The Special Information Needs of LGBTQ College Students

Only a few of you will actually read this, but I’m up here on my soapbox again. To me, the issues surrounding the information needs of the LGBTQ community are abundant and complex, so I’ve decided to focus on the specific needs of college students.

Before the ranting begins, allow me to give you a bit of background:

Though my parents are not very conservative people, my father went through a “born again” phase when I was a child. As a result, I attended a very strict, conservative Christian church until I was 12. Around that time, I began to notice that I was developing an attraction toward other girls. Ignorant of the gay community and sexuality in general, I was terrified that I was “turning gay”. I still liked boys, so I figured that I was slowly becoming gay. It upset me to no end, and I prayed for god to change me back. I can’t properly convey to you the damage that it did, and how much I wish I could go back in time and just hold my 12 year old self, tell her it will get better, and give her some good literature to read. Because I didn’t find out until a few years later, when I entered high school, that there existed a third option- bisexuality.

As a queer child in Indiana in 2001, I actually had it easier than most. I made a friend who was just starting to come out, and I had a sympathetic counselor. My friend and I, along with a few others, began having “secret” group meetings in the counselors’ offices every other week. It wasn’t advertised, it wasn’t talked about, and the members were only referred by close friends or their respective counselors. We were able to share with each other, but even the adults leading the groups didn’t have much to say on the subject. They certainly didn’t have any literature to read. And so we didn’t have gay teen fiction, we didn’t have hotlines and encouraging YouTube videos, and we struggled to even find relevant information on the Internet. We had each other, and we were thankful, because we knew that it was so much better than the nothing we’d been through.

In college, I studied sexuality as much as possible in my academic research. I eventually began to identify with the umbrella term “queer”, as it was much more comfortable to me than the binary implications of the word “bisexual”. I’d been out to my brothers since high school, and my mother had found out and thought it was a passing phase. I actually didn’t come out to my father until last year, when our discussions finally came to standstill, and I had to explain to him just why the hell I cared so much about these issues.

A lot has changed in the last ten years. It’s so surprising to me still that I can go into a Young Adult section in a library and find gay teen romances, or see fliers for dances and support groups on bulletin boards, or Google “bisexual” online and be faced with something other than copious amounts of porn. Though the obstacles I faced and the personal torture I endured back then made me a stronger adult today, I don’t want anyone to have to go through some of the things I did. Even with some of the aforementioned support and information systems, gay teens and young adults still face unbelievable challenges with their burgeoning sexualities. And I honestly believe that public libraries are tending to their LGBTQ patrons’ needs much better than academic libraries are their students.

All children develop personally at their own speeds. Some 18 year olds are out of the house, working full time jobs, paying taxes, and even getting married. Others are still living at home with their parents or bag packing around Europe, trying to figure out what their next step may be. Many go to college, and there they are on their own, away from the nest for the first time in their lives. Even children that don’t necessarily grow up in conservative households may not have begun to take a deeper look at themselves and their own sexualities. The reality of the situation, from an academic librarian’s perspective, is that we have a number of students, students who are still children, that are away from home, confused, and not sure where to turn.

It is our responsibility, then, to make sure not only that we have literature and information to give them, but a way to advertise this information in the best way possible. We’ve briefly discussed in class the conundrum of where to put LGBTQ literature. Do we put it in its own section, thereby making it easier for patrons to find? Or is this a form of censorship, or at the very least a reinforcement of the “otherness” of LGBTQ individuals? Furthermore, the implications of these books taking up their own physical space are problematic. Perhaps a patron who is intensely curious to read such literature is afraid to be seen browsing the shelves, lest their presence there “out” them. But how will we communicate to patrons like this that this information is available if the books are interfiled with everything else in our collection?

I don’t have a complete answer, but I have many ideas. I’d very much like to do a study on the subject, as I’ve found only two like it so far. The article I concentrated on is called “The Information Needs of LGBT College Students” by a Master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Susann Schaller assessed the LGBT community at UNC and determined that the university was doing an excellent job at being not just tolerant, but inclusive. There’s an active LGBT student group, workshops offered by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and a program called “Safe Zone” targeted for LGBT students and facilitated by the Student Health Center (101).

Yet when it came time for Ms. Schaller to start interviewing LGBT students, the only people she could find for her interviews and focus groups were a handful of those who were already involved at some level with LGBT activities around campus. Even these students had no idea that there was a special section of one of UNC’s libraries dedicated to them, and few were aware of the student health center’s special resources for LGBT students. Some felt that local bookstores in gay friendly neighborhoods were much better information resources than their own school’s library system (102). One student, a bisexual male, expressed his concern that even those within the LGBT community were ill informed of the nature of other sexualities and gender expressions (105). Ms. Schaller, even while maintaining a perfectly academic tone, was able to express her disconcert at one student’s experience in entering the keyword “gay” in the university catalog and the search yielding resources about Muslim women (106).

