Collection to remain in Montrose as historical research library
The board of directors for Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, owner for more than 20 years of Houston’s Charles Botts Memorial Archives and Library, announced on July 25 that the LGBT collection has been sold to an anonymous buyer.
Mary Wagner, president of the board of directors of RMCC, says the church began the year-and-a-half-long process to find a new, more appropriate home that would be best for the collection. “For nearly 20 years, through floods, hurricanes, and an ever-changing congregational base, the church has strived to be good stewards of the collection and honor the wishes of the late donor and long-time church member, Charles Botts,” she says. “The church felt this precious collection of LGBTQ community history could begin to thrive again under new ownership.
“After listening to the concerns of those in the community with a passion for the Botts collection, which included groups associated with Houston Area Rainbow Collective History (ARCH), the church formulated three conditions that the church wanted met before the church would part with the collection,” Wagner continued. “To best serve the collection and the community, the church requested that the collection remain together and stay in the local community, remain open for research by the public, and remain with the name ‘Charles Botts’ attached to the collection.”
Following a search that lasted a year and a half, no library, university, or museum was found that would take the entire collection with those conditions, Wagner said.
Duane Todd, attorney for the archive’s new owner, said in a press conference July 25: “It is the desire of the new owner to have the entire collection cataloged and much of it available to the general public by the beginning of 2013. It will be housed locally, in the Montrose area, for the purpose of viewing and/or research in the future. The collection will officially be known as The Charles W. Botts Memorial Research Library of GLBT Studies.”
The new owner has directed that longtime Gulf Coast Archive and Museum of GLBT History director Judy Reeves be appointed to act in the volunteer capacity of trustee of the research library.
“I am very happy to be a part of this endeavor, and appreciate the faith he [the anonymous purchaser] has placed in me,” Reeves said.
Others are less enthusiastic about the archives’ sale.
In response to RMCC’s selling of the archive, a separate collection, now known as the Botts Collection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History, Inc., established an independent 501(c)(3) status earlier this year. This separate collection is now housed at Grace Lutheran Church; its curator is Larry Criscione, a former volunteer with the RMCC’s original Botts archives.
“It has come to our attention that many of the persons who lent and deposited materials to the Botts Library at RMCC over the years believed their historical papers were there for the purpose of serving the GLBT community,” Leif Hatlen, president of the board of the Botts Collection of LGBT History, said in a statement to the press. “They are amazed and horrified that RMCC is now proposing to sell off these important historical activist documents to an anonymous buyer to be relocated to GCAM’s storage units where other important historical materials have been subject to severe damage in various storms and suffered from apathy and neglect.
“In the past 16 years, few researchers have been allowed to access the [GCAM] material,” Hatlen continued. “Virtually no cataloging of individual items has been done. No database exists. No connection to the Internet exists. For this reason, the return of the materials currently at RMCC has been demanded by several of the parties, and more requests will be forthcoming.”
Additionally, according to John Heinzerling, a board member of the Diana Foundation, a 60-year-old social and charitable organization based in Houston, its members are requesting the return of “donations/loans” of papers and items to the Botts archive at RMCC Church “for safety purposes.
“We always gave the materials with the understanding that they were on loan to be used as research materials for any appropriate request received by the archive,” Heinzerling said in a statement to OutSmart. “Diana retained the right of ownership because we always wanted control of where they were and how these materials were treated.
“We have never been told in the 20-plus-year history of the Botts Archive that RMCC Church had any ownership position in the Archives, much less our papers. Had we been told otherwise, they would have been removed promptly, and probably, given the history of other archive efforts in Houston, either retained and stored by Diana itself or given over to a university or other archive outside Houston.”
Mark Eggleston, director of outreach at Resurrection MCC, said relocating the Charles Botts Memorial Archives and Library enables the church to expand its ministry in the community. “We will utilize this space by enlarging our food pantry, clothes closet, and other mission-related activities.” —Nancy Ford