Tag Archives: LGBT

Providing LGBT Reader’s Advisory Services

Today’s guest blogger is Amanda Wanner, the Library Coordinator for Qmunity’s Out on the Shelves Library and an MLIS student at UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.

An average-looking teenage girl approaches the reference desk, and shyly asks, “do you have any novels with bisexual girls?” Quick! What do you do? Do you rattle off the first (or maybe the only) book you can think of? (“Have you tried Annie on my Mind”?) Do you give the patron a blank stare? Does your body language look welcoming and casual, or do you tense up and give the impression that you are uncomfortable?

Based on a landmark 2005 study of public libraries in Vancouver1, a surprising number of librarians handled a similar query with devastating incompetence. In this study, a confederate patron (a high school girl) asked 20 different library reference desks, “I am planning to start a club at my high school. A gay-straight alliance. What books do you have that could help me out?” Some of the worst responses to the reference request included blank stares, raised eyebrows, walking away in the middle of the reference interview, tense body language, and making disparaging remarks about the topic.

The study reported:

Despite the fact that the reference desks were not busy, it seemed to Angela [the confederate patron] that many librarians wanted to conclude this “non-routine” interaction as soon as possible. In three cases, Angela recorded that once the librarians clarified that she wanted gay and lesbian materials, they became even more rushed, despite the fact that no customers were waiting. During the interviews, two librarians uttered what Angela considered were disparaging remarks about her topic: one referred to gay and lesbian-related fiction as “weird fiction,” while another said that she had moved teen gay and lesbian fiction to another location so the library “wouldn’t offend anyone.” (Curry, 2005, p. 70).

Given this history, is it any surprise that LGBT patrons may not feel comfortable approaching a reference desk? For members of a historically marginalized community, approaching a reference desk to ask about LGBT-related items takes courage. Sure, we live in Canada, where we have made great strides for gay and lesbian civil rights. But civil rights battles for trans* rights are still ongoing, and changing minds and attitudes in some areas will take time. The study quoted above was conducted in 2005. How do librarians today deal with LGBT questions? Have things gotten better?

As a specialised genre, many do not know how to find LGBT materials. It’s easy to consult a booklist, or rattle off the one or two popular LGBT titles that come to mind (“I bet we have a copy of Boy Meets Boy somewhere…”) – and cross your fingers that the patron isn’t looking for something more specific.

But here’s the dirty truth: LGBT books are not a monolith group, and nor are the members that belong to it. In fact, if you look carefully, you will find that LGBT literature is a robust genre, ranging from poetry and essays by sex workers to campy lesbian novels to gender variant young adult novels. Many of these wonderful books, in fact, are carried by our public libraries, but can get lost in the catalogue, buried by inappropriate or offensive LC subject headings.

Are you prepared to provide reader’s advisory services for wide-ranging queries such as:

  • “I’m looking for a good young adult book with a gender variant character. What should I read?”
  • “I think I might be bisexual! Do you know of any good books that star a bisexual character?”
  • “My son has started cross-dressing. Do you have a good book that deals with transgender youth?”
  • “I’m looking for a campy lesbian mystery novel. Do you have any, preferably something really recent?”

Don’t freak out! Resources abound to help you navigate this tricky genre!

Book awards

One of the best ways to keep abreast of recent developments in queer literature is to consult the “Lammys” (Lambda Literary Awards), the largest and most visible awards given in queer literature. Competition categories are highly varied and specific, making it a great source for reader’s advisory research. Prizes are awarded in areas as diverse as “lesbian erotica”, “bisexual fiction”, “transgender fiction”, and “LGBT speculative fiction”, to name a few.

Other notable awards for LGBT literature include:

Booklists, blogs, tumblr…

Using social media is key to keeping on top of new developments in LGBT literature. The breadth of blogs, tumblrs, and booklists online is extensive and overwhelming, so I’ll just name a couple of key spots here. This list is by no means comprehensive!


Looking at recent publications from LGBT-friendly publishers (especially local ones) is another great way to stay on top of the literature. A few good local publishers to keep an eye on include:

For more, see Lambda Literary’s list of LGBT Publishers and LGBT-friendly Publishers.

User generated content


One of the best ways to navigate LGBT literature is to go straight to the source. How do patrons themselves describe these books? User-generated tags and lists ensure that similar items are grouped together by the population actually reading the materials, and help sidestep the issue of inappropriate or outdated LC cataloguing.

For example, when looking up Zoe Whittall’s novel Holding Still for a Long as Possible in the VPL’s Bibliocommons, the LC subject headings listed for the book are (as of the date of this writing):

These headings aren’t very useful if you’re trying to find a queer-related book! However, patrons reading the book have tagged it as:

  • transgender
  • ftm
  • glbt
  • glbtq
  • lesbian
  • lgbt
  • trans*

What a goldmine! As you can see, using tags has the benefit of allowing users to use their own language to describe books as the language changes, but because tags aren’t a controlled vocabulary, there can also be some repetition or redundancy. That’s okay! Clicking any of these tags brings up a dynamite list of other related books that users have also tagged.


Finally, use a social media site created specifically for bibliophiles, such as Goodreads, LibraryThing, or Shelfari. On Goodreads – my site of choice – users can add books to “shelves” (aka add public tags), which are a good way to check whether others have pegged a book as LGBT. The “listopia” function is another way to find similar books based on different characteristics of the book. Users are able to create lists, add to them, and vote on the most relevant titles, making them highly flexible, diverse, and comprehensive.

