Queer eye for the librarian ally: Go from LGBTIQ+ collection development to community development and back again

Inspired by the return of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and by the State Library of Victoria ‘s We Are Here exhibition, I thought I would use this month’s GLAM blog theme ‘Watch’ to share some LGBTIQ+ digital storytelling projects from GLAM and beyond for you to watch and hopefully inspire you to take a queer look at your own institutions and think about ways you might be able to help facilitate similar projects in them. You could start by hosting a screening of one or more of the videos below to bring people in and plant a seed for further community engagement that could lead to content creation.

LGBTIQ+ communities have often been excluded or concealed from and/or misrepresented in traditional, mainstream accounts of history thanks to heteronormative and patriarchal structures – generally by a combination of community members staying hidden for their own safety and silencing or misrepresentation from outside from legal, health, cultural heritage and media institutions. The We Are Here exhibition highlighted historical LGBTIQ+ exclusion from cultural heritage collections by asking queer artists to shine a light on hidden histories and voices and (re)interpret the library’s collections augmented by ALGA’s collections with a queer gaze. I am passionate about supporting and volunteering with ALGA because we are dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating LGBTIQ+ histories and telling these stories in our communities’ own words. We help people see themselves in history where they might not have ever done so before, we help community groups and organisations learn from and celebrate their own histories, and we also work with traditional GLAMorous institutions address gaps in their collections and programs by supporting exhibitions.

 

 

I have been pretty impressed with the LGBTIQ+ collection development I’ve seen in recent times and this visibility and representation is really important but I would love to see more diverse and proactive community engagement that goes beyond collections but that also contributes to them… and I think facilitating digital storytelling and hosting or at least sharing digital stories could be one way to do this. The democratisation of publishing that the internet has enabled has increased opportunities for individuals and communities who have traditionally been marginalised in mainstream media and histories to have a voice and enabled them to become more visible. As such, it has increased opportunities for LGBTIQ+ people to see themselves, find and their connect with their communities and access support. Public, school and university libraries are already increasingly facilitating digital literacies development in their communities, so digital storytelling could be the next step on this path. In public libraries digital storytelling programs could be used to help local history collections and communities become more diverse and inclusive, and in school and university libraries they could be used to help students with digital storytelling assignments which are increasingly required across diverse subject areas, and which many students find quite difficult. It could also be used to help engage students and researchers with university special collections, records and archives… and perhaps even help build employability skills – which seems to be the latest thing in higher education.

Below are some examples of LGBTIQ+ digital storytelling and/or other digital history-related projects I have come across in GLAM and beyond.

WESTANDPROUD

WESTANDPROUD was a digital storytelling project facilitated by RMIT University social work students doing their industry placement at Hobsons Bay Libraries. It was designed and produced in consultation and collaboration with the Hobsons Bay GLBTIQ advisory committee and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives to capture LGBTIQ history and promote and celebrate pride, visibility, diversity and community in Melbourne’s western suburbs. The project engaged a professional filmmaker who produced extremely high quality stories. However, it required advanced professional and technical skills, and has thus far allowed only limited opportunities for interactivity and collaboration. It was limited in scope due to limited time and financial resources, but there was strong local council and community interest and support for it to continue and expand, and embracing collaborative digital storytelling and publishing has potential to help it do so.

You can view the trailer for the project here: https://youtu.be/JwR0eDvbDyM

Hunter Rainbow History Group (Living Histories at the University of Newcastle)

This collection is part of the Living Histories at the University of Newcastle project and has been developed through close collaboration with the Hunter Rainbow History Group which was formed to record and collect the stories and experiences of LGBTIQ people in the Hunter region in NSW. It looks like a fabulous example of engagement between a university and its community to preserve and illuminate the hidden histories of this community. It has inspired me to explore opportunities in MPOW.

View the collection:

http://livinghistories.newcastle.edu.au/nodes/view/59991

Daylesford Stories

Daylesford Stories was produced with funding from Culture Victoria and contributors from ALGA, Way Back When Consulting Historians, Tiny Empire Collective, and the State Library of Victoria.

It explores ideas of community, identity and belonging through focussing on individual experiences of Daylesford and surrounds to understand and tell a story of how and why this region has become a place of meaning and significance LGBTIQ communities.
It uses a combination of short films, individual profiles and archival image galleries, we start to explore how identity shapes us and how support and understanding can build community. The creators stress that this is just one part of Daylesford’s rich LGBTIQ+ history and indicate that they are keen to talk to more people and gather gather more stories in order to understand more prespectives. Daylesford Stories is just the gaytway! Perhaps digital storytelling workshops in the local library could help build on it!

View the project:

https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/a-diverse-state/daylesford-stories/

Out of the Closets, Into the Streets

Another Culture Victoria funded project – this time with contributors from ALGA, Wind & Sky Productions, and the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and based in Melbourne. This story draws on material produced for ALGA’s exhibition Out of the Closets, Into the Streets: Histories of Melbourne Gay Liberation, curated and written by Nick Henderson, which drew on research by Graham Willett. Wind & Sky Productions prepared a complementary documentary film, additional interviews, and written curatorial and audio content was produced by documentary film makers. A shout out to Yarra Libraries for already hosting a screening of the film with an excellent panel discussion afterwards.

