Hormel Center History


How the Hormel Happened

As planning for a new main library began to take shape, the idea of affinity centers, representing different constituencies was implemented both as a fundraising strategy and as a reflection of the collections in the new facility.

Steve Coulter, in his role as president of the Library Commission, visited exemplary libraries in Europe and in the United States as part of the planning process. Impressed with the New York Public Library’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, Coulter proposed a "gay Schomberg," a separate research collection of gay and lesbian materials, within the SFPL organization.

In addition to Library administration, among the early supporters were Mayor Art Agnos, Executive Director of the Library Foundation Martin Paley, and members of the advisory committee of the Eureka Valley-Harvey Milk Memorial Branch.  Many, many meetings took place to anticipate how the new Center would best meet the informational needs of its intended audience.

Steve Coulter quotes Randy Shilts' statement at the 1991 kick-off press conference: "We’re losing far too many people to the AIDS epidemic - it’s essential we not lose our history, too."  During the fundraising campaign in the early 1990s, Chuck Forester recalled that "we said very clearly that we didn't want a dime of anyone’s money that would otherwise go to an AIDS organization." The various components of the developing Hormel Center were debated. To generate donor interest, FUBO was a term frequently floated: First, Unique, Best, Only.

See the full Hormel at 20 list

About the Collections

The James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to materials on all aspects of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and ally experience. While national and international in scope, the primary focus of the collection is Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of the collection is in English.

The Center actively collects materials in a variety of formats including books, periodicals and serials, directories, manuscripts, photographs, films, and video and audio recordings. Some archival collections contain other formats such as matchbooks, buttons, T-shirts, posters, bar cards, trophies and flyers.


The Center collects published fiction and non-fiction materials covering all aspects of the LGBTQIA experience including queer theory, gender studies, parenting, poverty, sex workers, and more. Collecting materials that document the experience of people of color, the disabled, youth, the elderly, and other groups often marginalized within the LGBTQIA community is a specific focus of the Center. The collection includes LGBTQIA-centered literary criticism, bibliographies and other guides to the literature.

Highlights within the book collection include:

  • The pulp paperback fiction collection, historically important in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s
  • The Barbara Grier and Donna McBride Collection, which consists largely of lesbian-themed fiction, with some gay male fiction included
  • The Lesléa Newman Collection of LGBTQ children’s books, donated by the author

Periodicals and Zines

Magazines and newspapers are important resources for news and events, perspective on how and what historical events have been reported around the world, timely cultural and literary analyses, and many other LGBTQIA-related topics. The bulk of the Library's holdings are in the Magazine and Newspaper Center on the Main Library's 5th floor, with a small selection of current magazines available in the Hormel LGBTQIA Center. Archived periodicals are part of the San Francisco History Center Collection and can be requested on the 6th floor.

Using the Library's electronic resources, or eLibrary, you can search the periodical holdings to locate items in the eMagazine collection. Sources for indexing include Alternative Print Index, GenderWatch, Contemporary Women’s Issues, LGBT Life and Women’s Studies Index.

LGBTQIA zines can be found in the Little Maga/Zine Collection in the Book Arts and Special Collections on the 6th floor. Some of these titles may be short-lived, irregularly produced, and/or haphazardly distributed. Most LGBTQIA publications are not indexed.

Highlights from the collection include:

  • One, dating back to Volume 1, 1951
  • Bay Area Reporter, dating back to volume 1, No. 1, 1971
  • Lesbian Tide, 1971-1980
  • Lesbian Connection, 1974-present

Audiovisual Materials

The Center's non-circulating collection of LGBTQIA-related audiovisual items are available through the San Francisco History Center on the Main Library's 6th floor. The film/video collection includes documentaries, feature films, shorts, and television programs depicting the LGBTQIA community. Special emphasis is placed on films distributed by Frameline, as well as the works of Bay Area film makers. This growing collection includes audiobooks (often read by the author), and comedy and musical recordings by historical and contemporary artists. There may be circulating copies of these materials in the Library's collection.

A/V Collection Highlight:

  • The Frameline San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival donated its entire film archive to the Hormel Center in 2007, including movies never screened. In June 2011, in celebration of Frameline 35, the Library began to digitize, preserve and exhibit this precious collection. The Library is committed  to making this invaluable resource accessible to researchers, historians and the general public.

Archival Materials

The Center collects unpublished materials such as personal papers, organizational records, flyers and other important documents chronicling the history of the LGBTQIA communities in Northern California. Selected collections of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society are currently on deposit in the San Francisco History Center to facilitate public access and research use.

Other Materials & Locations of Interest

You may find more materials of gay and lesbian interest in these locations:

In addition, the circulating LGBTQIA collection at the Eureka Valley Branch/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library serves the neighborhood as well as the City.

Remember: If you don't find what you are looking for, ask a library staff member for assistance.

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