A list of topics/questions sent to me and my library partner, prior to the Radical Reference class, and the discussion which followed.

Miss Ian is in yellow, and I’m pink

Things we could use as brainstorms with class:

1.           What are some of the patron questions you would expect to get re: sex, gender, sexual orientation?

A lot of the questions are either vague: Do you have anything about alternative sex stuff? What would you recommend as a good starting place? (Good question, but with a library of over 10,000 books that are all very different, some idea of what the person’s interests include would be helpful).

Or hyperspecific: I want to see all the zines published by people of color in the 1970s. Do you have a collection of articles or magazines from the 90s about the relationships between sex workers and tech people?

I want to see all the zine published in the 90s including furries.

Gender and transgender have been a big topic in both CSC and my public library. We have certainly increased collections in gender related materials. It’s a pretty amazing to see a parent, and even a cop, checking out books about raising a transgender children.

So what do we have to do as sex librarians? 

Be fluent in the material (which means authors, publishers, history and subcultures)

Be open to learning from patrons (lots of people over-explain themselves in order to justify their interest in the subject, or just need someone to talk to about the topic and not feel judged. Let them do this. This may be them coming out.)

Creating safe space (Which can be creating safe boundaries for the patron, but also for yourself. We are not trained therapists or specialists in lots of the topics even though we may speak some of the sex language and vocabulary. We are reference librarians. Refer them to places where they can find the things which the seek.)

Keeping things light (Triggers and shame are alive and ready in this topic. Keeping things fun and light-hearted allows for people to feel at ease.)Customer Service

Creating community and building the collection (Creating this space and having people connect with us grows our community. Remind patrons to be on the lookout for people they may know getting rid of sexual paraphernalia. Make sure it doesn’t get thrown away and have them contact CSC for a continually expanding library and archive.)

Same thing as Public, at the heart we are public. The same things I value as PL align with CSC.

Judgement Free

Confidentiality and Patron Privacy

Safe space-

Gathering Place- Community is Unity

Be mindful of our language choices- as Miss Ian mentioned triggers. While I am open, free, and have no problem discussing sex, sexual matters, the patron might. Along with this, terminology is important, one can quickly become unPC. Language use is organic, it changes, what was once an acceptable term is not, it’s easy to offend someone, without meaning too. Apologize! Learn. Grow.

2.   What are some of the issues you see around researching sex, gender, sexual orientation

Context. Who wrote it? Who published it? For what audience? It’s especially important with these issues because the subject matter is so taboo. So there is a lot more analyzing of sex by white, heterosexual, academic men because that is who the government/university/private investor trusted to fund their “impartial” or “objective” studies. Womp. Soooooo. A lot of the information is interesting but also falls short of representing a lot of demographics.

Availability of the material and information, more digitization, opening of public and academic to collecting human sexuality material.


3.           What populations are served by this kind of information – i.e. what populations are more likely to ask these questions, or to need this information?

The populations we serve are adults. Once you start questioning your sexual or gender identity you’ve stepped into a vulnerable position because there are almost no major populations in the world that are openly accepting of these questioning identities. So adults are left to the internet, sifting through porn gifs, to find where they can fit in. CSC provides a space for individuals or groups to sit, read, and learn in a safe space without the judgment of others or pressure to feel you need to fit a mold. The demographics are adults over 18. I have seen a large age spectrum.

While CSC serves 18+, I believe all ages need to be educated, rape culture, gender, consent all these issues need to revamped in school age education. Everyone needs human sexual education, they just need a place to feel safe to ask. In my PL environment, we do what we can, unfortunately tweens, teens,YA, are hard to reach and suffer from backlash from school, peers, and sadly home. Education needs to start young so this will change.

At CSC we provide higher level of human sexual education, serving scholars, researchers, authors, but also the SF/Bay Area community, public. Our collections draws users who are looking for factual research material, those interested in erotic art from highbrow to lowbrow, to those wanting to escape in a graphic novel or work of fiction.

We attempt to serve globally via our websites, library catalog, and social media sites.