View the project:

https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/a-diverse-state/out-of-the-closets-into-the-streets/

Queering the Museum: Queer Digital Storytelling

I don’t know much about this but I’ve been discovering the wonderful world of queering the museum lately and look forward to delving into this more. It looks like these Digital storytelling workshops were hosted as part of the Revealing Queer exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). You can find out more about the workshops and view three finished digital stories here:
Queer Digital Stories: Looking Back

For queer museum adventures that are closer to home, keep your eye on Nikki Sullivan and Craig Middleton’s work in South Australia.

Queer love project

http://www.queerloveproject.com

This project was created in response to a certain postal survey as an antidote to the awful public discussions in about LGBTIQA+ lives, identities, bodies, and relationships. It was initiated by Twenty10 incorporating GLCS NSW. They captured and shared real life diverse stories of our communities and love in all its forms: stories of queer love, families, support structures, friends, parents and marriage to counteract the hate and show young people that they and their families are real and valid (and awesome). They brought hope, safety, support and comfort into an online environment (social media) that was pretty toxic. I would have loved to see libraries co-facilitate something like this during the postal survey period that will not be named.

Rainbow Family Tree

“A haven for Queer Digital Storytellers and their friends and families… view, create, share… and do your bit to ‘change the world’”

http://rainbowfamilytree.com/main

The Rainbow Family Tree digital storytelling project established it’s own platform rather which has provided opportunities for private and public connection and collaboration and also enables the possibility of greater anonymity as it lets participants choose how they want to distribute it. Many participants not surprisingly felt more comfortable sharing their stories via the Rainbow Family Tree platform created specifically for the project than on third party platforms such as Facebook or YouTube, as they trusted the supportive community of like-minded strangers more than these third party platforms.

Stories beyond gender

https://www.storiesbeyondgender.com/about-us.html

“Through sharing personal stories across social networks – both face-to-face and online – trans and gender-questioning storytellers and our allies are exploring what it means to ‘see and share ourselves’, to feel ‘understood and at home’, and to experience ‘wellbeing’. We speak and listen across differences, both within and outside our community. We hope to change the world by challenging binary gender stereotypes. We are also lobbying for better health provision, education and social understanding.”

This project has been funded by a grant from ‘Community Benefits SA’  and has offered a number of things which are things that libraries are starting to do already (albeit not really often specifically for LGBTIQ+ communities):
• face-to-face creative social media storytelling workshops
• access to one of 3 digital devices for experimentation
• outreach workshops facilitated in regional SA
•trans-world café community events
• an exhibition and launch of creative digital content
• prizes for valued participation, awarded at end of the project

Son Vivienne is a key human and researcher behind the Rainbow Family Tree and Stories Beyond Gender projects and I highly recommend you check out their research and writing on digital storytelling, community facilitation, queer identity and online activism at http://www.incitestories.com.au.

Six C’s for facilitating community content creation

Some lessons I have learned from investigating these projects and doing research on digital storytelling:

  • Combine professionally created content with community created content –  You’ll probably need to start the project with some professionally created content, but too much of this can be intimidating and prevent users from contributing. Make sure the library doesn’t dominate the space.
  • Collaborate with creative professionals and community groups – partnerships with creative professionals and relevant community groups can provide volunteers and expert facilitators in exchange for promotion, space and equipment. This could also help reduce costs and facilitate community engagement.
  • Create opportunities for providing feedback on, and re-purposing, sharing and promoting co-created content.  This will help facilitate a sense of community and belonging, give participants ownership of the project and make it easier for the library to step back from content creating.
    -One simple way you can do this is by enabling links to social media.
    -Alternatively, you may want to create your own site to host your community and mirror the experience of social media to protect participants’ anonymity and privacy and make them more comfortable.
    -Don’t forget to promote digital content in the physical library and community environment as well
  • Creative Commons protects intellectual property and encourage collaboration – choose a license that encourages sharing and reuse with attribution to help build a sense of community by encouraging the sharing of content.
  • Consider using open source software – unlike third party proprietary software and platforms, it is inherently collaborative and inclusive and accessible across multiple platforms, it better protects members privacy, and it gives you more power to refine or change something that may not be working for your community.
  • Coffee is the most important C of community content creation because it can help you build connections with creative professionals and community members

Further reading and resources

Kete: Open Source Software for Community Digital LIbraries  by Jo Ransom (2011) http://old.kete.net.nz/site/topics/show/329-kete-open-source-software-for-community-digital-libraries

Vivienne, Sonja & Burgess, Jean (2012) The digital storyteller’s stage: queer everyday activists negotiating privacy and publicness. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 56(3), pp. 362-377. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/53589/

All of Son Vivienne’s (as mentioned) work at www.incitestories.com.au.

There is a lot more out there than the above and I will update the list eventually.

I have been to a number of LGBTIQ+ events recently where young people have been saying they want more opportunities to connect with their LGBTIQ+ community ‘elders’ and public libraries in particular but perhaps GLAM in general are the perfect places to be facilitating intergenerational collaboration and connection given that we work with communities from very diverse age ranges.

I hope these examples have demonstrated how digital storytelling can bring people together and build understanding, empathy, hope and resilience…. and given you some ideas about how libraries and GLAM institutions can help facilitate this.

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