The Oak Park Public Library is creating what Collection Development Coordinator Bleue Benton calls the first library collection targeted at transgender people in the United States. The non-fiction materials in the collection are being funded with a $3,000 grant from the Illinois State Library.
“Transgender is an umbrella term and can cover a lot of different people in it,” said Benton, who wrote the grant application. “It refers to people whose gender expressions or gender identity do not match their original biological sex.”
The collection now includes more than 100 titles, including, “Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman”; “” and “Clothes Make the Man: Female Cross Dressing in Medieval Europe.” The library will use its own money to buy novels and films to complement the non-fiction titles.
The library decided to create the collection to better fulfill its mission of providing materials relevant to the lives of everyone in Oak Park.
“We believe strongly that the library is the place for all residents to have access to a full range of information sources,” said Benton. “This collection will serve not only transgender people, but also anyone seeking information, including employers, medical providers, allies, friends and family members.”
The new focus on transgender issues will not be limited to the new collection. “We have a book discussion planned on July 18 about ‘Stone Butch Blues’ by Leslie Feinberg,” said Benton. “There will also be film and author programs, but we haven’t scheduled those yet.”
Feinberg’s book tells the story of lesbian Jess Goldberg, who finds herself an outsider to both the women’s and gay pride movements.
Brad Bartels, the co-president of the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA), called the new collection “a testament to the village.” He added that “at times the transgender community is invisible to the broader community. Any time we become more inclusive in what we do, it is something that should be welcomed by all.”
To publicize the collection, Benton said the library is “sending out press releases to everyone we can think of. We’re going to be trying to get fliers out to bars, nightclubs, and therapists’ offices, and there’s a bar on our webpage up about it.”
In addition to purchasing materials, the library used the grant to provide awareness workshops for staff designed to increase awareness of gender identity.
“We want to make certain that all library staff are prepared to provide excellent customer service to people who are transgender,” said Executive Director Deirdre Brennan.
Bartels said he has not yet heard any reaction from the transgender community. Benton, too, said that because the library is just beginning to get the word out about the new collection, there has been no public response thus far.
Jim Egeberg, the president of the Oak Park Public Library Board, said that he “can’t imagine anyone who lives in Oak Park would be outraged” by the new collection. “We’ve elected people with this type of persuasion to our offices,” he explained. “If anything there’d be pleasure with this just reinforcing what our community stands for.”