graduate from UT’s English Department, had recently returned to UT as an MSIS student in the School of Information; she was interested in the challenges of cataloging and accessibility, particularly for LGBTQ materials. She joined discussions between Matt Richardson and Lindsey Schell and drafted a proposal arguing that practicing critical librarianship could support interdisciplinary scholarship and intersectional identities. In order to devote time to the proposal, Hogan developed an independent study with information organization scholar and UT School of Information professor Melanie Feinberg. Hogan utilized Richardson’s scholarly analysis of African diasporic LGBTQ literature as an infrastructure for the proposal. In his work, Richardson articulates the transformative archive of the Black queer subject and uses scholarly articles, in part, to create key Black lesbian bibliographies (Richardson, “Bibliography,” “No More Secrets,” “Black Queer Memory”); these practices emphasize a body of literature and point to how critical librarianship, by creating or not creating similar lists, substantiates or undermines a field, a literature, and a readership. The BQSC employs scholarly collaboration and critical librarianship to generate both visibility and literacy of African diasporic LGBTQ materials, thus supporting research and, as Richardson and other scholars have suggested, the promise of African diasporic Queer and Transgender Studies to shift our understandings of current and historical narratives of race, sexuality, and gender.
The Department of English, the Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS) and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies (CWGS) supported the proposal and pledge a small annual support for the collection. The CAAAS Executive Committee determined the name for the collection. Richardson will serve as liaison with Schell to continue additions to the collection.