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- What’s so special about the LGBT collections at The New York Public Library? NYPL’s strongest point is our combination of archives of key LGBT activists and activist organizations, such as Gay Activists Alliance, the Mattachine Society of New York, Barbara Gittings, Jonothan Ned Katz and Joseph Beam, alongside the archives of pivotal LGBT artists and cultural figures such as William Burroughs, W. H. Auden, Virgina Woolf, and Charles Ludlum, combined with some of the strongest general collections for studying LGBT history.
- How big is the collection at NYPL? This is hard to pin down, because many materials that are not primarily about LGBT issues may have a wealth of LGBT historical content.The NYPL has at least 100,000 volumes and over 300 archival collections—containing hundreds of thousands of letters, manuscripts, photographs, posters, and other items—as well as numerous audio/visual materials of LGBT related materials.
- Aren’t there other important LGBT archives? Yes, there are, such as the One Archive; the National Archive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History; and the Lesbian Herstory Archives, among many other important collections. Every archive has an important role in preserving history. No one archive has the complete story. The NYPL’s advantage is that in addition to our extensive, unique archival collections, we have world-class general collections of tremendous breadth and depth to support historical research in LGBT history and the infrastructure to present our materials to a global audience.
- How do you find the stuff? Is there one best place to go?The LGBT materials are found throughout the Library’s collections, with major archives and research collections in the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the landmark Humanities and Social Sciences Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Malcolm X Boulevard, and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center Plaza. These materials can be found through the Library’s online catalog. There is also a wealth of materials online in our NYPL Digital Gallery. We also publish book lists of contemporary LGBT titles.
- What kinds of books and stuff can people borrow? While archives and rare materials have to be consulted at the Library, all kinds of other materials can be borrowed through our 87 branch libraries: books, recordings, videos, etc. The largest lending collections are found at the Mid-Manhattan Branch, at Fifth Avenue and 40th Street, and the Donnell Library, at 53rd Street, near Fifth Avenue, which has extensive film and video collections and foreign language materials.The Jefferson Market and Muhlenberg Branches, in the Greewich Village and Chelsea neighborhoods of Manhattan, respectively, have especially strong LGBT lending collections.
- What’s the rarest stuff in the collection? The rarest materials in our collection are our manuscript and archive collections. Most of these materials are beyond rare; they are unique, not available anywhere else. These range from the archives of important organizations, original photographs and artwork, to personal letters and journals. For instance, the Library has Walt Whitman’s hand edited Leaves of Grass from 1860. Whitman’s changing attitudes to presenting homo-eroticism can be seen plainly in the edits he made in that volume.
- What kind of collections does the Library have on HIV/AIDS?The Library has the archives of major HIV/AIDS activist and service organizations such as ACT UP, People with AIDS Coalition, and GMHC. These materials can inspire ongoing activism around the world.We also have current, needed health information through our branch collections, our Health Information Center, and making referrals to community organizations and public services.
- Does NYPL have any exhibitions or publications on its LGBT collections? Visited by over 100,000 people, Becoming Visible: The Legacy of Stonewall, The New York Public Library’s groundbreaking exhibit, was the largest and most extensive display of lesbian and gay history ever mounted in a museum or gallery space when it opened in 1994. A follow-up publication, Becoming Visible:An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America, by exhibition curators Molly McGarry and Fred Wasserman, was published by Penguin Studio.The Library continues to host exhibitions of LGBT materials, more recent examples including Particular Voices:Robert Giard’s Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers; Bedlam Days: The Early Plays of Charles Ludlam and The Ridiculous Theatrical Company; and Vaslav Nijinsky: Creating a New Artistic Era. Other exhibitions, as well as companion publications and online presentations, are planned for the future.
- How about lectures and programs? The Library offers LGBT-related programming across our branches and research centers, including author talks, lectures, public-conversations, films and musical performances.Guests have included Edmund White, George Chauncey, Taylor Mac, Cheryl Clarke, Anthony de Mare, and Charles Busch among many others. The Library also does special programming for LGBT and questioning teens such as Out Loud @ the Library.