Stonewall Library and Archives
Opens Doors to the Community
It’s often said that when one door closes, another one opens. In the case of the Stonewall Library and Archives, this scenario clearly played out – and with tremendously satisfying results.
Just over three years ago, Stonewall - the largest independent circulating library of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) materials in the United States – learned that its building on North Andrews Avenue had been sold and was slated for demolition. Fortunately, the organization quickly learned of the opportunity to take over 4,200 square feet of space being vacated by a portion of the Broward County Library Branch at 1350 E. Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale.
The possibilities galvanized Stonewall’s supporters, who were keenly aware that the facility was not only cramped, but also confusing to patrons because it shared space with the Gay and Lesbian Community Center (GLCC) – causing many to believe that the two independent organizations were one and the same, or even that the Library was part of the GLCC.
Not anymore. Earlier this year, Stonewall celebrated the opening of its new home with proclamations from the City of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, a festive ribbon-cutting ceremony and a newfound sense of optimism. The organization’s first-ever capital campaign had raised the half million dollars required to renovate the space and move the collections, as well as another $250,000 to begin building an all-important endowment.
“It was amazing to me that the vision we all had for what this place could be was manifested spectacularly,” observes Executive Director Jack Rutland. “It looks the way we wanted it to look, and functions that way we wanted it to function.”
Another factor that inspired Stonewall’s leadership to make the move was the opportunity to share a facility with ArtServe, Inc., the well-known provider of programs, resources, facilities and training for the arts community. “The ArtServe building is already a cultural destination,” Rutland says. “It was a good move for us. It takes us to a different level and makes a statement both for us and the community.”
Founded in 1973 and named to commemorate the landmark 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Stonewall Library and Archives is a museum, gallery and cultural center that makes an impact far beyond South Florida. Its stated mission is “to collect, preserve, organize for use/circulation and display books and materials relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender culture and history; to support related research; to sponsor educational opportunities; and to promote the integration and recognition of this information as an integral part of American history and culture.”
The Library houses a circulating collection of more than 20,000 books and 600 DVDs and videos, as well as a special collections area for the preservation and protection of unusual and rare items, such as first editions and autographed copies. The Archives serve as the repository for the historical records of the GLBT community in the Southeastern U.S. along with selected national records - concentrating on collecting and preserving records of individuals, organizations, communities and social movements.
It’s also a focal point for programming that reaches gay audiences and the community at large, including its Distinguished Author Lecture Series, several film series, writing workshops, a gay literature discussion group, an ongoing oral history project, an opera appreciation group and regular exhibitions.
One immediate benefit of Stonewall’s new location is that audiences are growing. “People who aren’t gay might not have been comfortable going to events at the GLCC, but I think we’ve increased our non-gay audience,” Rutland says. “Our goal here is to educate and empower. This is a safe and nonthreatening environment for that.” Opportunities to collaborate are also growing. “We have space to do much more now,” Rutland notes. ArtServe and Broward County Libraries are ready partners, and “people are calling and writing me and asking to collaborate on programs,” he says.
All of this pleases the Stonewall Library and Archives’ leadership to no end. “In terms of the gay community, we’re seeing a different audience than we saw when we were at the community center,” points out Board President Chuck Williams. “Membership is going up significantly and the people we see at the events are a different crowd. We’re thrilled… absolutely thrilled.”