Los Angeles Public Library Asks, "What's Your Queery?"

The Los Angeles County Public Library's extensive LGBT Services were established a year and a half ago by librarians who built staff support with grassroots efforts and "doughnut diplomacy."
Oliva and Ruiz share their work and tagline, “What’s your queery?”

Rudy Ruiz (left) and Xochitl Oliva share their work and tagline,
“What’s your queery?”

The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) wants to know: "What's your queery?" That phrase is the tagline for the library system's LGBT Services, established a year and a half ago and the subject of a presentation at the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco. The confluence of the Supreme Court decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case and the annual Gay Pride celebration parade during the conference proved the perfect backdrop for the presentation, in which two LAPL librarians described how they improved LGBT services through grassroots efforts. Xochitl Oliva, archivist and co-chair of the LGBT Services Committee at LAPL, and Rudy Ruiz, LAPL adult librarian and LGBT Services member, described how the initiative combined leadership opportunities for staff with the desire to improve services to special populations. “We have two of us steering the ship, but we have a wide group of contributors. We try to find the talent,” said Oliva of herself and LGBT Services co-chair David Hagopian, two of the five librarians who established LGBT Services at the library last January to ensure quality patron services throughout the 72-branch system. The group’s impetus started from LAPL’s Leading from Any Position initiative, which holds workshops designed to promote grassroots innovation. LGBT Services was founded alongside other affinity groups including multilingual services, veterans’ services, and homeless services.

LGBT resources for June—and year round

“We created this LGBT Heritage Month resource packet with adult programs, young adult programs, children’s programs, [and] book lists, and we created this webpage for patron self-service,” Olivia described. Those resources including blog posts, podcasts, book lists, and even databases of interest. “The idea is, it’s not just in June,” added Oliva. As a part of the Heritage Month resource project, two children’s librarians created rainbow family story times that could be implemented at any location. Activities included a family mobile-making craft program for all ages and another hands-on opportunity to create Pride buttons. The library's LGBT book lists are also notable for their level of specificity, separating out YA books on lesbian and transgender themes from those with gay male characters. Ruiz also organized an LGBT-themed film program. A filmmaker and former cataloger at the University of Southern California (USC) Cinematic Arts archive, Ruiz knew about USC’s student films whose copyright was held by the University. “All these rare students films were being made by the LGBT student body from the seventies [and] sixties" and were not being seen. His program to screen those films was well attended. “I work at one one of the smaller, more remote branches outside of metro L.A.,” he said. “{It is] a very conservative community, and I got positive reactions to it. Which goes to show you can pretty much do this anywhere.”

Team building and doughnut diplomacy

Since the program launched, “our [staff] numbers have really grown,” said Oliva. “Last year we had 70 participating in our outreach in some area. This year, we had 86. Staff, friends, and family—that was our big Pride outreach.” While building the program, “We said, ‘all staff are invited,’” according to Oliva. “[Staff members’] managers had to approve it and give them time to attend…. [T]here’s a lot of talent among the ranks, and when we isolate and segregate and don’t involve [staff], we don’t get buy-in with the work. Involving people, we give them the ability to build skills, to build their resume.” She notes that she created minutes with action items after each meeting, so that staff members who don’t attend can still “be on board.” Olivia also attributes the program’s successful team-building to “doughnut diplomacy,” she said. “Every time we have a meeting, we offer doughnuts and coffee. That’s how we keep people coming back…. After the meetings, we walk around, go to the administration, and walk around with the box. We’re like, ‘Hi, we’re LGBT services. This is what we do.’ All of a sudden, you have a conversation, and people you might not have spoken to are interested in joining the committee.” “We are trying to create a structure that anyone could look at and re-create,” she added. “We’re going for replicability.” The LAPL LGBT Services group will present a panel session at the California Library Association Conference on November 5.
wendyWendy Stephens is the librarian at Cullman High School in Cullman, AL. She has a Ph.D. in Information Science and National Board Certification in Library Media.  
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