“I told the city manager it’s like winning an Oscar for a library,” said Gulfport’s Director of Library and Information Science, David Mather.
Mather learned the library had won the award over the weekend of February 10 and will travel to the national ALA conference in New Orleans on June 24 through 25 to formally accept the award.
“I was pretty excited,” he said. “Not that we need an award to justify what we’re doing, but it’s nice to get the recognition particularly because we have so many community members working on the [non-profit] board. I just want to show our thanks to them because they work so hard for the related events.”
The initiative is called the LGBTQ Resource Center, which is a project of the library’s non-profit Circle of Friends. The letters stand for: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and either Questioning or Queer. The center opened on June 4, 2015 and was the first of its kind in the state of Florida.
“Libraries, as centers of the community, must reflect the communities in which they are in,” said Mather at the time of the opening. “We have a very large LGBTQ community in Gulfport and once we started looking into it, we felt that the need was definitely there. From the start, we received nothing but positive support from the entire community.” A local resident and past president of the Circle of Friends made the center’s initial book donation comprised of lesbian fiction.
The ALA’s annual Newlen-Symons Award is funded by and named after Robert R. Newlen, deputy librarian for the Library of Congress; and, John W. and Ann K. Symons, who is the past president and treasurer of the ALA. She is also the past chair of the ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) that facilitates the award. The round table was founded in 1970 as the ALA’s Task Force on Gay Liberation and is the nation’s first LGBT professional organization, according to the organization’s website.
In addition to a framed citation, the award also comes with $1,000.
“The money will go toward the collection,” said Mather.
The collection size and use of the LGBTQ Resource Center has doubled over the past year, he said.
“Now, the collection has about 2,300 pieces,” said Mather. “And 3,000 items go out each year. That’s significant.”
The center includes books, DVDs and CDs. DVDs and non-fiction books are the most popular, he said.
“The success and impact of the library’s resource center has brought Gulfport to an even greater level of visibility as a small town with a big heart,” said Daniel H. Hodge, vice president of the Gulfport Merchant’s Association and committee member of the library’s resource center, in a recommendation letter to the ALA that was part of the award’s entry documentation. He is also a former professional librarian from the San Francisco Bay Area and served on the ALA’s Gay and Lesbian Book Awards Committee in the 1990s.
“Growing slowly but steadily, the center has gotten off to a great start on a collection of library materials and has branched out into programming to include events and exhibits,” said Hodge.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of Florida’s 13th District wrote a recommendation letter on behalf of the library’s grant application and said, in part, “Gulfport Public Library’s LGBTQ Resource Center has a strong presence in Pinellas County and is especially influential for our region’s LGBTQ youth. I support the initiative to ensure that all have access to quality education within an environment of tolerance and acceptance.”
The center’s influence in Tampa Bay was noted in a recommendation letter written by Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, the largest advocate organization in the state for LGBTQ rights and equality.
“The center has increasingly become an active participant in creating informational, educational and cultural opportunities for LGBTQ community members as well as friends and family in the Tampa Bay area,” said Smith.
For more information about the center, visit mygulfport.us/lgbtq-resources.