Today’s post is from Ashley C. Huser, Digital Resources Librarian at the Evans Library, Florida institute of Technology. The photographs of Barbara Gittings are from LGBT History Month, where additional resources about Gittings are available.
Born on July 31st 1932, Barbara Gittings “is widely regarded as the mother of the LGBT civil rights movement” (LGBT History Month, 2006, para. 1). Her involvement in the movement began in 1956, long before the infamous Stonewall Riots of 1969 (Stein, 2009). Her prolific pioneering activism spanned far and wide, including within the world of libraries.
Gittings’ immersion into library service happened organically. While attempting to accept and learn about her own homosexuality, she scoured libraries and bookstores on a quest for literature on the topic, but remained largely empty-handed and unsatisfied (Kniffel, 1999). Therefore, when she got wind that a collection of gay librarians had formed a group within the American Library Association (ALA), she decided to join their mission, hoping to help increase the availability and discoverability of gay literature (Kniffel, 1999). In 1970 she created “a list of 37 gay-positive books, magazine articles, and pamphlets – the first version of a resource that would be known as ‘A Gay Bibliography’” (ALA, 2017, para. 3). In 1972 she officially joined the ALA and became the Task Force Coordinator of what was then known as ALA’s Task Force on Gay Liberation (ALA, 2017). This task force was the first professional organization of its kind. Today, this trailblazing group is known as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT).
Although not formally trained as a librarian, Gittings was welcomed by the ALA with open arms (Kniffel, 1999). She went on to become an essential activist within the library community, serving as the Task Force Coordinator for fifteen years (Independence Branch Library, 2012). In an interview with Kniffel in 1999 she reflected that,
What has changed, in the nearly 30 years since the task force started, is simply that librarians have not only become accustomed to gay literature – which is now, happily, a flood of gay literature – but they have embraced it and taken it up. You don’t have to have quite the nudging and pressure that we had to use in the early years to get librarians to pay attention at all to the emerging gay literature. (p.75)
Gittings died at the age of 74 on February 18th, 2007 (Fox, 2007). However, her legacy and accomplishments live on in infinite respects within the library world and the LGBT community as a whole. Several library related tributes have been created to memorialize her legacy including: the Barbara Gittings Gay & Lesbian Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs collection of The New York Public Library, and the GLBTRT’s Barbara Gittings Literature Award.