Making Changes at YOUR Library

When thinking about reader’s advisory services at your library, always include LGBT content. Why? Even if you never see them, LGBT patrons live in every community. If LGBT patrons are not visible in your library, it may be because they do not feel welcome, not that they do not live in the area.

What can your library do to serve the LGBT community?

  • Try creating displays of books that are visible and prominent. Displays that are outdated, placed in unused corners – or worse, completely absent in the first place! – sends a message about the types of services your library offers.
  • Train staff to handle LGBT reader’s advisory questions with sensitivity and tact (including information about pronoun usage, gender neutral bathrooms, and the diversity of LGBT books available).
  • Create a reader’s advisory booklist/manual for patrons with robust LGBT suggestions. Many patrons who are interested in LGBT materials will never approach the reference desk in the first place. Providing anonymous, asynchronous, or self-serve options are critical for this population.

Looking for more information? Check out the LGBT reader’s advisory manual I created for the Out on the Shelves Library at Qmunity, where I am currently the Library Coordinator.

1. Curry, A. (2005). If I Ask , Will They Answer?: Evaluating Public Library Reference Service to Gay and Lesbian Youth. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 45(1), 65–75.

Throughout the month of May students from UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies will be posting their best Readers’ Advisory tips to the RAIG blog!

The Problem of Dumbledore: LGBT Characters in YA Series

Today’s guest blogger is Dylan Schroeder from Fraser Valley Regional Library (Dylan.schroeder@live.com). Dylan recently did several excellent presentations to FVRL staff on the topic of RA in YA with an LGBT focus. Here are his thoughts:

YA Lit is known by and large for a few big series, flagship titles that sell tens of thousands of copies and becoming big Hollywood movies- with varying levels of success. Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games are probably the most notable entries in the genre in the last ten years. It’s interesting to note then, that in the text of these books there isn’t a single LGBT character. “But wait”, you say, preparing to brain me in the head with your copy of Deathly Hallows, “Dumbledore is gay! JK Rowling told us so! “ You’re right, she did tell us so. After all the books came out, when it didn’t really matter anymore. Subtext is all very well and good, people have been locking in on homoerotic subtext for years, just go read any fanfiction on the internet and you’ll see what I mean, but it doesn’t do an LGBT reader any good while they’re actually reading the series and it’s never stated that Dumbledore is gay. Representation is important, and in the books being gay is not a part of Dumbledore’s character identity, and we the reader only learn he’s gay after he’s dead. I’m not trying to sound like I’m being hard on J.K Rowling because at least she made the effort, in a sort of have your cake and eat it too, sort of way. Twilight and The Hunger Games are both completely free of LGBT characters. Considering the author of Twilight, I suppose we shouldn’t’ be that surprised, but I don’t’ think it would have been terribly difficult for Suzanne Collins to have made Finnick bisexual, he being a well paid prostitute, and Johanna would have been an easy choice to add a prominent lesbian character. Alas.

So, that’s the bad news. The big three don’t really have much for an LGBT reader to get excited about, but if you’re looking to recommend some NYT bestseller realm titles, all hope is not lost. The Divergent series, which is attempting to nip at the heels of The Hunger Games, albeit with a less interesting heroine and some cut and paste worldbuilding, does have a few LGBT characters. There is a (presumably) lesbian character, Lynn in the second book. Unfortunately she dies, and she doesn’t really receive a lot of attention or character development. The third deliriumbook adds a pair of gay male characters who receive even less attention than Lynn, but at least they exist, and Roth acknowledges that gay people exist. A similar situation exists in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series. The second two books contain a pair of gay characters that the main character befriends, they’re shown as nice and brave, but that’s about it. The popular House of Night series also has a pair of gay characters, one of whom is unfortunately killed part way through the series.

These characters are all fairly minor, but as luck would have it there are a few huge YA series that have more substantial LGBT characters. The Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray has a lesbian character, Felicity, who is one of the four main characters of the series and is given a very rich characterization. The series is set in Victorian England and what that would mean for a young girl who was gay is explored quite delicately. Cassandra Clare is a fairly divisive author in the YA genre, but her books have LGBT characters of multiple varieties, the two most prominent being Alec and Magnus, who are both major characters in the series and receive a large amount of focus and development. In recent and honestly very exciting news, Rick Riordan has revealed in his latest novel that Nico D’Angelo, a prominent character in both The Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series is in love with Percy Jackson himself. This is a big deal because these series are technically middle grade and are very very popular. Middle grade sees very few LGBT characters and so the impact of Nico’s character is huge. He’s well developed, outside of being gay, and is a very relatable character for LGBT young people. I’ll be more impressed if Riordan gives him a happy ending, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what happens when the final book comes out.

I’ve been specifically talking about series, not stand-alones, and ones that are exceedingly popular, LGBT characters do appear in some slightly less popular series. Holly Black’s Tithe series, Sarah Rees Brennan’s the Demon’s Lexicon and Lynburn Legacies series, Carrie Mac’s Droughtlanders all very prominently feature LGBT characters. In terms of stand-alone there are a wide range of LGBT YA books of varying qualities, but I think that’s a discussion for another blog-post.

The question now is, how long is it until we get a blockbuster YA series that is helmed by an LGBT character? Scott Tracey wrote an excellent series called Witch Eyes, and it’s a real shame that it didn’t get more attention, because it follows the classic “special main character moves to a new place and meets a boy who they want to date, but can’t because forces are driving them apart” trope that these things seem to love. This time the main character is gay, but it’s not played up as a particularly big deal. Alas, maybe the next Hunger Games or Twilight will be about an LGBT person, but I think it might be a ways off yet.