Specialty Library Chronicles Civil Rights Struggle

By Eric Olson

February 28, 2014 Updated Feb 28, 2014 at 10:52 AM EST

FORT WAYNE, In (21Alive)--In the basement of IPFW’s magnificent Helmke Library is another, more humble center for research and study..the Northeast Indiana Diversity Library..a critical adjunct to IPFW’s Gender Studies curriculum.

The Diversity Library collects and stores materials that chronicle the struggle for gay rights over the decades, as well as information about the contributions of local gay men and women to Fort Wayne’s history. There are large fiction and non-fiction book collections with an emphasis on counseling those who are struggling with their own sexual identity. But the heart of this library is here, in the archive room…thousands of letters, articles, newspaper clippings and personal papers, all donated for preservation.

“Some of these papers come from different people’s collections,” says library director Scott Mertz. “Some people used to save their own news clippings, sort of their own little libraries so a lot of the books have come to us through donations but also most of the archives have come through donations.”

The archives preserve the papers and letters of notable Fort Wayne citizens like Charles Allen, local choreographer and dance instructor, arrested and jailed in Indiana in the 1940’s for being gay. And these are the personal papers of Larry Life, longtime director of IPFW’s Theatre Department. This is his Lifetime Achievement Medal presented to him at New York’s Kennedy Center. The Diversity Library is digitizing every document stored here to preserve it and make it available online to the public. And the collection grows daily. With each new battle, each overturned law…every inch of ground gained in the fight for gay rights is noted…recorded…preserved for posterity, in a cramped basement office in 21 Country. This is Eric Olson reporting.




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