From shoebox to Gaysaurus

From shoebox to Gaysaurus2019-01-22T16:58:56+00:00

In 1978, Homodok was established. Initially, idealistic and somewhat amateurishly, but it professionalized rapidly. Jack van der Wel, the very first volunteer and nowadays Director of the Collection & Information Services, looks back at the development:

“In early March 1978, I moved to Amsterdam to study. I was in the midst of coming-out and really wanted to meet other gay students. In the university magazine Folia I read that on the 12th of March 1978, the second gathering about gay studies was organized by Jim Holmes and Annemarie Grewel. Bull’s eye: workshops and discussions about setting up work groups and structures to improve, promote and draw academic attention to research on gays and lesbians.

One of these work groups was a documentation group, because literature about homosexuals was hard to find in ‘normal’ libraries and documentation centers. Just like the labor movement (IISH) and the women’s movement (IIAV), we wanted to make that type of literature accessible.

Through Annemarie Grewel, we got a room in the Baschwitz Institute for Mass Psychology in the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in Weteringschans. In the seventies, extensive research was being done in the Baschwitz Institute about opinions about homosexuality in the Netherlands. Annemarie Grewel knew the secretary, Peter Roth, and from him we always got a lot of support. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2003, which meant we had to miss his laughter and melodious Swiss accent during IHLIA’s 25th anniversary celebration.


Officially, the name was Documentation Center for Gay Studies, but it was soon shortened to Homodok. We wrote and typed literary data on library cards and put these in an old shoebox. Later, the shoebox was replaced by card-index boxes. By 1982, this data was entered in the computer center of the UvA, which produced enormous sheets with printouts. In 1978, we purchased the first PC, a real Tulip, along with a database program called Cardbox that IHLIA still uses today.

This greatly contributed to the professional reputation that Homodok has always enjoyed. We provided quality, also thanks to the fact that in the beginning, volunteers with librarian experience joined our effort. They meticulously made sure that all the periods, commas and dashes were placed correctly.

Also the development of our own thesaurus—the Gaysaurus—was an important milestone. It was developed together with the Anna Blaman House. During endless sessions, every word was pondered and put in the right place, in which the balance between ‘partially’ and ‘entirety’ was holy.

The Historic library of Van Leeuwen and the COC archive

In addition to documenting, collecting became increasingly important. Besides wanting to know what was being published in the area of homosexuality, people also wanted to view the publications. Initially, we only collected academic publications, but we soon expanded this to various other kinds of publications. The material came flooding in.

For instance, John Stamford, the publisher of the Spartacus Guide, asked us if we were interested in his magazines and clippings archive. He was going to move and we had to come immediately. With a few friends, in an ice-cold weekend in January, we set forth to the huge, unheated Stamford villa in Baarn. The police had carried out a house search due to alleged tax fraud and in that chaos we had to find the magazines. We had to drive up and down three times to get everything to Amsterdam while the car we used was not a small one to begin with.

Homodok also acquired the archive of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) with its many magazines. This did not go down without a struggle, because the Swedish gay organization RFSL—where the archive was stored and which was an important financial contributor to the ILGA—refused to give up the archive and threatened to leave ILGA. In the end, with much patience, persuasiveness, support from the COC and other Dutch gay/lesbian organizations and visits to Stockholm, we succeeded in bringing this archive to the Netherlands.

However, the largest contribution to the collection was the Van Leeuwen Library and the COC library. The Van Leeuwen Library (historic library of the COC) was stored in the building of the IIAV and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment had ordered it to be removed from there. The COC volunteers wanted to move this library to the university library of the UvA, but in the end we chose to move it to Homodok. When the national COC was moved to Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam, the existing COC library was also moved to Homodok.

IHLIA in the OBA

Over the years however, the increasingly growing collection also revealed Homodok’s weak spot: its location. A big collection is nice, but you have to be able to house it properly. The UvA continuously threatened to withdraw its support and in the end, in 1999, Homodok had to move to the not so centrally located building in Bos en Lommer. There was, however, enough room to finally realize the long-fostered merger plans with the Lesbian Archive of Amsterdam (LAA). In 2000, this finally occurred and Homodok merged with the LLA and the Anna Blaman House in Leeuwarden to become IHLIA.

The problem of the location was solved a few years later: the Public Library of Amsterdam (OBA) wanted to include IHLIA in the construction of a new library on the Oosterdok Island near the Central Station. As a center for knowledge and culture, the OBA was supplemented, in one go, with the gay/lesbian knowledge and culture that IHLIA had; which is so appropriate for a city like Amsterdam. Since May 2007, we are at this unique location.”

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