4.   What are questions that some of the students have?

We didn’t even know you existed? How do I borrow? Privacy? Where did you get all the material? I’d like all the zines published in the 90s about furries culture. Can I work with Carol Queen?

Why is this place important?

        Because so much of this history is erased or placed in places that are hard to get into.

Museo Borbonico, created near Naples in the mid-18th century to house frescoes newly unearthed in Pompeii- those sexually explicit scenes were locked in a special room that only gentlemen were allowed to enter.”

nstitut fur Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexology) founded in 1919 by Magnus Hirschfeld, an energetic physician who was among the pioneers of the study of human sexuality…lost on May 6, 1933, when a mob of Nazi “students” ransacked the building in central Berlin, burning the contents of its library in a public square four days later.”

#1 it’s fascinating. It’s human sexuality. It’s important to know our history/herstory. Anatomy is everything and our relationship with our bodies. Gender expression. All of it.

AAAANNNDDD It’s an area that has been censored for varying degrees of reason that change slightly with every generation. Which means studying sexuality is also a study of the dynamics of power. A study of how shame is used to control. How morality is used to justify this shame and encourages judgment. Which is a related but different part of human nature.

CSC is important,  because there is no public place like this. Most collections this large about one subject are academic, and have limited if any access. For the most part all or our material is open stacks. We have many out of print publications, the Vern and Bonnie Bullough collection, Carol Queen (hoarding collection), Good Vibrations, and an large collection of rare pulp fiction, and what I call pulp non-fiction.

Community, venue, gallery- As SF of the past is vanishing place like this are more important than ever.  

Problematic areas

1.           What does “authority” mean in the context of sex research?  Clearly there are scholarly papers, scholarly research, statistics, etc – but what about things like blog posts, zines, other in-between resources

Who is an authority on the subject?

To go back to what Miss Ian mentioned

There is more analyzing of sex by white, heterosexual, academic men because that is who the government/university/private investor trusted to fund their “impartial” or “objective” studies. Womp. Soooooo. A lot of the information is interesting but also falls short of representing a lot of demographics.

In my mind a sex worker is an authority on sex work, and a blog, writing group, zine, or newsletter produced by someone working in the sex industry is a greater authority than a, funded academic hetro white man. Which is why we value Zines and even comic/graphic novels as a form of authority on human sexualtiy.

Blogs are a form of literature I have thought about for a long long time, I am blogger, I have a library blog, and I have a sex blog.

This material format could also be seen in the same vein as zines or, other “in-between” resources. It’s a matter of someone taking on the task of archiving, organizing, cataloging, and aggregating them. A HUGE undertaking. Internet Archive is one organization attempting to collect all of the web, including blogs, but there is no orginization, criteria, or aggregation  as to how websites are saved, and there certainly is no

Exactly! Because there is so little research done, the people have started publishing their own thoughts and feelings on the subject instead of waiting for studies to be done which value their lifestyles and opinions. Sex Positive culture and Queer Culture are rooted in not only Do It Yourself radicalism, but also not allowing subjective authorities to define them. It is anti-colonial in a sense.

2.           How do we classify this information?  HUGE issue, broken down into:

Language – what is the appropriate language for describing some of this.

Appropriate is a sticky word, we cannot always be appropriate, nor should we. We should be fair, judgement free and factual.

We like to use the language that the other provides us as readers. Because the language of sex and culture changes all the time, we like to honor the authors right to define themselves and in this way we are able to track dialect and vocabulary with culture along with the materials.

We cannot read the future and cannot predict which words will cause hurt and which will be comfortable and accommodating. But that is not our role. We do not want to police the vocabulary, and to be honest we don’t need people to be comfortable. I think that is an unfair expectation to have when the subject matter is so charged. So the important part is to catalog and keep, but not erase or accommodate. If you come in wanting to know about sex workers but sexual acts make you uncomfortable, that is a personal boundary for the researcher and the “researched” should not have to accommodate or placate those feelings. Does that make sense?


