A Free Online Library Has Lots of LGBTQ Books

When Sara Katherine moved back to her hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana, from New York, she quickly realized that LGBTQ youth in her community faced a significant lack of support and representation.

Determined to bridge this gap, she began volunteering as a mentor at a local nonprofit, guiding queer teens who felt isolated and underrepresented in both media and their local environment. It was during this time that she discovered the Queer Liberation Library (QLL), a transformative resource offering over 1,200 LGBTQ books available digitally to anyone across the United States.

The QLL was established by a team of nine dedicated volunteers in November to address the increasing number of state laws and school policies that challenge or outright ban books featuring LGBTQ themes. To access the QLL, readers provide their name and a U.S. mailing address, ensuring their privacy is protected and that they gain entry to the extensive digital catalog via the Libby app.

Kieran Hickey, the co-founder of QLL, conceptualized the library as a response to his own experiences growing up without accessible LGBTQ literature. This lack of representation left him feeling detached and misunderstood.

A Free Online Library Has Lots of LGBTQ Books

Hickey’s love for books and his pursuit of a master’s degree in library science from the University of British Columbia propelled him to create QLL. The library started modestly but has since grown exponentially, attracting nearly 4,000 readers in its first few months and boasting over 50,000 readers today.

QLL’s collection is specifically curated to include books with queer themes or authored by queer writers. It stands out as one of the few services dedicated to this niche, especially crucial in light of the current socio-political climate.

For example, between July 2021 and December 2023, book bans affected 42 states, targeting themes of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. According to PEN America and the American Library Association, seven of the ten most challenged titles in 2023 featured LGBTQ subjects. Notable among these is Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer,” a graphic memoir that has topped the list of most banned books for three consecutive years.

Books with LGBTQ themes are vital for queer youth, providing much-needed representation and affirmation. Without access to these narratives, LGBTQ students miss out on critical identity affirmation, role models, and inspiration, leading to feelings of shame and self-doubt. The lack of representation also deprives them of social and emotional learning opportunities that are essential for navigating their own experiences.

Sara Katherine uses QLL to offer the LGBTQ teens she mentors a chance to see themselves reflected in the literature they read. Through the QLL, she tells them, “Guess what? I have something free for you, and it’s thousands of books you can read where there are characters just like you who are falling in love, who are having adventures.”

QLL’s impact extends beyond providing books. It serves as a beacon of hope and a tool for fostering inclusivity and understanding. The library’s volunteers, whom Hickey affectionately calls “Queer Literature Heroes,” each play a unique role in expanding QLL’s reach and accessibility.

Erik Lundstrom, dubbed “The Business Gay,” handles financial and legal matters. Laura, the “Book Lister in Residence,” curates new titles, while Fern Odawnul, or the “Social Media Gremlin,” manages QLL’s online presence and engages with the community.

The library also features a diverse collection of children’s books, like “My Shadow Is Purple” by Scott Stuart, which introduces nonbinary identities to young readers through engaging illustrations and relatable storytelling. Odawnul, as a parent, provides valuable insights into the children’s book collection, ensuring that young readers receive age-appropriate and inclusive content.

QLL’s significance is particularly profound in areas with little LGBTQ visibility, like Valparaiso. By providing access to LGBTQ literature, QLL helps foster a sense of belonging and community among queer youth and educates non-LGBTQ readers about diverse experiences. This accessibility is crucial in promoting lifelong learning and understanding across different demographics.

Looking ahead, QLL plans to host in-person events such as book clubs, summer reading programs, and meetups to support LGBTQ youth further. Hickey emphasizes the importance of shared liberation and community support, aiming to offer what he lacked growing up: a sense of belonging and representation.

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The Queer Liberation Library continues to grow, driven by its mission to provide safe, accessible, and affirming literature to LGBTQ individuals, regardless of their location or circumstances. By doing so, QLL not only combats the wave of book bans but also nurtures a more inclusive and understanding society.

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