The rapidly expanding LGBT History Research Collection within the University of Houston Libraries’ Special Collections division has made its largest acquisition yet, with the recent addition of the Charles W. Botts/James Carper Memorial Research Library of GLBT Studies.
The collection was donated to the University of Houston (UH) by longtime Houston LGBTQ activist and historian Judy Reeves, who is the curator of the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum of GLBT History, Inc. (GCAM).
Dating from the early 1970s and built by gay book-collector and NASA employee Charles Botts, the collection of books and publications expanded over the years to include archival collections and ephemera. As the oldest private collection in Houston, it firmly establishes the UH archive as the city’s primary source of Houston LGBTQ history research material.
The Boxes Arrive
The Botts/Carper acquisition arrived at UH in nearly 1,000 boxes. Approximately 70% of the collection is books, with the remainder being periodicals and activists’ papers. Considerable effort was required to move the boxes to a special staging area that had to be set up by Special Collections staffers.
Processing the collection will unfold in several phases. The initial phase inventories and separates the collection, with books being sorted to identify duplicates and off-subject titles. It also identifies rare books, first editions, and author-signed books.
Each one of the nearly 15,000 books, covering a wide variety of LGBTQ subjects, will receive a nameplate identifying it as part of the Botts/Carper collection. Easily available books will be placed in the library’s general circulating stacks. Rarer books will remain in the Special Collections stacks. The collection contains many signed first-edition books and complete sub-collections of the works of various LGBTQ authors.
Among the periodicals being sorted into chronological order are Texas publications such as This Week in Texas (TWT), The Voice, and Eclipse. Additionally, regional and national publications such as The Ladder are in the collection.
Two student workers have been focusing
on the new Botts/Carper acquisition for months. Books that have been processed now take up nearly all of a sixty-foot-long by nine-foot-high multi-shelf stack.
The Dreams of Charles Botts and Jimmy Carper
Botts was an avid and astute reader who began to collect contemporary gay books and publications in the early 1970s, and then filled out his collection with older and rarer books. He eventually became known in Houston as the only person with a visible gay library collection, so local activists started to give him boxes of their papers.
In the early 1980s, two LGBTQ archive efforts—one from Ft. Worth and one from Houston—were merged into the Botts collection. When it became too big to house in his home, Botts was offered space at the Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church.
Botts died in 1994. His brother, Richard Botts, remembers Charles saying that he often felt isolated and confused growing up, and that he would have had much more self-assurance if an LGBTQ library had existed. Charles was driven to provide such a resource for future generations as they searched for understanding in their own lives.
In 2012, Botts’ collection was purchased by local activist Jimmy Carper. “Jimmy loved books, and loved that collection,” says Reeves. A non-profit corporation was formed, and the collection was moved to a then-undisclosed location and remained there while the process of unpacking and cataloging took place.
Reeves says that Carper had hoped to open the collection in a brick-and-mortar location, but died in 2014 before he could fulfill that dream. The collection was willed to Reeves by Carper. Through a contractual agreement with GCAM, it was then moved to the larger space that GCAM now occupies, although the collection remained a separate entity from GCAM.
Reeves had become more familiar with UH last year when GCAM started a digitization project to get its collection of The Voice issues online. UH professor Whitney Cox, who had done research at GCAM, facilitated the collaboration between the two parties. GCAM loaned its Voice copies to UH for scanning with optical character recognition so that articles can be searchable through web search engines.
In 2018, Reeves found herself facing a major surgery and wanted peace-of-mind about a permanent home for the collection. She was impressed with the facilities and equipment at UH, the full-time staff, the accessibility of their holdings, as well as the low-key, team-oriented library staff. She signed a deed of gift that transferred ownership of the Botts/Carper collection to the University of Houston.
22-year-old international student Alys Garcia Carrera is one of the student processors recruited through the UH LGBT Resource Center. She describes her experience processing the acquisition as a young member of the LGBTQ community: “It’s really wonderful. I’m from Mexico, and I feel like we don’t talk about history there. This has been a great opportunity to get to see all of the history and work with people that are guarding it with such respect. It really gives me a sense of hope.”
She admits she often wants to stop and read some of the books she is processing, but must keep moving on. Among the very rare and unique titles that really caught her attention was a 1932 book about bisexuality.
The dreams of Botts and Carper have come to fruition with the UH acquisition of the collection. The books and other materials will be easily accessible by students, faculty, researchers, and the general public. Fifty years after Charles Botts began collecting, a whole new generation will be enjoying the wealth of material that he so carefully maintained.
Other Recent Acquisitions by UH
In a short period of time, the LGBT history collection at UH has grown remarkably as the local community becomes more aware of the UH library resources. Local activists such as Marion Coleman have donated their papers. Organizations such as AIDS Foundation Houston have also presented boxes of materials to the archive.
Former Houston mayor Annise Parker and her wife, Kathy Hubbard, donated 22 boxes of records from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and other community organizations. TV Montrose, the weekly Houston-area
LGBTQ roundup of news from the late 1990s, has donated their original video masters from the year-and-a-half run of that show.
Weeks before his death last November, the late Houston activist Ray Hill asked the UH library staff to collect and house his archives. Vince Lee, curator of the LGBT History Research Collection, and Christian Kelleher, head of Special Collections, spent two days categorizing Hill’s holdings, and another three days boxing them. Seventy boxes of Hill’s archives are now housed at UH.
The LGBT History Research Collection is now a continually expanding record of the Houston-area LGBTQ community spanning several decades. The reading room of the Special Collections group is open to students, faculty, researchers, and the general public for 40 hours per week. Staff members are available to assist in searching for specific items or subjects.
There is much there to discover.
This article appears in the February 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.