Libraries in Hampton Roads offer resources for LGBTQ community despite challenges

While the modern library is a plethora of resources, for the LGBTQ community they’ve been a steady friend in the sexual revolution of the last century.

“There have always been narratives collected by libraries to address this community,” said Carolyn Kaywood, a retired librarian with the Virginia Beach Public Library. “But that doesn’t mean people don’t challenge it.”

Kaywood has been a librarian in Virginia Beach since 1979 and she has seen the trends of book culture change along with society, she said.

That includes resources for LGBTQ communities.

While Kevin Smith, director of the Yorktown Library, said those resources have always been around and they have continued to grow in the past decade.

“Public libraries are very attuned to the spirit of the times,” he said. “That’s part of our evolution and being aware of what’s important to society today, so we’re going to try and provide that type of material.”

Barry Trott, special projects and technical services director at the Williamsburg Regional Library, said those items have always been available.

But after the past four decades in the library, Kaywood knows those resources don’t come without a challenge.

A few years after she started as a librarian in 1982, she said the library had a copy of the LGBTQ newsletter, “Our Own Community Press,” available for readers. A patron was outraged after seeing a comic strip on the front that referenced a gay person and demanded the material be removed.

As leaders of public information the librarians did no such thing.

“They way people were upset about it, you’d think it featured something graphic, but it didn’t,” she said. “And in those situations, the classic library response, if you’re calm enough to remember, is that the library serves all of the people in the community, all points of view and we can find you stuff that’s more suitable to your interests but there are other people with other interests than you.”

As the issue continued in the public eye, eventually the library pushed the notion that the subject wasn’t up for discussion and the materials would stay.

While it may seem like this was an issue of decades ago, during a different time with different ways of thinking, Smith said there have even been a couple of instances in his library where LGBTQ material has been challenged.

Over the years, the amount of material has grown to include books for teenagers and even picture books for children that handle topics like families with same sex parents. But these topics aren’t always welcomed by visitors.

“It’s your right to challenge it but we don’t simply remove something because you don’t like it,” he said.

And so far, the books have stayed on the shelves to give all members of the community access to resources they need.

“Banning books is a terrible thing and limiting access to those views and narratives doesn’t promote inclusiveness,” said Corey Mohr, public relations and marketing manager of the LGBT Life Center in Norfolk.

At the LGBT Life Center, they offer a library with about 1,500 books either written by or about LGBTQ individuals. While some of the titles are offered at the public library now, Mohr said having them available in a space all their own helps members of the community feel like they have individuality.

But in having the material available at the public library creates an overall sense of acceptance in the Hampton Roads community, Mohr said.

“Visibility is extremely important and gives people a sense of self-worth,” he said. “I think traditionally, LGBTQ hasn’t had a lot of spaces and libraries have been part of the force that’s changing that.”

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.