Back to the Stacks: Two Archives Grants Provide Autumn Momentum

Despite the new challenge presented by the Delta variant of COVID-19, the GLBT Historical Society’s archives are preparing for an exciting autumn. Since June, when onsite archives access became possible once again, we have been safely welcoming in-person researchers (along with the museum, vaccinations are now required for access).

Executive Director Terry Beswick also spearheaded a successful effort, joined by eight other queer archives in the state and led by State Senator Scott Wiener, to submit a request to the California legislature for $750,000 in funding for the fiscal year that began July 1 to support ongoing recovery efforts. And with reference archivist Isaac Fellman, I’ve begun work on the long-anticipated task of accessioning a huge backlog of collections that were donated or promised to the society during our closure.

Unpacking new collection materials, talking with researchers about their work in the reading room, and planning new projects in the archives fills me with optimism. In that spirit, I’m excited to share two archives grant projects that will help shape our work through the end of 2021:


“Sing Out” grant: We’ve started a yearlong grant awarded by the National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission called “Sing Out: Processing and Digitizing LGBTQ Music and Theater Collections.” This $75,000 grant supports the processing of ten unique music and theater-focused archival collections, including specialized preservation work and the creation of updated catalog records and detailed finding aids. Among the collections are the Finocchio’s Collection, which contains materials about this legendary drag venue in North Beach; the Sylvester Collection, which follows the San Francisco disco diva’s recording career; and the Maria Sanchez Papers, which document the life of a Cuban-born DJ who spun records at iconic Bay Area venues, including the Sutro Bath House. The grant also funds the digitization of approximately 300 items (about 30 per collection) to increase remote access to these resources. Project Archivist Megan Needels. a former intern with the society, has joined the team to work on this project.

Preservation grant: We are nearing completion of a 2019–2021 Preserving California’s LGBTQ History grant from the California State Library. The grant supports collection processing and catalog enhancement, the implementation of a new, much-needed Digital Asset Management System, and digitization of selected at-risk material (meaning material in particular need of digitization due to its fragile or unstable condition). Material selected for digitization includes an important periodical, Onyx: Black Lesbian Newsletter, and oral history audiocassettes. This grant has supported useful catalog and descriptive work, enabling us to update hundreds of catalog entries and transform 50 preliminary collection inventories into finding aids. From building digital infrastructure to collection processing, this grant has helped increase our capacity to preserve and share queer history.

We are grateful for the support of the California State Library and the National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission. We are excited to be working on these projects and look forward to continuing to serve researchers in the archives.