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    Twenty years? Already?

    By Jim Van Buskirk

    The universal response when people hear about the 20th anniversary commemoration of the opening of the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center is, “Twenty years? Already?” On the one hand, it seems like yesterday, and on the other like it has been part of the fabric of the San Francisco Public Library’s commitment to sexual minorities for much longer. Its recent official name change to LGBTQIA Center reflects the Center’s acknowledgement of the importance of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning, Intersex, Allies, Advocates & Asexuals communities.

    In fact, 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the first press conference announcing a gay and lesbian affinity center as part of the new main San Francisco Public Library. To understand how this affinity center became an important part of the New Main’s design, check out the exhibits in the Hormel Center’s ceremonial space on the Library’s third floor.

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    This year marks another 20th anniversary; that of Gay by the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, published by Chronicle Press to coincide with the opening of the Hormel Center. Susan Stryker and I collaborated to showcase the collections of the ten-year-old Gay & Lesbian Historical Society and those of the just-opening Hormel Center, and the result was a rich and enduring friendship.

    It is a highlight of my life to have been the founding Program Manager of the Center, officially starting in 1992. I met many wonderful people and worked with many important organizations in the process of developing the collections and curating the exhibits and public programs. Having retired in 2007, I was honored to be invited back as guest curator, to help celebrate two decades of collection building (books, periodicals, audio-visual materials, archival holdings), public programs, exhibitions, and even reference service.

    My original plan was to showcase the wealth of the collections, highlighting their breadth and depth by exhibiting at least one piece from each of the over one hundred and fifty—and continually growing—separate collections. That ambitious attempt was quickly recognized as unfeasible. There was just too much material.

    The plan was modified to focus on the Center’s second decade, a period during which I was no longer directly involved. It’s been a thrill to see all of the fascinating collections, passionately acquired and patiently processed, being made accessible to future generations.

    It was wonderful being reunited with my former colleagues, including Hormel Center Program Manager Karen Sundheim, who has done an impressive job developing the Center. Especially helpful to me was Processing Archivist Tim Wilson, whose deep knowledge and attention to detail render him the unsung hero of the Hormel Center’s archival collections. Check out his entertaining and informative blogs at This year marks his 20th anniversary at the San Francisco Public Library as well.

    I would also like to send a special shout out to my curatorial co-conspirator, Mariah Sparks, the San Jose State Library School student recommended by Exhibit Advisory Committee member Texas Starr (who also edited the clip reel of the Frameline Digitization Project). It was a sincere pleasure working with, and getting to know, Mariah, whose dad (one of them, anyway) David Hatfield Sparks processed the Center’s very first collection, the Lynn Lonidier Papers (“GLC 1”), in 1996. Talk about community and continuity!

    Be sure to mark your calendar for “Teens and Queens,” the opening program and reception at 2:00 pm on Saturday, April 23, which opens with a performance by queer teen dance group Rising Rhythm Project. It will also feature the world premiere theatrical presentation of a specially-created documentary, include brief remarks from dignitaries, and will end with a special blessing from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. It is just one of several exhibition-related programs. (See page 25 for the full list.)

    Queerest.Library.Ever celebrates the Hormel Center’s achievements without attempting to comprehensively cover the complex story of queer experience in the San Francisco Bay Area. Perhaps, like me, you have known some of these individuals, and/or participated in some of these events. In other cases, this may be new territory.

    Gaps in the exhibit may, or may not, reflect lacunae in the current archival holdings. We were particularly dismayed to note the paucity of material representing the non-mutually exclusive categories of communities of color, youth, as well as those of the transgender experience. This is important: if you don’t see yourself, your organization, your community commemorated here, please help the Center identify additional archival collections to ensure that future generations will be able to access documentation of the achievements of the many queer communities.

    These exhibits and their related programming are just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.” History keeps happening and it is the Hormel Center’s mission to preserve and protect the past for the future. Come explore, remember, learn, and celebrate!

    Jim Van Buskirk, formerly the Program Manager of the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center, is a noted book author, freelance writer, public speaker and collections manager. For more information: