To Windy City Times:
Considering the recent articles in the Windy City Times, I felt it was my duty to express my positive experience as a doctoral student and researcher [starting in 2006] at the Gerber/Hart Library. While I am not a Gerber/Hart "insider" (as labeled by a previous Windy City Times article), I believe my experience as an "outsider" should be taken into consideration as I have spent countless hours throughout the years conducting research at the Gerber/Hart for my dissertation on Boystown.
As a library and archive, Gerber/Hart is a success! In the bigger picture, Chicago is lucky to have such an organization still in existence. I found the archives and special collections completely accessible. Restrictions placed on the archives are completely justifiable, as archives ANYWHERE have restricted access. I had absolutely no problem getting any of the information I needed and Gerber/Hart enabled me to explore and discover.
As a community organization and space, Gerber/Hart is also a success! Karen and the librarians (who volunteer hours upon hours of their time) were more than helpful. Karen was always available to show me where I could find the articles I needed, and she was always referencing other sources for me to check out. But more than that, I developed friendships with all of volunteers after spending day after day conducting research.
On my birthday, Karen even bought me a slice of vegan chocolate cake! The librarians at the other local libraries (including my own university library, where I spent even more time) never even knew my name. Because of my positive experience with the library, I volunteered my time at its book sales and also the annual run. As a result, I was able to build even more connections with the LGBT community. Witnessing the daily stresses and challenges of leading and running the organization, I am appreciative and humbled by the dedication of Karen and her staff.
Is there room for improvement? Of course! Everything can be improved upon.
For instance, the library could use newer and better storage solutions. If the library has outgrown its current location (which is a great location for many reasons), maybe a more spacious location would also be an improvement. But running and maintaining a non-profit library with such an extensive archives, is no easy task (especially with such a small staff).
It takes money and a lot of time by experienced individuals to catalog and maintain archival materials, let alone run the entire organization. This is why I never saw any "room for improvement" as a leadership issue.
My purpose for writing this letter is to show support for Gerber/Hart. As a library/archives, Gerber/Hart has been an invaluable resource and has provided me with access to historical records that have formed the foundation of my dissertation research. As a community organization, Gerber/Hart has had a positive impact on my life by being a great resource for establishing relationships with other scholars, students, and community members. In the face of criticism, it is vitally important that we recognize the contributions of Gerber/Hart and the positive impact that it continues to have on the community and LGBT research.