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Lesbian Information, Library and Archives Centre

1994 –

This essay written by Ellen Faed was published online in Women together: a history of women's organisations in New Zealand in 2019.

In November 1993, a call went out on the Wellington Lesbian Community Radio Programme for women interested in establishing a lesbian library to meet at the YWCA. They met and voted yes; volunteers formed a steering committee and got down to work. Planning, fund-raising, shopping for books and library shelving, accepting donations, cataloguing, drafting a constitution and registering as an incorporated society kept them busy for many months.

When the Lesbian Information, Library and Archives Centre (LILAC) opened in central Wellington in September 1994, several dozen women joined up. The library had over 400 titles on opening day and over 1000 within 10 months, plus magazines. By 2018 it held 2700 books, predominantly on lesbian themes, with some broader rainbow and feminist titles. These covered a wide range of genres: fiction (including young adult), short stories, detective-mystery, non-fiction, including biographies/memoirs, anthologies, humour, poetry and plays. There were even a few children's picture books. Videos were added to the collection in 1995 (then withdrawn when interest ceased), and DVDs in 2005 – mainly movies, plus some documentaries and television series. LILAC subscribed to overseas lesbian magazines, and to New Zealand lesbian magazines until these ceased publication; they were kept in the collection, along with copies of early lesbian newsletters.

Members paid an annual subscription on a sliding scale, with free borrowing. By 2018 the library was opening three times a week: early evening on Wednesdays, and during the day on Thursdays and Saturdays. There was also a mobile library service to the monthly Kapiti Coasters potluck dinners. LILAC hosted events, including guest speakers, book launches, and a visit by a Charlotte Museum travelling exhibition; local lesbian artists displayed their paintings.

Membership fluctuated over the years, with a gradual decline as new recreational activities such as cafe culture, social media and streaming media lessened interest in reading print. Publicity was important to attract new members: LILAC had regular articles published in the Wellington lesbian newsletter during the 1990s, and LILAC collective members presented occasional programmes on Wellington Lesbian Community Radio for over a decade. Fliers were distributed at lesbian dances and other events. A notice about LILAC appeared on the Wellington Lesbian webpage on Queer Resources Aotearoa from November 1995 to April 2001, then moved to the Wellington Lesbian website. [1]

LILAC's first web presence, from October 1999 to November 2000, was a simple catalogue. This was succeeded by a full website, at first hosted on Wellington City Council's Community Net. From April 2010 LILAC had its own site. [2]

Between 1994 and 2018, the library occupied five different rooms in central Wellington, with a homeless period in 2004. When the library opened, it paid a nominal rent to sublet the walls of a collective member's office, but from 2013 it was paying market rents. Subscriptions covered only a fraction of the rent, so fund-raising was a major focus. The annual Gay and Lesbian Fair (later Out in the Square, then Out in the Park) was an important fund-raising and publicity venue. Other fund-raising events included quiz nights and theatre and movie fund-raisers. From 2005, the library received annual grants from the Armstrong and Arthur Charitable Trust for Lesbians.

Ellen Faed