Though Ms. Schaller did the best with what she had to work with, her study was nowhere near perfect. Her focus groups were small, her subjects only those students already aware of their sexualities and the LGBTQ community, and her methodology inconsistent. However, it’s a good start in a subject area that I think needs to be focused on and expanded, quickly.

Her study disturbed me for several reasons, none of which were her fault. I wondered how it could be possible that such a progressive university that worked so hard to be inclusive with regards to the LGBTQ community could be so lacking in this type of information literacy, which in turn made me question how much more difficult circumstances must be at more conservative colleges. And what about the other students? The quiet ones, the closeted ones, the guilty ones? These students are so unlikely to among those who will approach a reference or RA desk with inquiries about gay literature.

Personally, I believe that the availability of LGBTQ information should be advertised to incoming freshmen during their orientation, and not just in the fat packets that most students toss after the first week. A point should be made to speak just as much about the resources available to LGBTQ students as other topics, such as Greek life. Those managing catalog databases need to be trained in the special needs of LGBTQ information users and should develop a controlled vocabulary for their metadata, which would result in more specific and relevant search results.

But I feel that librarians themselves can play an absolutely vital role in serving the needs of these students. They are a different sort of information seeker, for they are often shy and sometimes afraid to actively seek out information themselves. It’s for this reason that outreach is essential. We can no longer sit on stools behind a desk and expect students to come to us. Furthermore, LGBTQ students may need more than just us getting up and asking “Is there anything I can help you with?”

Please, people. Print fliers, and stick them in places other than your own bulletin boards. Wear a rainbow pin or piece of jewelry; you’d be surprised how quickly that can draw some of our eyes. Create a special part of the library’s website devoted to LGBTQ webliographies, booklists, and places to go for help. Make interesting and visible displays of gay and lesbian literature in highly trafficked areas of the library.

And watch for us. Watch for the students tentatively browsing the bookshelves, remember those who stopped and considered the flier you hung, and most of all, stand up for these students when anyone—be they university administrators or angry parents—tries to step on the information rights of LGBTQ students. Eventually, someone will hear you, and perhaps they’ll stand a little taller, read a little more confidently, or even find a new role model. The little things you do can make all the difference to a struggling young adult.

I think all the time of how wonderful it would have been for 12, or 16, or 19 year old Molly to have met a librarian willing to do any of those things for me. My soapbox might be even taller yet.

 

Schaller, S. (2011). Information needs of LGBTQ college students. Libri, Vol.

      61.

Poetry: Book Annotation 5

The Wild Party: The Lost Classic by Joseph Moncure March rediscovered and illustrated by Art Spiegelman

My father’s friend, a lonely bachelor at the time, used to come over to our house with a bottle of liquor for my dad, something sweet for my mom, and a stack of books for me. Everything from Scott’s Original Miscellany to a fresh copy of Brave New World. After gifting me with Maus, which I fell in love with completely, he brought me The Wild Party.

Simply put, it’s an epic poem about a 1920s party, illustrated in Spiegelman’s graphic novel style. But it’s so much more than that. A long forgotten poem that Spiegelman pulled off of a dusty shelf and breathed life into again.

I read it at least once a year. It resonates with me so much, though I’m hard pressed to explain why. That first verse always hooks me:

“Queenie was a blonde, and her age stood still,

and she danced twice a day in vaudeville. ”

An hour later, I’ve devoured every word and picture, and I’m left wanting something else. The older I get, the more than “something else” is usually a gin cocktail and a quiet corner.

I can’t break this up the way I did the other annotations. I can’t find some buzzwords to communicate its appeal, and I sure as hell can’t think of a single thing out there that could be called a “read alike”. NoveList was at a loss, and so am I.

Just read it and weep.

Young Adult Fiction: Book Annotation 4

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman:

Honestly, I don’t read a lot of Young Adult literature. This isn’t to say I read books that are inaccessible to young adults, but it’s not a genre I’ve explored much at all. However, I’ll use any and all excuses to read and write about something of Neil Gaiman’s. So there you have it.

