LGBTQ History in the Northwest Room

Black triangle logo with SNOMEC written inside using negative space. Yellow background. Text above the black triangle reads "Snohomish County Elections Committee for gays, lesbians, & transgendered."In honor of Pride Month, the Northwest Room has just launched its newest digital collection: the papers of the Snohomish County Elections Committee. The documents in this collection are part of a large donation that came into our care in 2015 via Charles Fay, one of the Committee’s co-founders.

Mr. Fay is a lifelong activist working within Snohomish County in the areas of LGBTQ rights and voter education.  In 1999 Mr. Fay and his colleagues Pat D’Willis and Jeff W. Phillips co-founded the Snohomish County Elections Committee (SNOMEC). This organization was inspired by a group in Seattle known similarly as the Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee (SEAMEC). The aim of both groups was to interview candidates participating in local elections in order to create ratings sheets that measured the level of knowledge each individual had regarding issues that affected their LGBTQ constituents (historical note: users of this collection will often see the acronym written as ‘GLBT’ because that was the most common format used during that time period).

While the scope of SNOMEC’s activities was tightly focused on the interviewing process and creation of ratings sheets, this work required an enormous amount of planning and oversight. The three co-founders worked equally as managers of an extensive network of passionate volunteers conducting training in the interviewing process, scheduling the candidates for interviews, and compiling and mailing out the review sheets. In addition to the mailings, these resources were made freely available to public libraries within Snohomish and Island Counties. For the most part both library systems readily displayed the rating sheets, though at a small number of individual branch locations SNOMEC met initial resistance and had to work with system management to have their materials distributed.

This SNOMEC collection provides readers with an interesting point-in-time view of a very transitional period of the LGBTQ rights movement. In the late 1990s the general public was becoming increasingly aware of the different issues facing their LGBTQ neighbors. In February of 1994, the Clinton Administration oversaw the implementation of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy aimed at gay, lesbian, and bisexual military personnel sparking national conversation. The HIV/AIDS epidemic, which heavily impacted LGBTQ communities around the nation in the 1980s, had only recently begun to slow with the introduction of life-prolonging treatments. The 1990s also saw the steady growth of youth-oriented LGBTQ groups in schools, as well as gay-straight alliances such as the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN). In April of 1997 Ellen DeGeneres came out in a very public way on her sitcom, watched by an estimated 42 million viewers. Readers can see reflections of this gradual growth of public awareness in the range in candidate knowledge.

It is interesting to view these records with the knowledge we now have of the recent past. Some of the candidates included in these files are still politically active today, and one can see how their familiarity with certain topics has grown over time. In other cases one can see how some public figures have long been in touch with the needs of the LGBTQ community. In some cases we see individuals who were just starting to be exposed to some of the topics included in the survey and had not had a chance to form many opinions at all. Political experience also seems to play a part in the complexity and tone of the responses given in these interviews.

SNOMEC remained active until 2003, at which time a desire to hand over leadership of the Committee ran up against a lack of volunteers interested in leadership roles; the committee quietly finished its activities later that year. SEAMEC is still actively engaged in interviewing candidates and producing ratings sheets for voters. You can find an archive of their ratings and endorsements that dates back to 1977 on their website.

For more information about SNOMEC and the collections donated by Charles Fay, please contact the Northwest Room. We will be working on further processing this collection, as well as a separate collection of LGBTQ materials from another donor, in the following months.

Yellow text on black background that reads "feel free to copy & distribute this information.'

How Cycling Can Save the World

You may think Peter Walker, author of How Cycling Can Save the World, is engaging in hyperbole with the title of his book. But he actually makes a case for cycling curing everything that ails us and the world (and perhaps even washing the dishes when it’s done). Does this seem too much like ‘As Seen on TV?’ Wait, there’s more!

Think roads are too crowded and traffic is too heavy? Imagine if more of us were cycling how much volume in steel would be removed from the roads.

Worried about the environment? Fewer car trips equal less consumption of fossil fuel and improvement in air quality because of the reduction in emissions. Fewer cars need fewer asphalt parking spots leaving more green spaces.

Have you put on a few pounds and need some exercise but don’t feel you have the time? Cycling can use time you spend driving somewhere already, so you arrive at your destination and you’ve had a workout. No worries about going to the gym!

Feel unsafe on a bicycle? More bicycles on the road bring more awareness of cyclists, making the roads safer. Pedestrians become safer too. Walker compares death and accident statistics in countries including the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark. As you can guess, ours are not good. And I hate to tell you, but eating junk food and sitting in front of the tv (and, of course, zombies) are more likely to kill you than a bicycle accident.

