The Provision of Library and Information Services to Gays and Lesbians in Cape Town’s Public Libraries
The research project is based on the belief that Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) people have specific information needs and interests that public libraries should cater for. The philosophical literature of public libraries states that they have to cater for all sectors of their diverse communities without discrimination. The aim of the research study was to gauge if Cape Town’s library and information services (LIS) include gay and lesbian materials in their collection development policies and procedures. It also aimed at finding out if City of Cape Town Library and Information Services (COCTLIS) provide for the information needs of their gay and lesbian users in their provision of information services. The research problem and the review of literature led to the following research questions: • Do the gay and lesbian library user community constitute a special user group with particular information and reading needs? • If it is accepted that public libraries have a responsibility for the special information and reading needs of gay and lesbian library users, how do they cater for these needs? • How do South African public libraries, specifically the City of Cape Town Library and Information Services (COCTLIS), provide for these needs with their collections and their information services? • Are the public library staffs aware of the UNESCO principles in terms of LIS services for gay and lesbian library users? The first two research questions were answered by means of a review of the theoretical and professional literature. The last two questions were answered by analysis of COCTLIS collection development procedures and policy and a questionnaire survey of library staff. A survey was conducted among librarians in charge of collection development in the COCTLIS libraries early in 2009, collecting data by means of a structured questionnaire. The sample comprised 69 libraries of the total 100, with an even spread across the six city library districts and including a mix of “types” of library (regional and community). The findings of the research study echo the agreement found in the literature that the provision of library services to LGBT people is inadequate. City of Cape Town collection development policy does not have any explicit mention of the LGBT user group. The major finding of the survey is an evident gap between stated beliefs and actual practices. The majority of respondents agree that public library collections should cater for LGBT people but in fact they buy very few books or magazines oriented to gays and lesbians. And only 55% indicate that they do consciously consider the needs of gays and lesbians in their book selection. The information services to gays and lesbians appear to be rather thin. For example, less than 10% include gay and lesbian oriented information in their community information files and only 37% display gay and lesbian oriented information on their community notice boards. The study provides some evidence that practices might differ according to size and position of library. The research study hopes to make a difference in the provision of gays and lesbians in the City of Cape Libraries. It also hopes to remind librarians of the mandate they have to develop their collections to reflect diversity.