Department of English

Assistant Professor Matt Richardson collaborates on new UT Libraries tool: The Black Queer Studies Collection

Thu, September 2, 2010
Assistant Professor Matt Richardson collaborates on new UT Libraries tool: The Black Queer Studies Collection
Lindsey Schell (left), Kristen Hogan, and Matt Richardson.

The Black Queer Studies Collection is a virtual gathering of works now accessible through keyword search in the University of Texas catalog. Created through a unique collaboration between Assistant Professor Matt Richardson and the UT Libraries through bibliographer Lindsey Schell and library school student and English Department PhD Kristen Hogan, the Black Queer Studies Collection (BQSC) is the first of its kind and indicates the importance of critical library interventions as scholarly tools.

Before this spring, a catalog keyword search for any phrasing of Black Diasporic LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) materials would not have located many of the materials now in or soon to be added to the BQSC. Though a keyword search scans the full text of catalog records, a search for “Black lesbian” would not have returned the record for Watermelon Woman, the 1997 film about searching the archives for Black lesbian history in Hollywood, by Black lesbian filmmaking icon Cheryl Dunye. The subject headings for Watermelon Woman before this spring included “Richards, Faye – Drama” (where Faye Richards is the fictional Black lesbian actor in films of the ’30s and ’40s) and “Feature films.” A search for “Black LGBT” would not return What We All Long For, the 2008 novel by the prolific Black Caribbean Canadian lesbian author Dionne Brand. Subject headings for What We All Long For list “Toronto (Ont.) – Fiction; Vietnamese – Ontario – Toronto Fiction; Female friendship – Fiction; Refugees – Fiction.”

As Richardson, faculty in the English Department, the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS), and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies (CWGS), requested library purchases of Black Diasporic LGBTQ materials, he noticed that the catalog records did not always identify them in any way as Black Diasporic or as LGBTQ, much less as both. The UT Catalog draws on catalog records from the Library of Congress and from the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center); this national library system continues to obscure access to historically marginalized materials through subject headings which are unevenly applied, outdated, inappropriate, or even missing. The new possibilities generated by tagging are limited by inconsistency (GLBTQ, LGBTQ, African-American, Black) and the impossibility of identifying complex materials with single-word tagging: the list of materials tagged LGBTQ is overwhelmingly by white authors, while the list of materials tagged Black is overwhelmingly by U.S.-based and straight authors. Richardson’s creation of bibliographies, archives of titles, in his scholarship emphasizes the importance of visibility for conducting scholarship, for recognizing a field, and for validating users’ lives. This practice of naming makes a particular claim, through language and context, about the value and body of writings by and about Black Diasporic LGBTQ people. The BQSC continues this project.

The Black Queer Studies Collection is a virtual designation added by UT Libraries catalogers to individual records. This means that you’ll see “Black Queer Studies Collection” listed as a “Local Note” in records included in the collection. The Black Queer Studies Collection note is being added to and improves access to records in the UT Libraries Catalog for materials by and about Black Diasporic LGBTQ people; the collection includes works in the circulating and archival collections, multiple formats, and multiple languages. The collection started as 50 items ordered by Richardson; the second phase of the collection, currently in progress, will add in all of the materials listed in Carry the Word: A Bibliography of Black LGBTQ Books (RedBone Press/Vintage Entity Press, 2007) and currently owned by the UT Libraries. The BQSC would not have been possible without the vital resource Carry the Word, edited by Lisa C. Moore, Steven G. Fullwood, and Reginald Harris; the book is evidence of the significance of small presses and bibliography projects to queer visibility. A new edition of Carry the Word is due out in the Fall of 2010, thus indicating the importance of maintaining the collection. Throughout this process, UT Libraries catalogers have also been revising some of the subject headings, thus further improving access to these materials. In the ongoing third phase of the collection, faculty will add currently-owned and new titles to the collection through an annual review process.

Future growth of the BQSC is made possible by the work of the UT Libraries along with generous commitments from CAAAS, CWGS, the English Department and the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, each of which supported the proposal and pledged annual support for growing the collection.

You can now use the UT Library Catalog to browse or search within the Black Queer Studies Collection. To browse the collection: in the catalog, perform a keyword search for “Black Queer Studies Collection” (using quotation marks); this search will return all of the materials currently designated as part of this collection-in-process. To search within the collection: in the catalog, perform a keyword search for “Black Queer Studies Collection” and your additional search terms. For details, see the BQSC webpage.

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