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Public Libraries and Homeless LGBTQ Youth: Creating Safe Spaces Through Cultural Competence

Winkelstein, Julie
Committee Members: 
Dr. Edwin Cortez
December 2012

Abstract: This social justice research case study was conducted in an effort to understand the role of the public library in the daily lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) homeless youth. Concerns about the influences of space, power, human rights, and marginalization informed the researcher and served as critical guides. To gain insight into this question, one-on-one interviews were conducted with public librarians, service providers who work with homeless youth, and the youth themselves. Grounded theory provided a basis for the analysis of the collected conversations.

Six theoretical concepts of time, attitude, building relationships, welcoming, feeling safe and cultural competence, and the two core categories of creating safety and developing cultural competence emerged from the data. Out of these, came the final theoretical scheme: In order for the Library to be able to provide relevant materials and services to the homeless LGBTQ youth, it is necessary for the Library to be perceived as an emotionally safe and welcoming space by both the youth and the service providers. In addition, the librarians need to feel both physically and emotionally safe in providing this space. To create this safety requires shared cultural competence between the Library and the other two groups. This theoretical scheme offers guidance to librarians committed to the human rights issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness and interested in providing appropriate services.

Suggestions for future research include extending this research to other cities and libraries; developing and piloting cultural competence training for all three groups; further research into existing partnerships between public libraries and service providers for homeless LGBTQ youth; research focusing on public libraries and the lives and needs of homeless transgender youth, as well as other underserved populations; and, research that examines services to young adults, ages 18 to 24, whose specific needs are not currently being routinely addressed by public libraries.