Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Don McLeod Reports from the ALMS Conference


The fourth Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Archives, Libraries, Museums, and Special Collections (ALMS) conference was held in Amsterdam, August 1–3, 2012. Hosted by the Internationaal homo lesbisch informatiecentrum en archief (IHLIA) and held at the Amsterdam Public Library, the conference’s theme was “The Future of LGBTI Histories”.


Figure 1: The book display, IHLIA. Credit: Don McLeod.


IHLIA, the largest LGBTI archive in Europe, is housed on the sixth floor of the main branch of the Amsterdam Public Library, which is the largest public library building in Europe. The IHLIA section of the floor contained LGBTI book displays, including rare items, photographs, artifacts, and other materials. Most of the action took place in the large theatre on the seventh floor, with breakout sessions occurring in rooms located near the collection on the sixth floor.

Figure 2: The Amsterdam Public Library, site of the conference. Credit: Don McLeod.

Almost 150 delegates, from all over the world, participated in the conference. More than forty papers and keynote speeches were delivered in the theatre over the three days, mostly by people involved with small, community-based organizations. A particular theme was the state and growth of LGBTI collections in Eastern Europe, with presentations from Hungary, Poland, and Turkey. Several European countries were well-represented, as were Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States. Delegates represented collections in many other countries as well, from China to South Africa. The Canadian delegates were Danielle Cooper (York University, Toronto), David DeAngelis and James Miller (Pride Library, Western University, London, Ontario), and Don McLeod and Gordon Richardson (Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives). Don delivered two papers, one on the LGBTI serials collection at the CLGA, the second on the Ernst Maass collection of correspondence and photographs related to Magnus Hirschfeld, discovered in Brooklyn, New York.

Papers and presentations were delivered in themed sessions. August 1 dealt with the experiences of building archives and collections; August 2 highlighted the role of new media and technologies, oral history, and finding hidden materials; August 3 examined forming alliances with mainstream institutions, and closed with ruminations on the future of LGBTI archives and collections.

One excellent feature of the conference was that all papers were posted in advance and delegates were able to attend all the papers, followed by breakout sessions for questions. As well, all speeches and papers were filmed as they were presented and will be made available by IHLIA.

Common themes emerged: the lack of stable financial support for LGBTI archives and collections; challenges in finding volunteer help; relationships between community-based and mainstream institutions; collections growth and storage problems; digitization. There was also some hint of the dangers of engaging in LGBTI library and archival organizing in certain parts of the world, where social, religious, or political forces stifle such work. For example, Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA), at the University of the Witwatersrand, Braamfontein, South Africa, remains the only LGBTI archive on the African continent.

Don and Gordon were able to take a small, private tour of the IHLIA collections, offered by Jack van der Wel, director of IHLIA, including the basement storage areas.

Figure 3: Gordon Richardson, Jack van der Wel, and Joseph Hawkins (ONE) on tour in the basement storage area of IHLIA. Credit: Don McLeod.



Each day of the conference featured social events, including a tour of ALETTA (Equality Knowledge Institute for Emancipation and Women’s History), an opening reception followed by a boat tour of Amsterdam’s canals, and a mobile Pink Perspectives tour of LGBTI historic sites, ending with drinks at Cafe ’t Mandje, thought to be the oldest LGBTI bar in the world (open since 1927). The conference ended with a wonderful dinner at the Lloyd Hotel.


 Figure 4: Inside Cafe ’t Mandje, the oldest LGBTI bar in the world. Credit: Don McLeod.    


In past years, the ALMS conference was held in the spring. The Amsterdam conference was held at the beginning of August to coincide with Amsterdam Canal Pride, which occurred the day after the conference. Delegates were able to see this spectacular event, during which more than eighty floats literally floated down Amsterdam’s network of canals.

Figure 5: Canal Pride fun, August 4, 2012. Credit: Don McLeod.                 

Jack van der Wel, Lin McDevitt-Pugh, and other members of the local steering committee, as well as volunteers, deserve thanks for organizing a truly memorable, rich, and inspiring conference.

The ALMS baton has been passed to Bryan Knicely and the Stonewall National Archives and Museum, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who will host the 2014 LGBTI ALMS conference.

For more information on the 2012 LGBTI ALMS conference, see: http://lgbtialms2012.blogspot.nl/


For more information on IHLIA, see: http://www.ihlia.nl/english/english




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