A wicked long post on how to find LGBT material in the library catalog

As we celebrate the return of various delicious designer coffee beverages, pull out the cozy sweaters, and enjoy some primo leaf peeping, let’s also remember that October is LGBT (Lesbian / Gay/ Bisexual / Transgender) history month!  In honor of that, I’m going to teach you how to do some specialized searching.  But before we get to the nitty gritty of cataloging, let’s enjoy a little bit of that history and look at this super cute picture of some American teens.  Man, they’re cute.  Like puppies, almost.

Okay.  Back to it.  While pickings always feel a little bit slim, there’s really more out there than you might have thought (if you can manage to find it).  Let’s take a little time to revisit how to search for LGBT-themed items in our library catalog.

First item of business:  choose a catalog.  The first (called Encore) is what’s embedded in the Robbins Library homepage.  This is a great browsing catalog, and I encourage you to check it out.  The second option (Classic Catalog) is the one I favor for the surgical searching we’re about to do.  You can access it by clicking on the link in Encore that says “For more results and advanced features visit the Minuteman Library Catalog.”


There are really only two ways to perform this search.  First, you can hop on the internet and use a “Best Of” list to inform your search, and then go through the catalog looking for specific titles.  Your other option is to head over to Lambda Literary.  They deal with LGBT writing awards, and they keep lists of past and current winners.  They also review books.  Title in hand, set your search to Keyword Search and All Locations Collection (bigger collection = better results).

The second way to search works better if you are less picky about your results.  Think of it as shopping without a list.  You’ve got to do just what my Reference Professor taught me in library school (“Find out what they call it, then select it!”).  “It,” in this case, is us.  How do they catalog us?  Our stories?  Here’s a little search you can run to familiarize yourself with what you’ll be looking for  Just to simplify things, I’m searching for fiction.


Choose=Subject    Search term= gay men — fiction     Location=All Locations Collection

This search gives you 497 results, which you can now limit by date (books published this past decade tend to have different themes than the ones published in the 80s and 90s).

But that search only showed you a couple of subject listings on your screen.  You know there have to be more headings, but a subject search doesn’t seem to be showing them.  That’s because the catalog uses a very specific vocabulary.  It’s a very “garbage in, garbage out” method of searching.  Change your search by a single word, and the whole catalog opens up:

Choose=Subject         Search term= gay — fiction         Location=All Locations Collection 

What this search gives you is a starting point.  It sticks you in the middle of all things “gay men” and lets you move forward of backward through the catalog, until you find the subject heading that most fits what you’re searching for.  It’s also a good time to Limit your search by date.  If you want to kick back material written between, say, 2010 and now, use 2010 (after) to 2013 (before) as your bracket.

Okay, ladies.  Think you’ve figured this out?  Almost?  Your search string for the bulk of lesbian fiction looks like this:

Choose=Subject     Search term= lesbians — fiction      Location=All Locations Collection

This kind of search gives you 397 results, which you can now limit by date.

Want to see how we’re cataloged?  Of course you do!

Choose=Subject           Search term= lesbian women — fiction        Location=All Locations Collection

You can then use this starting point to click back in forth through all things lesbian.
But wait, you say.  Why is it different from the guys?  Because it is.  That’s all.  We must adjust.

If you’re searching for stories about the bisexual community, it’s a little bit tricky.  There isn’t a clear subject heading that most people will use (lots of your stories will fall under gay or lesbian).  “Queer,” as a word, is a cataloger’s nightmare.  Catalogers need to use a vocabulary with the least amount of ambiguity, so that means your stories will often be couched in other terms.  Your best bet is to run this search:

Choose=Subject       Search term= bisexual — fiction        Location=All Locations Collection

This will drop you into the beginning of the bisexual section.  From there, you can scan forward to see how things are cataloged.

For folks in the Trans community:  I’m sorry.  Whether it’s a lack of material, or general disagreement by catalogers over which terms to use, you’ve got to do the most work to find stories.  You’ll need to use both “Transgender” and “Transsexual” when looking for your stories.

Choose= Subject       Search term=transgender (or transsexual) — fiction      Location=All Locations Collection 

As far as movies go, you’re on your own (I’ve been told, on occasion, that I’m a bit too opinionated when it comes to movies featuring LGBT stories, so I’ll keep quiet on this one).  You can search a couple of “Best Of” lists if you like.  If you need a book, try this one.

Additionally, I think that sites like AfterEllen and AfterElton are super useful for keeping tabs on all things LGBT in entertainment.  This is where I go to learn about new movies and TV shows that might be of interest to me.  These are active websites, and definitely worth exploring.

The plain truth is that those of us in the LGBT community need to work a little bit harder to find books and movies that reflect our lives and experiences.  Another truth is that librarians generally fill the shelves with books that were reviewed in major library publications (which often don’t include a whole lot of LGBT material).  Help us out.  If there’s a title or author that you enjoy reading (and we don’t have it), please get in touch.

You can email: arlmail2@minlib.net.  Be specific in your purchase request.  Title, Author, and ISBN if you have it handy.

Happy October, all!

This entry was posted in Books, Databases and Research, LGBT, Movies, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A wicked long post on how to find LGBT material in the library catalog

  1. Robyn says:

    Thanks for the tips! Another great way is by referrals. I just finished a book called, ” I Heard the Pastor’s Daughter Is Gay” by author Luana Reach Torres. This a fiction novel about a pastor’s high-school aged daughter who falls in love with another girl and the tension this creates between the girl and her father. http://www.luanareachtorres.com/

  2. 1rebecca says:

    Hi, Robyn! Yes, those first love books are the best, aren’t they? I totally agree that personal recommendations are a great way to go, so in the spirit of sharing, I’ve got one (or two or ten) for you. “Sister Mischief,” by Laura Goode is pretty excellent (white girl rap star wannabe in Minnesota falls for a friend. Really authentic voice and a cool take on a classic story).

    I’ll also recommend the movie “Circumstance.” A really honest film about two Iranian teens, their complicated social, family and religious lives. Mostly improvised. Also worth watching in is the director’s commentary and the featurette that talks about how they had to secretly make this lesbian movie in Iran without the government (who was on the set, spying, etc.) finding out, shutting it down, and arresting them.

  3. Robyn says:

    You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy Torres’s book as much as I did. Thank you for the additional recommends – I will check these out!

  4. Pingback: Good News to Share | Sara S. Jansen

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