Starting 2018 with a fresh start, Gary Wasdin steps in as executive director for the Leather Archives and Museum ( LA&M ) this month.
Wasdin was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, where he developed a love for the beach. His love for travel shows through his life's experience. After earning a bachelor's degree in theater from Augusta College, Wasdin went to graduate school at Southern Connecticut State University, where he earned a master's degree in library science and a second master's degree in English. Currently, he also writes porn fiction.
Having been an avid reader, Wasdin said he was drawn into the library profession for more non-book related reasons. He recalled as he was working on his master's degree, technology was becoming more developed in libraries and he had always had an interest in technology and what libraries were doing to make more materials available digitally, including with special collection materials.
"I've been able to work in so many different kinds of librariesuniversity libraries and public libraries [as well as] public service and special collections and archivesso it's just a really cool profession because there's so many different kinds of jobs that you could do that take you in interesting new places," said Wasdin.
Wasdin also said the feeling of inclusion is also what attracted him to libraries as a child.
"Growing up, trying to figure out who I was, it took me a while to figure out that I was bi," he explained. "But I knew I was very different from my family, and the public library kind of was a place where I could go and find out about people like me, and I could read and look up things and answer questions for myselfand I think a lot of kids have that experience. That's the great thing: Kids still have that experience in libraries."
He has worked in libraries across the country, including in New York, Alabama and Washington State. His time as library director at Washington's King County Library System ( where Seattle and Bellevue are, among other cities ) was cut short due to some personal photos/information that was online.
"The board was made aware of some personal photos and information about me that existed online that they felt would possibly reflect poorly on the library," Wasdin explained. "While I disagreed, I respected their position and resigned amicably to allow us all to move on."
Before moving to Chicago and starting with LA&M, Wasdin lived in Omaha and worked as a senior consultant with DeEtta Jones and Associates. In this role, he did different projects for both public and academic libraries around the country, as well as strategic planning, organization development, leadership training, diversity and inclusion training.
"I think honestly what kind of inspires me is this idea of inclusion," Wasdin said of his work with libraries. "Making space at the table for everyone and for everyone to have a voice and that's represented both in the way that we make ourselves accessible to anyone, so anyone could walk into a library, no matter who you are or where you come from, and access the resources there. Also in the kind of materials that we collect that represent all different voices and people from different backgrounds and things that are controversial."
It was when Wasdin was living in New York City in 2001 that he became involved in the leather community; he described it as a personal journey. He had always been interested in living life "on the fringe, outside of the norm," Wasdin explained, the first time that he wore leather, was about hyper masculinity that comes from leather, the history that it represents and the sense of belonging that it can create.
As Wasdin gets ready for his new role, he expressed excitement and he is thinking about how to really get to know the communities that support and use the LA&M.
"You look at what the Leather Archives and Museum is doing and what they've been doing throughout their history and it really is that same idea of inclusionof being a voice for groups, for organizations, for individuals that are often marginalized and forgotten about in society," said Wasdin. "To be able to work for a place that continues to do that in a very different way, that in some ways, than what I've been doing in other kinds of libraries, but at the same time it's the exact same thing and that's creating that inclusive environment where we're collecting and preserving the history of often marginalized groups."
On social media, community members have expressed a range of opinionsboth negative and positiveabout Wasdin taking on this role, having been selected over two local candidates.
"There is a positive side to all of this and that's how passionate people are about this organization and that means a lot because this is a privately funded membership-based organization and people care about it and it is very personal to the people who are involved with it," Wasdin said. "So that's great even if some of the things are hard to hear, it's still coming from a really good place and from a place of passion for what LA&M means to its community and also a lot of the concerns represent real issues that have been around for quite a long time."
Wasdin said his mission is to be able to demonstrate his skills and ability to lead the organization, while earning the people's trust and respect.
"To be honest with people, it's going to take time and it's not something that's going to be done by the end of January, but we want people to hold us accountable for it and want people to have those high expectations for us," Wasdin said.
Some of the existing concerns, he notes, center around the lack of diversity in almost every aspect of the LA&M, including the board, membership, the representation of women, of people of color, the collection and the exhibitions. He added that he hopes people will give him time to address issues and take the opportunity to get to know him.
"My main focus is really on first and foremost coming in and spending the time listening to what these concerns are," said Wasdin. "A director should be coming in listening and learning from the people around him or her and working with the staff, the community, the members, listening to what their priorities are, what their issues are, what their passions are and the director's job is really to sort of take all of that together and to create that sharedness and pull all of those ideas together."
"Nationally, my primary focus is making the Leather Archives and Museum more visible and accessible to a much larger audience," said Wasdin, adding he wants people to know the research collections and the importance of preserving these collections and how they are used.
For more information on the Leather Archives and Museum, visit LeatherArchives.org .