Synopsis:

Nobody Owens isn’t a ghost, but he was raised as one. Rather, he was raised by ghosts. The only survivor of a grisly family murder when he was just a toddler, Bod found a home in the cemetery up the hill. Prompted by the fleeting ghosts of his real parents, Bod has been looked after by a tall, mysterious guardian and a kindly “middle-aged” ghost couple, who weren’t able to have children during their… well, lives. As Bod grows up, the mystery surrounding his identity and that of the man who tried to kill him unfold. Romance, adventure, suspense, and hilarity abound in Gaiman’s 2009 Huge Award winning novel.

Appeals:

I can think of few people to whom I wouldn’t recommend this book. In fact, I can’t wait until my imaginary children are old enough to read it. I’ll be so proud… Gaiman’s writing is eloquent as usual, and straightforward without feeling “dumbed down”. Readers who like horror, mystery, and fantasy, but would rather do without the violence and gore, would probably enjoy The Graveyard Book. Existing fans of Gaiman who have not read it will promptly have a copy thrown at them. This is your warning.

Read Alikes:

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn

Literary Horror (Post-Apocalyptic): Book Annotation 3

The Road by Cormac McCarthy:

I have some unpopular opinions about this book, so it’s a good thing that it’s the absolute end of the semester, no one reads my blog, and that I was late the day we talked about it. It seems that every person I know that reads literary fiction, or even just contemporary fiction, absolutely loves Cormac McCarthy. I can’t speak for his other novels, but I can say with a good deal of certainty that reading The Road was one of my most unpleasant reading experiences in recent memory.

Let me talk about a few things that I did like about the book: There was definitely a smack of minimalism that I can appreciate on a deeper level. By not giving the characters names (he refers to them as “the man/father” and “the boy/son”, he reinforces that in his world, these two could be anybody, they could be you. McCarthy’s prose itself is eloquent and thought-provoking; he’s a good writer.

I’m no stranger to disturbing literature. In fact, I seek it out frequently. My summer reading list was comprised entirely of banned books and novels from “most disturbing” book lists. I like reading things that make me uncomfortable, or sad, or even nauseated at times. What I don’t like doing is spending 250+ pages in absolute, utter despair. Grey, bleak desolation that doesn’t lighten, doesn’t end, but is peppered with some of the most gut-churning and heart-breaking moments you can imagine.

In my opinion, that in itself doesn’t make it a good story. And maybe something doesn’t need to be a good story to be great literature. After all, it won a Pulitzer prize and is widely regarded to be one of the best novels of the decade. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Moving on.

Synopsis:

In a post-apocalyptic world– one without a name, one in which nothing green grows and any new life is instantly snuffed out–a man and a boy, also without names, struggle to make it through the winter. Traveling a grey, broken highway beneath a grey, sunless sky, they head to the sea in search of food, a better climate, and perhaps other people like themselves. For they are seemingly the only two “good” people left on Earth, carrying the torch of humanity within themselves as they are faced time and again with the inhumane.

Appeal:

Fans of highly stylistic and atmospheric writing would definitely be captivated by McCarthy’s writing in this novel. Post-apocalyptic fiction seems to be increasingly popular, as it deals with a world that seems only a few steps from our own. Elements of travel, horror, suspense, and family themes are interwoven in a way that could potentially appeal to many.

Read Alikes:

The Reapers Are the Angelsby Alden Bell

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks

Erotic Romance: Book Annotation 2

Master of the Mountain: Mountain Masters series, Book 1:

This is another Cherise Sinclair novel, though it’s significantly different in both atmosphere, setting, and tone. Readers who otherwise might be intimidated by the dark fetish life and atmosphere of the Shadowlands club, but still want to read about a dominant-submissive power dynamic, would probably enjoy Sinclair’s Mountain Masters books, especially since she has a surprising knack for describing natural scenery.

Synopsis:

Rebecca’s life revolves around her demanding job, her constant dieting, and the picture-perfect boyfriend she can’t seem to fall in love with. So what if he wants to take her on a swinging couples’ retreat? He’s pretty much perfect on paper, and a trip to the mountains doesn’t sound so bad. But upon arrival at the remote lodge, the scene she’s been pushed into discomforts and depresses her. After finding her boyfriend in bed with another woman in their cabin, she firmly rejects their offer of a threesome and leaves to sleep on the lodge’s front porch, in silent protest of the orgy happening in the great room.

After a disturbing and violent tour in Iraq, Logan has found a life of relative solace running the mountain lodge with his brother, Jake. Catering to the kinkier groups of guests has its benefits, though he interacts much more with the BDSM crowds than he does with the swingers. That’s why he’s surprised to find little blonde Rebecca practically freezing on the front porch on her first night. After he takes carries to his room to warm her up, they share an intimate moment, and he discovers that he might have a perfect submissive on his hands.

