Classifying Identity: Organizing an LGBT Library.

Author:Nowak, Kristine


Many authors have described how classification systems tend to disadvantage marginalized populations (see Foskett, 1971; Olson, 2001; Kublik, Clevette, Ward, & Olson, 2003; Keilty, 2009 for examples). As Foskett argues, "when one begins to examine almost any scheme, it quickly becomes clear that, far from being objective, it is likely to reflect both the prejudices of its time and those of its author" (p. 117). Since classification systems are designed to be as simple and efficient to use as possible, they typically reflect public opinion. Therefore, they incorporate their originating society's assumptions and norms into the very structure. Furthermore, systems also tend to assume that there is one uniform way of viewing the world, which excludes anyone who does not agree with or fit within that viewpoint (Olson, 2001).

The focus on uniformity and efficiency in classification systems limits the ways that marginalized groups can be represented. Christensen (2008) refers to two possible ways of incorporating identities outside the social norm as "minoritization vs. universalization." He describes these two basic responses as: 1). emphasizing each concept as a part of a homogenous whole (universalization, or not calling attention to differences), or 2). emphasizing each concept as distinct and separating it out from the whole (minoritization, calling attention to categories outside of the norm). Universalization de-emphasizes difference, so it can have the drawback of failing to adequately recognize diverse identities. Minoritization, however, leads to something that some authors have referred to as 'ghettoization' (ex. Kublik, Clevette, Ward & Olson, 2003)-listing all categories that are considered non- standard in a problematic and value-laden 'other' section, often with groups that have a strong social stigma (such as pedophiles or criminals). Neither approach offers an adequate understanding of LGBT identity, since these topics have this tendency to either be ignored or relegated to the categories that are implicitly abnormal.

This idea of an 'other' category is also a problem in the classification of marginalized populations because marginalization sometimes causes us to group subjects that do not naturally make a cohesive whole. The LGBT category, in the form we usually discuss it, is not a particularly stable or cohesive group. The category is typically named by a series of letters encompassing all non-conforming identities relating to gender or sexuality (ex. LGBTQ, GLBTQIP, etc.), and the very nature of the grouping is that it is constantly in flux. Rothbauer (2007) talks about using the term in the "most inclusive sense possible" and warns against treating this category as a homogenous group (p. 112), but that diversity also calls attention to the fact that the category itself may be inadequate. The primary thing binding together these various identities is that they are considered marginalized and deviant from the norm. Keilty (2009) defines it as "a category of that which does not belong" (p. 241). Thus, the lack of cohesion within the category itself may make classification additionally difficult.

Furthermore, classification has a dual effect on any given concept. On the one hand, it makes it searchable and gives it a coherent and meaningful place within the organization of knowledge. On the other hand, it applies limits and defines stable norms for the concept. This process is problematic when we are discussing issues of LGBT identity. Since LGBT topics have this non-standard status, the group encompasses all of the areas of sexuality and gender that are developing or in flux, making it an arena which is constantly changing and redefining norms and boundaries. However, in order to classify materials, we have to force them into static systems.

One obvious issue with our current systems is that their basic structures are over one hundred years old. Thus, our classification systems are not only unable to keep up with modern changes to the understanding of LGBT studies, they assume a badly outdated understanding of sexuality and gender. Thus, we have a situation in which the actual material of LGBT studies is diverging further and further from our ability to classify it. While there have been many positive efforts to update terminology, these changes are typically superficial, such as updating a term or adding a new category. We will argue that it is the essential structure of the system that is problematic.

In this paper, we will discuss the difficulties that we encountered in organizing the library collection of the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO). Traditional classification systems were not adequate to organize this LGBT-specific collection due to structural biases within the system. These biases were not only problematic for theoretical reasons, but also negatively impacted the usability of the library and impaired users' access to information.

The GLSO Project

From 2012-2015, the authors of this paper volunteered as the librarians of the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in Lexington, Kentucky. During that time, we were responsible for organizing, maintaining, and establishing the policies for the organization's library collection. When we arrived, the collection was organized using Library of Congress classification, but the library had not been maintained for several years. After examining the structural and practical problems with how the collection was classified, we decided to reorganize it according to a system that we developed. This section will discuss our work on this project, including our process for creating a new system.

The GLSO is a pride center that was founded with the goal of serving the needs of the LGBT community of central and eastern Kentucky. It strives to promote the cause of LGBT rights in those communities and serve as a gathering place for LGBT people. The library was founded in response to a lack of LGBT resources at a typical academic or public library. The collection consists primarily of donated materials, including fiction, non-fiction, music, movies and materials about the history of the organization. All materials relate, in some way, to LGBT issues or topics...

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