Want to get to know your neighbors or build a sense of community? Cycling allows you to see and engage with your surroundings in a more intimate way than glimpsing them out your window as you speed by. You can make more friends, too.

Interested in cycling but maybe a little nervous or hesitant? There’s a group ride this weekend: Tour de EFD. You might enjoy it so much, you’ll be selling your car on Craigslist next weekend.

Video Games, Seriously

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m pushing 50 and I play video games. There I said it. For those in a younger age cohort there is no shame in admitting and even championing the fact that they play.  But for those of us who remember playing Galaga at the arcade when it first came out, there tends to be a strange self-imposed stigma of seeing video games as childish or a waste of time. Also, back in the day it was definitely NOT an activity you mentioned if you wanted to hang out with the cool kids. If you suffer from this ancient malady as well, you will be happy to learn that nowadays there are plenty of people who take video games seriously and even write about them. Here at the library we have a great collection of books that examine the history, meaning and impact of video games on society and the people who play them. Here are a few to get you started.

Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade by Carly Kocurek

Part history and part cultural critique, Coin-Operated Americans is the story of the rise and fall of the video game arcade phenomenon in the late 1970s and early 80s. The author is particularly interested in how the early arcades and games came to be seen as the almost exclusive domain of young men despite ample evidence that girls and women participated as well. She leaves no cultural stone unturned, examining the games and films of the era that came to shape people’s perceptions of video games and those who played them. She makes a particularly convincing argument that these attitudes persist today not only in the realm of gaming but also in the larger digital culture created by the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

This work is no paean to video games as the ‘next great thing’ that will usher in a shining future with benefits for all. Instead the author, an admitted video game addict, boldly tries to apply critical tools often reserved for traditional art forms (plot, characterization, dialog, meaning) to video games. The results tend to raise more questions than they answer, but they are stronger for it. While video games are visual, they aren’t passive like watching a film, with the player’s participation altering the outcome. While many video games rely on plot, characterization and dialogue, it is undeniably a fact that some games lack almost all three and are still very popular and fun to play. Despite there being no easy answers, Bissell isn’t afraid to wade into the fray and look at video games with a critical eye. After reading this book, you might as well.

Death by Video Game: Danger, Pleasure, and Obsession on the Virtual Frontline by Simon Parkin

As you can probably guess from the title, Parkin isn’t afraid to deal with the obsessive, and sometimes lethal, fascination people can have with video games. Starting with an investigation into how an individual literally played an online video game for so long that he died, the author then begins to ask questions that examine the impact games have on individuals and society as a whole: What is it about video games that can produce such obsessive fascination? Are virtual worlds more appealing than the real? If so, what does that say about the way ‘real life’ is structured? While examining these issues, the author intersperses his personal experiences with interviews with game designers who are trying to push the medium into new areas. The result is a work that is much more than a simple pro or con argument about video games and it is all the better for it.

Gamelife: A Memoir by Michael Clune

This affecting and intimate memoir chronicles the impact of video games on the author’s childhood and early young adulthood. Each of the seven chapters is devoted to a specific game Clune was obsessed with from the second grade to the eighth and how it affected his emotional development. Clune’s formative years were in the 70’s and 80’s so the games described are definitely old school and mostly text based. This work could have easily been swamped by nostalgia and become an overly technical explanation of the games he played. Instead it is a genuine examination of how the game experience helped the author navigate the treacherous waters of gym class hazing, cafeteria politics and all the other ‘joys’ of early adolescence. By focusing on his emotions and experiences, Clune gives his memoir a much broader appeal and relevance. No knowledge of how a Commodore 64 worked is necessary to enjoy this book.

If you want to continue to explore the topic, definitely check out the many other titles we have about video games and their impact. It is far from game over.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Enjoy this last review from intrepid librarian Sarah as she heads off into a bright future:

Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

evictedHarvard professor Matthew Desmond spent years in Milwaukee following tenants trying to find affordable housing. He also tracked landlords dealing with tenants who have fallen behind on their rent, and eventually end up evicted. This is a very timely piece, as housing prices are skyrocketing in most major cities, and people are struggling to find safe havens for their families. Desmond painstakingly looked at data in the housing market, eviction and court records to piece together a picture of a reality that has not been well researched.

