Visitors to Swem Library throughout June were greeted by a rainbow of colors that’s more than just something pretty to look at.
“Anything libraries can do to enhance and expand their exhibitions to better reflect the public is helping the library do what they’re designed to do,” said Jacob Hopkins, a William & Mary Libraries Mosaic Fellow who created this month’s LGBTQ exhibit at Swem, “Love Looks Better in Color.”
As a Mosaic Scholar, Hopkins is part of a fellowship program directed at supporting students and graduates from minority backgrounds in their interests through exploring library careers.
Hopkins, who graduated in 2018 with a degree in English and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, said the purpose of the exhibit is to represent all subsections of the queer community.
The exhibit, which went on display in the beginning of June to celebrate pride month, has seven items, each of a different color to represent different parts of the community, from lesbians to gays to transgenders. He said he especially wanted to incorporate black and brown into the exhibit to include those of color in the queer community.
“I think I’m lucky to live in an era that’s increasingly accepting of [LGBTQ] people and there is greater visibility of lifestyles that fall outside the traditional heteronormative,” he said. “But I recognize that I have a fairly common story as a white, cisgender man. But there are many different ways to be part of this community.”
Hopkins worked alongside Abram Clear, the special collections student graphics assistant, to design a showcase that displayed all of those different aspects. The background graphics for the exhibition shows seven people of different colors walking hand-in-hand down a street.
“Arm in arm, the individuals in my design stand together as a chosen family diverse in race, age, and body size,” Clear said. “They allude to the LGBTQ+ community at its most inclusive, celebratory, and loving.”
Clear said the design of the background imagery took about two weeks to create, but the entire exhibit took approximately a month to put together.
This is not the first time the library has displayed LGBTQ-themed exhibits, said Jennie Davy, William & Mary libraries exhibits manager. She said in 2016 the William & Mary W&M LGBTIQ Research Project also curated an exhibit that displayed the hidden histories of LGBTQ individuals in different archives throughout the state.
This year’s exhibit works directly with the college’s Special Collections Research Center to pull items that are one-of-a-kind manuscripts, artifacts and rare books.
Hopkins said providing an exhibit of acceptance at a library can make a huge difference in a college community just because of what they stand for.
“I think libraries are a place of education and I think often when we are talking about academic libraries there can be barriers to an education,” he said. “Maybe people feel like they don’t belong to a certain area because the education doesn’t seem available.”
While the exhibit will change during the first week of July, all three staff members hope it will create a lasting impact of welcome throughout the year. Clear, who is also involved in the Rainbow Coalition — the queer programming body at the college — said the queer community at William & Mary is fairly large and the campus works to make sure all the intersectional needs are met.
“Even though the exhibit aligns more from historic significance, we recognize the current needs are much more rare and complex than people make it out to be,” Hopkins said. “And we wanted to reflect that in the exhibit.”