James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Considerate Vandalism Considered

This month I am full of questions. Without many answers.
Musing. Not amused or bemused. But confused, perhaps.

Since mid-March I have been focused on the Queerest. Library. Ever. exhibition here at the library. It is a big celebration for the 20th anniversary of the Hormel LGBTQIA Center, its programs, and its collections including the archives. Consequently I've been busy assisting the curator with many of the attendant details. I've been so wrapped up in preparations that I feel like one of the library's carefully sheltered artifacts that is protected from climate changes in the real world. One event this week peeled back those protective layers.

Out at the Library panel exhibit
The LGBTQIA archives are available through the San Francisco History Center on the 6th floor of the Main Library. As part of the big exhibition, the Out At The Library panel exhibit from the 10th anniversary of the Hormel Center is on the 6th floor bridge, about 40 feet away from the History Center's entrance. When I got back from lunch last week, a fellow librarian alerted me that there was something taped to one of the panels. And then another colleague mentioned the same. So I took a look.

I found a pamphlet titled "Thank You For Praying" taped to one of the panels. While the message seemed clear, I had to smile because it was taped with clear packing tape in the space between two pictured documents, Harvey Milk's datebook for 1978 and his speech "You've Got To Have Hope." The clear tape and pamphlet placement meant that the content of the exhibition was not obscured. One might call it considerate vandalism.

The pamphlet and tape were removed without damaging the panels but it left me wondering. Had the perpetrator read any of the text of the exhibition? How premeditated was the placement of the pamphlet? Did he or she choose a spot midway along the exhibition so that taping the pamphlet would be hidden from view? or was the location selected because it was Harvey Milk?

Out at the Library panel exhibit
The last lines of Milk's "You've Got To Have Hope" speech are: "Each of those people have his or her own hopes and aspirations, his or her own viewpoints and problems. Each of them contributes something unique to the life of the city. What they contribute, we call the 'quality of life.'"

In these past few days I've been helping with the installation of objects and labels. As a novice with exhibitions, I've found it's easy to have too many things in one case because everything tells a story, and every story is unique, and some are interconnected, and...You see my point. The archives is full of stories and objects, books and videos, that beg, and sometimes demand, to be heard.

What I've learned is that too many objects in one place results in the mental equivalent of shopping fatigue. The eyes need an empty space to rest. Similarly, the mind needs space before it can apprehend and comprehend. In a very real sense the library is that clear, open space. With a silence that welcomes a question. And a quiet space...to listen and to hear. Ideally to reflect and to respect. And, perhaps, to understand. That is what I pray for.