The people behind Gerber/Hart Library and Archives want others to know they are here and looking for volunteersmore specifically, new board members.
Gerber/Hart Library and Archives was founded in 1981 to be a depository for records of LGBTQ individuals and organizations, as well as other resources regarding their lives and experiences in American society.
The library/archive's mission includes the belief that "knowledge is the key to dispelling homophobia and that affirming information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons is critical to fostering pride and self-confidence." The organization, as sited on its website, is dedicated to "meeting the information needs of its unique community in a safe atmosphere that promotes research, exploration, and discovery."
"What it is to me, in a way, it's our sacred trust to the community by preserving and presenting the voices of our past and of our present so that people in the future understand who we were and the growth and progression of our community," said Carrie Barnett, the current president of Gerber/Hart's boardbut who is moving to Missouri. "Think about the last 50 years in the LGBTQ community, in the arc of history, it's like rapid fire rocket to all sorts of changes and growth and certainly they were born of a lot of pain and a lot of struggle and I think it's imperative for us to preserve those voices and those stories so that those who come after us understand this period in time and as time goes on, those periods in time."
Now at 6500 N. Clark St., visitors will walk into Howard Brown Health Center, and can see display cases full of Gerber/Hart's artifacts and archival information in the waiting area on the first floor. The second floor houses Gerber/Hart's archives, library and exhibit space.
Among the library and archives is the William B. Kelley and Chen K. Ooi Collection, which Barnett said is her favorite part of Gerber/Hart. She added that it is hard to describe how magnificent this collection is, as it is made up of everything that William Kelly could get his hands on in about 500 boxes. The organization also has exhibits displayed in different spaces and the themes continue to rotate.
"Gerber/Hart is a special place that brings people together," said Barnett. "To me, the coolest thing about the organization is to come in on a Saturday afternoon for example and see people in their 20s and people in their 60s and 70s having conversations. It happens regularlypeople will come in to take out a book, or do research. … To see people share their experiences across all sorts of differences that we have as individuals and to have people share their perspectives and be interested in other people's perspectives in an intellectual way is invigorating and exciting to me."
Since its launch, Gerber/Hart has moved locations and took a two-year hiatus, reopening four years ago.
"The last four years since we've opened we've done so much to revitalize the organization by creating new processes and new structures and by doing unbelievable amounts of processing the materials and collections that we have in an attempt to make them more readily available to people who come see them and we've done a really great job with that," said Barnett. "We've had a handful of really dedicated board members and we have more than a handful of really amazing volunteers, but specifically in the board area, it needs to grow and it needs to be filled up of people who are from all over the city and people who have different skills."
Barnett said the board currently has seven members, but the body is looking to have 15 members in total.
"It's time for Gerber/Hart to be an institution with its own momentum," said Barnett. "What I mean by that is it needs to be bigger than any one person or any five people who are involved with it. It is an institution of our community, it's an institution of Chicago and it needs to perpetuate because of its value to the community."
Barnett added that it is important for the organization to continue broadening the base of support and gain more financial support from the community, so that Gerber/Hart can continue collecting, protecting and sharing the voices of the LGBT community.
Barnett recalled she was recruited to join Gerber/Hart in 1989 when a new board was assembled. In the '80s, she said, the focus of Gerber/Hart was more on the library than the archives and she was the co-owner of LGBT bookstore People Like Us Books, making it "a natural fit." Having a master's degree in business, with an emphasis on arts administration, the not-for-profit management aspect also appealed to her. Barnett said the experience, including seeing Gerber/Hart expand from the basement of a three-flat to a storefront; and developing the mission statement, has been a fantastic experience. She stayed on the board until 1993 and returned in 2013.
"Coming back to Gerber/Hart, I discovered how much the archives and special collections had grown," said Barnett. "The things we hold are vital to understanding who we are as a community and how we got to this moment in time. Preserving our history as it happens is the best way to make sure our stories aren't lost. When I rejoined the board, my original goal was to get the doors open and create transparency so that people could be see we were back on track. My mission, however, was to help make Gerber/Hart an organization that exists regardless of who is on the board or at the helm."
With her upcoming move, Barnett will be stepping down as an officer. She plans on staying on the board this year, attending meetings via videoconference.
"The goal is to provide continuity," Barnett said. "The decision to move wasn't easy. I'm not from here, but I've been here my entire adult life, so I consider myself a Chicagoan. I love this city and am proud to be a part of the LGBT community. I'll miss my friends, I'll miss Gerber/Hart, I'll miss the lakefront, but it's time to go and find a new life. It's exciting and scary to think about being brand new to a city, but I'll find friends and a way to participate in the community there."
According to Barnett, John D'Emilio will be the president of the board beginning in September. Until then, Fred D. Barnhart will be interim president.
"We've got some great new people on the board, but I can't stress enough how important it is that we add more people," said Barnett. "We've spent the past four years getting our house in order. We need diverse voices from across the community. We need people with marketing and fundraising skills and people who want to help craft the vision for the organization's future."
For more information, visit GerberHart.org .