There are lots of reports on low-income housing’s effectiveness and availability. What has been left behind are the people who are trying to make it in the regular rental market, as it can take years to get placed into low-income housing. The tenants’ life stories and fixed incomes can contribute to their ability (or inability) to pay rent each month. Desmond tries to humanize both the tenant experience, as well as the landlord business model, and the epic magnitude of our nation’s housing crisis. He argues that housing is a basic human right, especially in a country as wealthy as the United States.

His citations and research are a bit daunting, but his work is very readable and disseminated in simple terms. I appreciated his closing arguments, which provided ample plausible solutions. I was fascinated to find out our government spends more on tax breaks for home owners (i.e. mortgage interest deductions), than breaks for people trying to find a roof to live under. Being homeless can set off a wave of unfortunate circumstances. By supplying safe shelter to our citizens, we can begin the process of helping people chart their own success.

Reading for Self-Care

I’m having a difficult time right now coping with some new realities in my life. Work is high-pressure this time of year because there is a ginormous wave of new books coming through the door every day (thanks, new book budget!). My personal life is crazy as I work on a new creative endeavor that is pushing the bounds of my sanity. I mean, how much energy do I really have after dealing with those tidal waves of books all day? Politically I am ready for action and contemplating how things may change over the next couple of years.

All this adds up to some serious stress levels and a general feeling of helplessness. What can I do to alleviate the stress and maybe turn some of this negative energy into action? As with most crises in my life, I turn to books. Here’s a list of books I’m utilizing as a form of self-care in this uncertain time.

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The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger by Ian Robertson
More than anything right now I really want to find a way to take negative pressures, like stress, and turn it around with a positive result. The Stress Test looks like it can do just that. Backed by over forty years of research, cognitive neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Robertson is going to teach me how to change my reaction to pressure, getting a better response that will help my overall health and well-being. I’d honestly hate to lose all stress in my life, because challenges keep me on my toes and, I think, make me a better person. Thankfully it looks like The Stress Test is a scientific approach that walks the line between too much and too little stress, which is just what I need right now.

100 Things You Can Do to Stay Fit and Healthy by Scott Douglas
It might go without saying that all this stress is adding up in a negative way. I can feel the impact it’s having on my health. That’s why I’m so looking forward to this short book. Early reviews say there are some common sense things we’ve all heard before–but I think that’s just what I need right now. Show me simple changes I can make to improve my day-to-day well-being and I’ll be set to tackle the bigger issues I care about.

The Trump Survival Guide by Gene Stone
I usually avoid talking politics on the internet because, let’s face it, as a group we humans can be overly nasty to each other online and I’m not looking for a fight. However, I don’t mind telling you how I’ve felt overwhelmed with uncertainty with the new administration and each Cabinet member’s stances on the issues that are vital to my well-being. Gene Stone’s book breaks down each issue, giving historical background, how President Obama strengthened or otherwise created change, and what President Trump is likely to do based on his history with each issue. Don’t get too bogged down in those sections, however; the best is at the end of each chapter, where Stone lists several things I can do to take action now to support each issue or cause, to strengthen it, and to give voice to the marginalized. Getting involved in national organizations, donating time to local causes, and even donating money can all help.

The Dictionary
Based on the first White House press conference, I’m certain to start keeping a dictionary by my side. I still use physical dictionaries and other reference books, as I find it easier to flip back and forth to relevant sections (especially important when trying to find the right word to embody your thoughts). But now more than ever I want to be able to define words that seem to not mean what press releases and politicians are telling me they mean. Whether or not you’re inclined to keep a giant book of words nearby, I highly recommend following Merriam-Webster on Twitter. They post a word of the day with a brief definition and often tie in these educational tweets to what’s happening in the news.

Simply Brilliant: Powerful Techniques to Unlock Your Creativity and Spark New Ideas by Bernhard Schroeder
Now more than ever I want to be creative, both in my solutions to life’s everyday problems as well as in my spare time creating something wonderful. Simply Brilliant promises to not just provide ways for me to harness my creativity, but also to explain why creativity even matters in the first place. When the going gets tough often the first thing to be eliminated is the creative, awesome thing that gives me joy. I am determined not to let this happen and I’m hoping this book will give me not just creative tactics, but the motivation to keep reminding myself, “This matters.”

The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer by Helene Segura
Based on the demands for my time and energies I’m definitely going to need this book to keep everything juggled and balanced–or at least as well as I can. While there are many books published each year about how you too can achieve that work-life balance, the title of this one instantly drew me in. I definitely want to kill inefficiencies! And while it may just be a book marketing tactic, I am willing to believe it. If I want to get everything done, especially going home to a massive creative project at the end of a long day at work, I’m going to need an action plan and practical ways to battle inefficiency so I can slam through necessary evils like housework and still have time to focus on my creative pursuits.

