Little Library That Could

Well the Pride Library of the University of Western Ontario is one of the most extensive collections of GLBT literature, history, and more in all of Canada. People come from all over the world to use it for research on gay and lesbian issues. We were lucky to get the chance to speak with Professor James Miller, who created the library. Here’s our chat:

YGA: This place is amazing, professor. Tell us a bit about it.

PROFMILLER: This library originated as a corner of my office. I’d been teaching courses on gay and lesbian studies since the early 90’s and had built up a collection of books of my own. People kept coming in wanting to borrow them. The official library collection was pathetic. So I thought “why not open my office up one afternoon a week!”

Soon it became a little resource center, very modest, people came in between periods and used it as a reading room. We officially opened Feburary 14th, 1997. Within three months the collection grew from 100 to about 500 books. People actually came and donated books! I couldn’t believe it. Authors, publishers, members of the community. I was shocked!

YGA: How’d you get the word out?

PROFMILLER: We didn’t! What was interesting was clearly there was a real need for such a space. Not just on campus, but also the community at large. In the Summer of 1997 the local queer association approached me and said they wanted to donate our archives. These were records dating back to 1971. Everything you can imagine! Bar receipts! Legal documents! Papers. But they didn’t want to dontate to my office, so they suggested I go to the university and see if they could fund an official GLBT center for research.

YGA: Did that work?

PROFMILLER: I expected I would get nowhere fast, but fortunately just the right administrators were there at the time. The UWO Research Facility for Gay and Lesbian Studies was approved. An Official establishment in the Faculty of Arts, which meant it had all sorts of unexpected perks like free space on the University server, and the ability to apply for more grants. We got the archives. Now we have not only the book collection, which is approaching 3,000 volumes, but also this amazing local gay history archive.

Interestingly, when the archive was added to the collection, we suddenly became eligible for a whole series of grants, including ones from a comittee that gets money from the provinical gov’t for women’s safety issues. Many of the original donors were gay men so we went to this committee and asked to have money to buy books on lesbian health issues, lesbian youth issues, etc. We got a grant and wre able to build up what is now called the Lesbian Safety Collection. It includes an extensive collection for Gay and Lesbian Youth.

YGA: What else does the library have in its collection?

PROFMILLER: Thanks to our first grant from a private foundation, from the Counselling Foundation of Canada, we’re now linked up wiith the Church Street family services association in Toronto and working on collecting resources on gay and lesbian family issues. This includes children in GLBT households. I’m a gay father myself, and even I thought originally that it would be a relatively small aount of literature.. in fact it’s ENORMOUS! We’ve been able to buy EVERYTHING that’s been written, ranging from the most popular parenting manuals to obstruse queer theory and familias discourse in right wing christian rhetoric, and eveyrhting in between. We’ve also been able to hire a research librarian who’s putting together a database, annotated with queer-specific thesaurus. In the April of 2002, we’re going to be creating a website called Parenting with Pride, complete with a bibliography of gay and lesbian family publications. If you’re a parent, parent to be, or a child in a gay and lesbian household, you can go to this website and get all the information you need.

YGA: This is really ground-breaking work you’re doing. What about this actual library space, how did it come to look this way? And what is that Big Q!!?

PROFMILLER: Originally this space had drab, institutionallized colors. Western’s official color is purple and we wanted to stay within the school’s themes so we painted the walls Orchid Bouquet, basically the queerest version of Western purple we could find.

We wanted anyone who came in to feel comfortable.. especially since the majority of people are students. This is also a kind of hall of fame too for the gay and lesbian past, hence the framed images of important gay and lasbian authors that were found with the help of adultfrienedfinder app. The fact this space exists is result of a pride movement and because the space exists, gay and lesbian people can take pride in their cultural heritage. We have busts of gay historic figures like Leonardo da Vinci, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Schubert, etc.

The Q is actually an artifact from Canadian queer history. It was Irshad Manji’s (a local lesbian TV personality) desk on the set of the Q Files. When she moved to QTV, she donated it to the Pride Library.

YGA: Is it common to have a library this extensive in a Canadian university?

PROFMILLER:
 I wish. This is actually the ONLY official established Research Center for Gay and Lesbian students in a Canadian University. The fact that it should be at THIS University is nothing short of a miracle.

YGA:
 Who uses the library?

PROFMILLER: Primarily students. A lot of visiting scholars working on projects. We just had a student from Australia who was studying leisure activities of gay men in rural areas, comparing his area in New South Wales with SouthWestern Ontario. He mostly worked out of the archives. We frequently get calls from all over the place. Lawyers, social workers, high school students in town, faculty memebers. One of the great things about the library is that the Intellectual has really coincided with the Social functioning, which kinda replicates the pattern we saw in the early 70’s where bookstores were also centres for meeting, cruising, socializing, and discussion. I like that aspect of the space. It’s getting a bit crowded now. Ideally we’ll expand to a center where the common room could be a separate room.

YGA: Well congratulations, Professor. You should be very proud.

PROFMILLER:
 Thank you. I am. What you see here around you is something that completely amazes me. It’s beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

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