Where are your personal boundaries, and do you need to cross them in order to reveal some resources – e.g. Leather Archives and Museum, fetlife’s Documentary History of the Lifestyle

  1. The only boundaries that are sometimes blurry are that between sex librarian and sex worker. But this is similar to regular misogyny or sex work in general. Just because I talk about sex (or have a vagina) doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you (necessarily). But this is a problem with our culture’s view of sexuality and that’s one of the reasons we exist. To make those boundaries more clear, by making the subject less taboo, so that everyone can feel empowered to say yes or no.

What about someone doing research into areas that cross your own boundaries, or oppose your own values?  E.g. what about someone who wants sex-based resources that are pro-homophobia? What about, e.g. JW Carney?

  1. Girl, what boundaries? Honestly though. Everyone is figuring out what they need to figure out. I am not policing people’s thoughts or rights to research. If someone wants to study something pro-homophobia, I have no problem with that as long as they are respectful of me, the space, and other patrons. I might even invite it. Bridges are better than walls. PS… Who is JW Carney?

There are questions where someone’s identity is at stake – e.g. an individual’s questions about transitioning, or sexual orientation, where the issue is their own identity, not academic, professional or legal.  How do we as librarians signal that the reference interview is a safe space?

In our space it could be many things. Some of it is that I often dress in a manner that could be called loud or non-gender conforming. This eases people at times to let their guards down. But again, I cannot control what makes people feel safe when there are so many triggers in the world. But also, the power of being surrounded by books, nice music, and quiet perverts who don’t judge sets a pretty accommodating tone.

I can’t make decisions for others. My job is only to provide information and resources in order to empower people to make their own decisions.

  1. Legal: draw the line between giving information, and giving legal advice

See above

When is it appropriate to hand-off, and to whom?  Kinsey?  Social Worker?  Attorney?

If there is a big decision or problem in the space, we bring it to the team and discuss it that way. All of those decisions would be made collectively.

How does filtering software or censorship come into play?  

  1. Filtering software may make resources like scarleteen, Chicago leather archives and museum, or kinsey unavailable to information seekers
  2. Doing work on a library computer is much more open to surveillance, or even public scrutiny, than olden-days anonymity where you could take a book to a desk with you

I have been fortunate to never work for a library that censors. All of the public institutions I have been employed at are passionate about censorship and patron privacy, and none have accepted federal funding, which is often associated with filters.


 It’s true that all that information is cataloged. And it’s what we’re fighting. We don’t want there to be censorship, but we also don’t want their to be shame and secrecy in wanting to know more about sex, sexuality, and gender. It’s an integral part of our existence.


1. Where are some of the existing archives?  And is it possible to create a list of such archives?

Look on the CSC website, we have a super comprehensive list of resources.

a.           Sexual Minorities Archives

c.           Queer Zine Archives-

d.          Lesbian Herstory Archives

e.          Center for Sex and Culture

f.          Waltham – International Foundation for Gender Education?

g.         Leather  Archives and Museum

h.         Feminist Porn Archive and Research Project (York University) CSC/I have worked with

i.          On Our Backs digital archive (Sallie Bingham Center, Duke)

j.         Digital Transgender Archive

j.          Others? resources.

2.           How to consolidate, standardize catalogs

Stop and look what other orgs and institutions are already doing, partner, don’t scan the same thing 20 different times for 20 different institutions. Get out of the silo effect. Work with other archives/libraries and use the same standards. Zine Core and Homosaurus are where CSC looks to emulate and standardize in alignment with. However, I don’t feel we should kill LCSH (even though we might want to) the data is valuable to the past, research and understanding of how we get to the word we use now. Must not erase the past.

Minimize yes, but erase no.

Who is doing this?  And how can we find them?

        You are all brilliant soon to be reference librarians, you can find us, we are out here.

Look on the CSC website, we have a super comprehensive list of resources.


Resources to reach out to

                    GLBT Roundatables – ALA, AALL, others?

                    Non-professional (non-librarian) groups