What books would you add to the list? Reading for self-care is the best decision I’ve made so far this year and hope you’ll join me in tackling our negative emotions and turning them into positive impacts.

Reading Trendy: Collected Biographies of Women

Hypercolor T-shirts. Scrunchies. Slap bracelets. Spandex bodysuits. Mood rings. Tight-rolled acid-wash jeans. Trends come and go, and not just in the fashion world. The literary world has its fair share of trends as well. Right now we’re experiencing one I can only call wondrous, as collected biographies of trailblazing women are gracing our shelves and checking out at the speed of light. Without further ado I am pleased to introduce you to some rad women.

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Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella
Even if it might not have seemed like it at the time, these women have helped repave the path for women in the world, whether they be gay, straight, political, artistic, or the first woman in space (looking at you, Sally Ride). Each biography contains the basics, like birth/death years and a brief overview of her life. But we get to dive in even deeper with personal quotes, notes on each woman’s legacy, and illustrations. This book is aimed at teens, which is great so that kids today have some positive role models outside the Kardashian family. I would have loved a book like this when I was growing up. But don’t let the targeted age group sway you: this book is still entertaining and empowering enough for adults too.

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science–and the World by Rachel Swaby
This was the book that started it all. I’d owned a copy for nearly a year before I finally started reading it this summer. Friends, I tell you I learned more useful information reading Headstrong than I think I did in all of high school. Sorry Mrs. Klaus, it’s true! You’ve probably heard that silver screen legend Hedy Lamarr was an inventor whose radio guidance system helped lay the groundwork for wifi and Bluetooth. But have you heard of Lise Meitner (nuclear fission), Marie Tharp (created the first scientific map of the ocean floor), or Marguerite Perey (discovered the element francium)? What about Alice Ball? She was from Seattle and developed a groundbreaking treatment for leprosy. This book is designed so that you could read one chapter each week and end up with a year of scientific geniuses dancing through your subconscious.

Remarkable Minds: 17 More Pioneering Women in Science & Medicine by Pendred E. Noyce
Sad but true: this book looks like a textbook and that could let it slip under your radar. But what it lacks in outward appearance it makes up for in substance. Each chapter focuses on a different woman, but it goes deep into her life providing photos (or paintings, if our lady lived pre-photography), diagrams relating to her field of work, and a timeline of major world events alongside her personal achievements to give everything context. Out of all the books mentioned here, this is by far the most detailed.

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Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
This book is beyond gorgeous. It’s truly a work of art and author/illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky clearly has immense talent. We all judge books by their covers even if we try not to. There’s something so appealing about a colorful, intricately decorated book that makes me sit up and take notice and I know I’m not the only one. So if your goal is to get kids interested in a book about women scientists, this is absolutely the way to do it. Even the endpapers are breathtaking! Since it’s aimed at children the passages are brief and more of a general overview of each woman, but wow, what design! Definitely don’t miss this one.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs
The beloved (at least by me!) author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is back with something completely different. Here Sam Maggs introduces us to the rad ladies of science that history sometimes has a tendency to overlook. I can’t say too much about this since it’s a book we still have on order. It was originally set to publish mid-October but the publishers have since moved it up to…this past Tuesday! Once our copies are in you can believe they will be flying off the shelves faster than you can say STEM!

It’s reassuring to realize that when you check out one of these books you’re only going to have to read one book, but you’ll read dozens of biographies of some truly incredible women. This is one trend I hope never ends.

Talking to Strangers (About Books) Part 2

Greetings, intrepid readers! In my last post I talked about all the amazing things happening for bookworms on social media. I highlighted three different platforms (Goodreads, Instagram, and Litsy) and detailed the top 5 types of conversations you’re likely to have among fellow readers on those apps. Today I’m going to review some of the stellar books I’ve read as a result of these conversations with strangers. All of these books were outside of my typical fluffy/frivolous reading repertoire and I never would have picked them up had I not seen in-depth reviews and quotes from readers on bookish social media. I should add these are listed in the order I read them. And some of these were partially reviewed in my post last month about the 24 in 48 Readathon.