But is Rebecca too frightened to give up control? And can Logan finally shed his ghosts and open himself up to something new? A battle of wills, recurring nightmares, and their own insecurities might be bigger obstacles than they’re prepared to overcome.

Appeals:

In many ways, this book has many of the appeals of the Shadowlands series. But female readers uncomfortable with whips, chains, and sadism might be a little more comfortable with the gentle domination displayed in the Mountain Masters series. And the premise of the book–a group retreat to a lodge–may make it easier for women to insert themselves into the fantasy. Full-figured women, in particular, will appreciate the fairly realistic appearance of the female protagonist.

Read Alikes:

The rest of the Mountain Masters series, by Cherise Sinclair.

The Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

Melissa Schroeder’s Harmless series

Romantic Suspense: Book Annotation 1

Breaking Free: Masters of the Shadowlands series, Book 3:

Determined to find some kind of romance that I could actually stand, I finally turned to a section of seedier, erotic romances that I was really quite curious about. Though the author, Cherise Sinclair, considers her books to be of a BDSM Erotic Romance genre, most of them involve a level of mystery and suspense, particularly Breaking Free.

To give a little background, the series is centered around a private BDSM club called The Shadowlands. Trusted, longtime Dom/mes of The Shadowlands are referred to (always) as Master or Mistress and sometimes have responsibilities at the club such as bartending or dungeon monitoring/supervision. Each book revolves on the burgeoning love life of one of the Masters, though the novels seem to focus a bit more on the new women in their lives.

Synopsis:

Beth is a fairly new to Shadowlands; her membership is part of her pay for redesigning and maintaining the lush landscape surrounding the club’s mansion. The visible and disturbing scars decorating her body indicate a violent past, but Shadowlands owner Zane suspects that her pain might run much deeper. Her “hard limit” list is extensive, her play sessions do nothing to to turn her on, and her lack of response frustrates the Doms working with her. Yet she claims that she “needs” the club, and the kind-hearted owner, knowing that she’s a true submissive, doesn’t want to turn her away.

When Master Nolan returns to the club after a long contracting job in Iraq, Zane requests his help in dealing with Beth. Together, they give Beth an ultimatum: accept this new, assigned Dom, or have her membership revoked. Nolan slowly and gently breaks down Beth’s emotional and physical barriers, allowing her to blossom for the first time in years. But their growing intimacy and mutual respect may be cut short by the very man who gave Beth her scars and the lies she told about him.

Appeals:

The appeals for this particular type of romance may be a bit different than other members of the genre. This novel, specifically, deals with sadism in a very painful, disturbing way. But women searching for something a little darker or dirtier for their romance needs might find some good reads in the BDSM erotic suspense romances.

Read Alikes:

The rest of the Shadowlands series by Cherise Sinclair

Melissa Schroeder’s Harmless series

Chuckle-Worthy “Cracked” Article on eBooks

Thought you all might enjoy this:

8 Unexpected Downsides of the Switch to eBooks

 

Kirkus Review: “Lamb” by Christopher Moore

Not for the easily offended or literal-minded, “Lamb” by Christopher Moore is perhaps his most exceptional novel. Moore rewrites, rather than chronicles, the life of Jesus (named Joshua) and his best friend Biff, a man with such a deplorable set of morals (as well as an admirable array of charms) that he was written out of the Old Testament.

In the beginning (of the book), Biff is resurrected in present-day by the dimwitted angel Raziel to write a new gospel. Stuck in a hotel suite with the tv-addicted idiot angel, he writes their surprisingly deep and funny story on Hilton notepads. He met Joshua at the age of 8, and they struck up a fast friendship, one which also spurred the development of Biff’s first crush- Josh’s mother Mary. The vague New Testament tales of Jesus’ early years are somewhat present, but given a decidedly hilarious spin.

When Biff finds a Gideon Bible in his hotel room and realizes that the others had completely left out Joshua’s story from age 13 to 30, he sets out to tell of their quest for the Three Wise Men, who Joshua hoped would teach him how to be the Messiah. Here enters adventure, kung-fu, a Yeti, yoga, the Kama Sutra, and more Eastern philosophy than you can shake a staff at. With their return to Israel, the story begins in many ways (though with much more humor and depravity) to mirror the part of the New Testament that we are most familiar with.

In the end, this may be the first time many will actually weep over the death of Jesus. Laugh out loud funny, surprisingly touching, and exceptionally blasphemous, “Lamb” may well be Moore’s magnum opus, though the busy author may well have the last word on that.

