For those of us in the Twin Cities metro, our history is at our fingertips — something that is largely taken for granted. The Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota has thousands of linear feet of boxes filled with memoribilia, documents, and stories from GLBT history, archived and waiting to be researched.
The Tretter Collection was recently honored by the American Library Association (ALA) as the inaugural recipient of the Newlen-Symons Award for Excellence in Serving the GLBT Community. The award was established to honor a library, librarian, library staff member, library board, and/or library friends groups who serve the GLBT community. Nominees are judged based on innovation, impact, sustainability, and advocacy.
“The Newlen-Symons Award recognizes the tremendous impact of the Tretter Collection and its leadership in collecting and preserving the record of the GLBT community, from the University of Minnesota campus and beyond,” said ALA President Sari Feldman in a statement. “Through preservation, collection development, and advocacy, the Tretter Collection embodies how libraries can transform lives and communities.”
University Librarian and McKnight Presidential Professor Wendy Pradt Lougee added, “The Tretter Collection has been exceptional at capturing and preserving the record of the GLBT community and in collaborating with that community to develop innovative programs and resources. Now with an international audience, the Tretter is a leader in the advancement of GLBT archives and libraries.”
Lisa Vecoli, the curator of the Tretter Collection said, “The ALA is the leading national organization in our field and receiving this award from them reinforces the value of archival collections and GLBT materials at the U of M. Our mission is to provide a record of GLBT thought, knowledge, and culture for current and future generations, and this validates the success we are having.”
Vecoli went on to say the award validated three important elements: Jean-Nickolaus Tretter for having the vision to collect materials and start the archive; the University Libraries for accepting and supporting the collection; and those people working today to make the Tretter Collection one of the premier GLBT archives in the world.
The establishment of this award demonstrates the importance of GLBT materials, the need to continue to integrate them into library collections and holdings, and the value that the study of GLBT issues is gaining across multiple fields.
“We are one of only a few dedicated GLBT archives in the country but every community has historical collections and libraries that should be adding GLBT content for their users,” Vecoli says. “Locally, I hope it generates awareness and curiosity about the Tretter Collection. Nationally, I hope it inspires other libraries to do outreach and be more inclusive of GLBT content in their holdings.”
In announcing the award, the ALA called out the Tretter Collection’s “visionary development of the trans* community oral history project,” a statement of which Vecoli is especially proud. She explains that the Tretter Collection, like most GLBT archives, has much richer content about white gay men than about other parts of the community.
“My priority has been to diversify the voices in the archive to include more voices from the transgender and bisexual communities as well as from people of color,” Vecoli says. “We have much more to do, but the Transgender Oral History Project, now led by Andrea Jenkins, is the most ambitious project of its kind being done anywhere in the world right now. It is empowering the community now and will forever change the voices in history. One more example of Minnesota blazing a trail for the rest of the world!”
The fact that the inaugural Newlen-Symens Award was awarded to the Tretter Collection here in Minnesota is a reminder of the rich history of leadership and progress that we have in the Midwest. As Vecoli is quick to point out, Minnesota has led the nation on GLBT issues in so many ways: the first legal gay marriage in 1971(Jack Baker and Michael McConnell); the first lesbian feminist bookstore (Amazon); the transgender inclusive non-discrimination laws (first city in the U.S. was Minneapolis in 1975, first state was Minnesota in 1993); one of the first out elected officials (Sen. Allan Spear); and home to one of only six organizations in the country dedicated to bisexual organizing (Bisexual Organizing Project).
“The Tretter Collection has material on all of these important events, and countless others,” she says. “We have so much to be proud of, now including a nationally recognized GLBT archive.”