rupi kaur milk and honey by carol on litsy
Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur
It seemed like everyone who hadn’t read this book when it came out late last year was picking it up for the first time in April for National Poetry Month. I typically don’t read much poetry but I made an exception for this title. In her first book of poetry, Rupi Kaur takes us deep into her life with extremely personal poems about her childhood, past boyfriends, and learning to heal after trauma and breakups. It’s a quick read, but one that is extremely frank and open about what she’s gone through in her life. Even with all of the personal details, most women will find themselves somewhere in this book. I do love how it ends on an uplifting note, as if to say this too shall pass and I am stronger now for having gone through all of this. I also like the “everywoman” appeal of the poems as they invite each woman to look back on her relationships, her period, how she got through extremely trying times and came through stronger, though hurting.

lindy west shrill by carol on litsy
Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West
I am apparently the only person who had not heard of Lindy West before this book, and even so I got to it too late to see her at a reading in Seattle as she was traveling around the country on her book tour this spring. I regret not having her on my radar until now, but I have been forever changed by reading her book Shrill. Not only does Lindy tackle major topics like feminism, abortion, and rape culture, she is the number one poster child for squashing fat-shaming and having positive body acceptance. During her book I found myself questioning my own attitude towards my body, and asking myself why I let others’ opinions of what they think I should wear and what they think is appropriate or not for my body type affect what I purchase and what I wear. The day after finishing Shrill I wore a dressy pair of shorts to work. People saw my knees and I didn’t die!

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Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Reading Roxane Gay is a lot like talking with your most level-headed friend. Even if the subject matter is one that evokes strong feelings, she keeps her cool and tries to discuss these important things with you in a calm, clear manner. In Bad Feminist Roxane Gay manages to cover everything from pop culture to rape to feminism to a career in academia. She doesn’t talk down to us, but rather goes out of her way to lay out the inequalities, the injustices, the annoyances, and the facts in a matter-of-fact and yet empathetic way. There is a definite juxtaposition of mixing very serious topics with lighter ones. I was extremely fascinated reading about her time as a competitive Scrabble player. First of all, I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. But I realize that to do anything competitively there is a suggestion that your skills stand above the average person. To play Scrabble competitively implies an intellect and strength of character that few posses. Such is the case with Roxane Gay. She is smart. She is funny. She is working on a book called Hunger that I can’t wait to get my hands on, and I get the feeling I will always react with grabby hands when someone mentions a new release by her.

claudia rankine citzen an american lyric by carol on litsy
Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Every time something horrible, unjust, and tragic happens in this world, the bookish social media clusters swarm together in shared empathy, seeking understanding  to try and make sense of the senseless. Such was the case with Citizen. I want to live in a world where this book isn’t necessary–but the sad and disgusting truth is this book is very much-needed. There are many put-yourself-in-this-situation passages that are written in the second person. The use of the second person is clever and intentional in a book that tries to expose life in a racist country. Because as much as we would like to think we have evolved past racism, bigotry, and inequality, we have not. As a country, we still have so far to go it’s heartbreaking. But that’s why books like this are here for you, and why I recommend everyone read it. Everyone. Bookish social media declared this required reading for every American citizen and I wholeheartedly agree.

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Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Once again my bookish social media connections raved about a book, calling it necessary reading, and once again I picked up the gauntlet. And while this book isn’t just about mansplaining–a term the author has mixed feelings about–it definitely is about the disenfranchised and the cultural missteps that need to be corrected if we are ever going to improve our communities.The passages that really stood out to me involved having a voice and being heard. Historically it has been disgustingly easy for the group in power to silence anyone else whose opinions, thoughts, feelings, or civil liberties would infringe upon the leading group’s power. But the more that people band together to share one voice–civil rights, women’s suffrage, feminism, exposing racism in one’s community–the harder it is to ignore the message.

These relatively short books packed a mighty literary punch. While I wouldn’t have sought them out on my own, I am so glad my bookish comrades urged me on. Not only was I reading out of my fluffy comfort zone, I was seeing the world through some very different perspectives. You’ll notice these books were strong on themes of racism and sexism, feminist to the core. I’m currently falling down a rabbit hole of such, with book recommendations based on these books spiraling out from my TBR pile.

More books that bookish social media has recommended to me that deal with race and racism include Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis.

More books that bookish social media has recommended to me that deal with sexism and feminism include Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates, Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, and He’s a Stud, She’s a Slug and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know also by Jessica Valenti.

Hopefully you’ve not only gained some new titles to add to your TBR pile but also seen what good can come from social media. I’ve rarely encountered a troll on Goodreads, Litsy, or the #bookstagram portion of Instagram. It’s kind of like a book nerd’s utopia. We’re definitely living in the golden age of reading. Seize the day and your smartphone and join the reading revolution!