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Diversity in the (Virtual) Stacks: Sexual Minorities

Posted on by David Sean Azzolina

Diversity in the Stacks aims to build library collections that represent and reflect the University’s diverse population. 

If you were to go into a library fifty years ago and browse the card catalog, under the subjects “homosexuality” and “lesbianism” you would find a card that read, “see also sexual perversion.” Under “sexual perversion,” another card would suggest that you also consult  “homosexuality” and “lesbianism.” It wasn’t until 1973, in fact, that the American Psychiatric Association ceased to classify homosexuality and lesbianism as pathologies.

Library collections today are much more inclusive, as reflected in contemporary search terminology.  The term “sexual minorities” is used here to recognize the variety of human experiences that are represented in the acronym LGBTQIA.

The Penn Libraries has a range of resources in the field of sexual minority studies, from up-to-date resources to historical perspectives. A  notable recent acquisition is the database LGBT Thought and Culture, which includes primary sources from throughout the twentieth century into the present day as well as belletristic forms generated by the LGBTQIA community.

A similar archival resource is the database LGBTQ History and Culture Since 1940. What makes LGBTQ History and Culture especially valuable is its inclusion of the newspapers from over 35 countries, which provides international perspective on the evolution of the culture surrounding sexual minorities. Importantly, this databases also includes materials on global responses to the AIDS epidemic.

The Penn Libraries’ sexual minority studies collection continues to grow as the scope of the field broadens. A recent addition by Penn graduate Jen Manion — now a professor at Amherst College — is indicative of this trend. Their new book, Female Husbands: a Trans History, offers dozens of examples, from the American colonial era to just before the First World War, of what many imagine to be a recent phenomenon.

For a more general overview of the culture, history, and politics of sexual minority studies, The Routledge History of Queer America is a good resource to start with; the compilation includes a chapter from Manion.

The Penn Libraries is committed to expanding the corpus of works by and about sexual minorities and following the field of study wherever it leads. This “canon” is one without boundaries, and, as the meaning of “sexual minority” changes, grows, and expands, the Libraries will collect resources to not only support scholarship in this field but to also ensure that faculty, students, and staff in these groups see themselves represented in the collection.