Reading Queerly with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Updated. A previous version of this article erroneously utilized an AI-generated graphic. The offending graphic has been removed and replaced. See our policy on AI art in our editorial ethics and guidelines policy.

Reading is fundamental.

It is also a testament to freedom within democracy. However, this right has been on a harrowing upswing of being threatened across the country largely through book bans. According to a PEN America report, there were a recorded “3,362 instances of book bans in US public school classrooms and libraries.” 186 of these bans occurred in Pennsylvania alone. The report goes on to analyze trends central to the types of stories and finds that 30% featured LGBTQ+ characters or themes. One of the top titles banned was Gender Queer, a coming-of-age graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe. It was banned 26 times across 26 districts. 

QBurgh wants to help you read freely and queerly.

An incredible and vital resource within Allegheny County is the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. In their Collection and Development Policy, CLP states that they believe in “free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.” By connecting to the 20 locations across the city, you can access countless queer stories and LGBTQ+ titles just as the Carnegie Library motto says, “Free to the People”. 

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a vast and impressive collection of LGBTQ+ literature. It covers a vast range from adult fiction and nonfiction, children’s books, and the most common type of book currently being banned: young adult novels. In order to have a diverse and representative selection of LGBTQ+ work, Tessa Barber, a Collection Development Librarian, says, “We use review journals, award lists, and specialized professional blogs to find these titles, along with patron suggestions that come through our catalog.” 

A unique resource available at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is their Personal Recommendations Just For You form. By filling out some quick information like what formats you’re seeking and what you’re looking to discover (do you like epic space operas and want lesbian characters?), you will receive a personally curated short list of recommendations that are tailored for you. 

Barber finds that LGBTQ+ representation has been really “growing fastest in the romance genre, and in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.” They added, “Literary novels with queer characters are also easier to find these days.” Currently in print, the most borrowed LGBTQ+ titles are On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield, Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters, and The Guncle by Steven Rowley. A library card gives readers free access to ebooks via smart phone and tablet app Libby. CLP’s top five LGBTQ+ titles on Libby right now are Pageboy by Elliot Page, The Celebrants by Steven Rowley, In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune, The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’Donoghue and Mrs. Nash’s Ashes by Sarah Adler. 

The Carnegie Library promotes its collections through in-library displays, Staff Picks lists on its website, LGBTQ tags, genre and topic guides through its Catalog, social media features, and more. Their work in fostering representation goes beyond books. The Renaissance City Choir, Western PA’s only LGBTQIA+ affirming choir, was asked to participate in their summer sound series. During Pride month, they have teen and adult programs, sponsor tables at local Pride celebrations, choose book club titles by LGBTQ authors in June and beyond. This upcoming Pride season, they’ll be hosting 30 Books in 30 Minutes Pride programs at CLP-Brookline (June 25) and CLP-Woods Run (June 29). Plus, CLP-Squirrel Hill will be hosting an author event on June 9th with Meena Avashia who wrote Another Appalachia, a memoir that “examines both the roots and the resonance of Avashia’s identity as a queer, desi, Appalachian woman”.

Barber said, “We believe that people deserve to see themselves in the books and other resources available in the library.” Whether it’s novels, eAudiobooks, magazines, or movies, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a wealth of LGBTQ+ art and stories to share with the people of Allegheny County. All for free. 

If you look at Queering the Map, a “community-generated counter-mapping platform for digitally archiving LGBTQ2IA+ experience in relation to physical space”, you’ll see markers across the globe. By zooming into Oakland, there is one right at the Main Branch’s location left anonymously by a queer individual. “My library back home didn’t carry LGBT literature. I was so thrilled to find out this one did.”

No matter how many bans, our stories are here to stay and so are we. What will you read first?

Drew Praskovich is a writer and filmmaker born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Drew's work for QBurgh has been nominated for a Golden Quill Award from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. His short film, Seahorse, about a pregnant boy, has been screened around the world from the South Asia's biggest LGBQTIA+ film festival KASHISH Mumbai to NFFTY in Seattle, WA where it took home the Audience Award. His writing has been seen in TABLE Magazine, The Pittsburgh City Paper, and more. He currently resides in Beechview. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. (he / him / his)