Andersen Library hosts international GLBT materials archiving conference

Speakers discussed the future of GLBT archives in museums and libraries.

by Elizabeth Cook

The first-ever international conference for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender collections of archives, libraries and museums took place Friday through Sunday at Andersen Library on the West Bank.

The conference explored issues that professionals who care for the collections experience.

The University of Minnesota Libraries, the Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies and Quatrefoil Library sponsored the event.

There were more than 30 subjects discussed ranging from how to integrate GLBT archives into the classroom, preservation issues and how to salvage materials from a natural disaster.

Jean-Nickolaus Tretter is the founder and curator of the Tretter Collection, which includes more than 30,000 GLBT items and is kept in the Andersen Library.

Tretter said the purpose of the conference was to bring people together to discuss common issues and try to start an organization.

“We’d like to start a major international organization to talk in a unified voice and deal with our issues,” Tretter said.

One example Tretter gave was in the case of a natural disaster, when materials are evacuated from a building, the GLBT archives are at the bottom of the list.

“Our history is just as important as anyone else’s,” Tretter said.

Christopher James, the communications director for University Libraries, said it helped sponsor the event because it was the first of its kind and because of the unique resources the libraries have in the Tretter collection.

During the conference, Beth Zemsky, an adjunct professor who teaches GLBT courses, spoke about integrating the archives into classroom material.

Zemsky said archives are necessary because they teach students about the past.

One way for students to create their own archives is through their final project in the Introduction to GLBT Studies course. For the project, students listen to one or two members of the oral history project, a GLBT community archive. They then write a paper on it, which they can archive if they want to.

The conference also had well-known guest speakers, one of whom was Barbara Gittings, a gay activist since the 1950s.

Gittings, wearing a shirt that read “I cannot live without books,” shared with about 100 listeners personal experience and spoke of history’s importance.

“I urge you to have the joy of your work,” she said. “Sometimes you’re looking at materials for the first time since their creation.”

Another speaker, Frank Kameny, talked about past experiences in the gay community since the 1960s.

“I found myself turning into a walking history book of the gay movement,” Kameny said.

Kameny also spoke about coining the phrase, “gay is good,” and fighting for changes in the gay rights movement.

Anne Phibbs is the systemwide director for the GLBT Programs Office and also attended the conference.

“I wanted to learn more about the general issues around GLBT archiving and special books,” she said.

Phibbs said archiving is important because it gives the GLBT community a chance to learn more about their history.

“A lot of people want to know, did we exist 50, 100, 200 years ago?” she said. “It’s something about knowing that it existed that’s affirming.”

Mathematics senior Mike Grewe said archiving is an issue in the GLBT community.

Grewe said there is a lot missing from the archives regarding the Queer Student Cultural Center because people were afraid, they didn’t want their names out there and they would throw out the materials.

But it’s important to the community and movement as a whole to hold on to it, Grewe said.

“How are we going to progress as a movement if we don’t preserve out roots?” Grewe said.