Secret Shopping: Readers’ Advisory Interview:

I finally squared my shoulders and ventured into my neighborhood branch in an area of Indianapolis most people strive to never be caught in after nightfall. I was surprised to find a welcome atmosphere with very friendly staff. Given the experience most of you had in your secret shopping assignment, I braced myself for brush-offs, eye rolling, or at least a lot of hiding behind a monitor. I wasn’t prepared for the most pleasant RA experience I’ve ever had, which includes my talks with the librarians at my former place of employment.

When I walked up to the Information Desk, I was given the usual, “Can I help you?” When I told the woman, who I later noticed from her name tag was the branch manager, that I wanted her to help me find a good book to read, she literally squirmed in her chair with excitement and enthusiastically told me to take a seat. Her first questions were: “Do you have a specific title or author in mind?” I told her that I was looking for a Mystery, and that I’m not familiar with the genre at all. She asked me what I normally read, and I gave her my list of usual genres (Literary Fiction, Fantasy, and some Classics). She immediately surmised that I wanted a book with very good writing, as I’m a fan of Literary Fiction. (Bingo!) After asking if I wanted a Classic novel, I indicated that I’d like something more contemporary. She asked if I was opposed to Historical Fiction, and I’m not. After another series of questions, she gathered that I’d like something more serious (she’d asked if I wanted a funny mystery) and nothing too forensic.

She personally led me to the hardback Mystery section, admitting that she doesn’t read a lot of Mysteries, but would try her best to find me some titles. She pointed out Janet Evanovich, though she wasn’t recommending them because of their humor, and said that if I ever wanted a funny mystery, those were good choices. The first book she recommended was the first book in the Maisie Dobbs series, by Jacqueline McCall, explaining that they were very well written, award-winning, and popular; she gave me a brief plot description, as well as her opinion of the series. After that, she showed me the Alexander McCall Smith section, explaining that his books were also award-winning, and personal favorites of hers in the genre. Before taking me to the paperback section, she stopped and handed me a copy of the Book Pages newspaper, urging me to read it later. In the paperback section, she found me the first of the Maisie Dobbs books, and pointed out the “New Book” section, where she said I’d find some good reads. She pulled a copy of “The Leopard” by Jo Nesbo off of a to-be-shelved cart, and told me that it was excellent. At this point, I took her word for it.

She couldn’t find a copy of the Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, and asked me to come back to the desk with her. I told her I had a Kindle and knew how to use Overdrive, though she’d already offered to show me. She tilted her computer, showing me the catalog and Overdrive, then jotted down the name and author of the novel, as they were available for ebook checkout. She also showed me the library’s Book Lists, as well as staff recommendations. I thanked her, told her my name, and told her I’d be coming back soon, which I will. It was hard for me to not show my hand here, as I wanted to say, “This is the best Readers’ Advisory experience I’ve ever had. I was doing this for an assignment, and you were great!” I left with both books she’d pulled for me, a slip of paper with another book recommendation, and a copy of Book Pages.

I may reveal down the road that I’m a SLIS student and tell her anyway, as you all know I’m terribly chatty. All in all, it was a really good experience, and I’m no longer scared to go to my local branch.

Reader’s Profile

I like to think that I’m very eclectic when it comes to books, but the truth is that I can be very picky about the books I welcome into my heart. In general, I love Fairy Tales; 20th century American Fiction; American and British Poetry of the Romantic, Victorian, Gothic, Modern, and Contemporary eras; 19th and 20th century American and British Plays; Fantasy Fiction and Science Fiction; Graphic Novels; and all things Satire and Wit.

My favorite dead authors are Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Heinlein, George Orwell, Flannery O’Connor, Robert Jordan, and Hunter S. Thompson.

My favorite living authors are Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson, Art Spiegelman, Mark Z. Danielewski, and Toni Morrisson.

Every year, I reread the following books: Gone With the Wind, Ella Enchanted, The Godfather, Lamb and Fool (both by Christopher Moore), and The Wild Party.

Last year, I almost lost my mind to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Who am I kidding? I did lose my mind. That book makes “Inception” look like Sesame Street. I plan to do so again next month, so you may notice a change in my writing.

 

I don’t love everything. I hate some books and authors with a passion, and this is all the more problematic because they are beloved by many. I loathe Sylvia Plath, especially The Bell Jar. I feel the same way about F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. I won’t launch into a tirade about the Twilight series. But I hope that my own bias won’t taint my ability to offer valuable and personalized advice for readers.

I love reading books that are recommended to me, but this blog is about me recommending books to you. And turning in assignments, but whatever. I’m really looking forward to shaping it into something all of my friends and peers can enjoy.

Happy reading!