What is the Black Queer Studies Collection?
The Black Queer Studies Collection, which is designated digitally through notes in library catalog records, is meant to feature, promote and increase the discoverability of the UT Libraries’ unique holdings in the area of African and African Diasporic Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies. The Black Queer Studies Collection is a groundbreaking project in librarianship in that it addresses standard obstacles posed by the Library of Congress Subject Headings and information retrieval systems to locating materials by and about Black Diasporic LGBTQ people. Since materials in the Black Queer Studies Collection are cataloged according to their Library of Congress subject headings, they are physically separated throughout the library, the Local Note applied to the collection allows the materials to be gathered together digitally.
What is a virtual collection? Why aren't all the books in the same place in the library?
The Black Queer Studies Collection is a multi-disciplinary collection (containing fiction, poetry, literary and cultural criticism, films, etc). This means that the books are located in different sections of the library or even at different branch libraries, as they are added. Some are ebooks or streaming films, available online through the library catalog.
Why do we need something like the BQSC?
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.
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 did the BQSC 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. 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 visibility and literacy of African diasporic Queer and Transgender materials and supporting scholarly research within these subjects.
The collection started as 500 items and now includes over 900 items.
To read more about the process and collaboration that created that Black Queer Studies, see Kristen Hogan’s article “Breaking Secrets” in the Catalog: Proposing the Black Queer Studies Collection at UT Austin.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.