From Boxes in a Dorm Room to National Spotlight
Not too many years ago, if you wanted to find books about our community you had to borrow them from a friend, go to an urban bookstore, or scour the public library for some old books, out of date and hidden away. Today, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian circulating library, The Stonewall Library & Archives, houses a collection of over 20,000 books, 1,000 movies and 40 tons of historical archival material. Last year with over 10,000 patron visits and major traveling exhibitions, The Stonewall took its place among the nation’s largest GLBT cultural institutions.
The Stonewall Library & Archives was founded in 1973 by members of the Stonewall Committee in Hollywood, Florida and was first directed by Mark N. Silber. Stonewall takes its name from the 1969 riots for gay rights in New York. The collection remained open only to a select group of colleagues until May of 1985. Five years later, the library merged with the Boca Raton-based Southern Gay Archives and they formed Stonewall Library & Archives, Inc. In 2001, the library and archive moved into the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of South Florida at 1717 North Andrews Avenue.
The center, however, was slated for demolition, so Stonewall Library began looking for other options. They were approached by the Broward County Library and County Commissioners, who offered the collection space at the Fort Lauderdale branch of the Broward County library, which already includes tenant ArtServe. The Broward County Commission approved the move in a 9-0 vote on 10 June 2007, but not without controversy. The Ft. Lauderdale mayor at that time, James Naugle, leading an anti-gay campaign, scoffed at housing the collection in a city building. But his vote against the relocation was in the minority and the move was approved.
On April 23, 2009, Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti, Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, and Ft. Lauderdale City Commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom cut a red-ribbon to the 4,500-square-foot space. For many people in the crowd it was a time of goosebumps and repeated phrases of “I never thought I’d see the day…”
Ellwood Autori, a Pompano Beach retiree who attended the event, said the new home will boost community involvement.
“For the same reasons we have whole libraries for the Holocaust, of black history, for every group in the world, we have to have this information. As a gay man who’s been out a very, very long time, I can’t imagine how different my life would be if I had this place to come to,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t around when I was a kid.”
The Stonewall Library began gaining national attention when in 2005 it partnered with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in sponsoring a traveling exhibition, “The Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1935-1945” This exhibit sparked a renewed interest and energy to The Stonewall and from then on they were able to produce their own traveling exhibitions. The most popular exhibition was in 2007, on the 30th anniversary of the repeal of the Miami-Dade County Human Rights Ordinance: “Days Without Sunshine – Anita Bryant and the anti-gay crusade. Three years later, this exhibit is still traveling across the country along with two others. No other independent GLBT Library has ever undertaken this type of project.
A two-year campaign calling for donations raised $700,000 for renovations. A major donation from the John C. Graves Charitable Trust at the Community Foundation of Broward accelerated the capital campaign.
In the future, The Stonewall plans to expand its collection and public programs to include a more diverse public, including young audiences, non-English speaking audiences and underserved communities. In 2010 they will launch The Stonewall Speakers Bureau, providing information to non- GLBT organizations and communities.
In February, Stonewall Library will present, “The Harlem Renaissance: as Gay as it was Black”. The exhibit will then travel to San Francisco, Washington, DC, Boise, Idaho and other cities.
The Stonewall Library & Archives is located at 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd, Ft. Lauderdale and is open daily from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM and Saturdays noon to 5:00 PM. For further information call 954-763-8565 or visit www.stonewall-library.org.