The people who keep us going

For over forty years, Gerber/Hart has relied on the generosity of its supporters and volunteers. Here are some of their stories.

Paul A. Kobasa

Interview by Michael Rashid

Paul, tell us a little about yourself! I am a transplant to Chicago from the East coast. I arrived in 1983 and my transplanted roots now are firmly embedded here. Walking across the Michigan Avenue bridge still takes my breath away–a splendid panorama whichever direction one looks. For contrast, there is my leafy (at this season) Edgewater neighborhood–a convenient walk to Gerber/Hart.

When did you become a volunteer at Gerber/Hart, and why did you decide to volunteer? I came to G/H as a volunteer a little more than five years ago. I had been aware of the library from its establishment as I was a friend of one of its early organizers, the late Joe Gregg (his papers are in the collection). When I retired from a career first in librarianship and later in publishing, I applied right away as a volunteer at G/H. My assignment on my first day was to sweep the floors! Volunteering at G/H enables me to support and be in touch with the LGBTQ+ community in a way that is meaningful to me and, I hope, helpful to those who make use of the library.

Tell us about the erotica cataloging project. How did you get involved, what did it entail, and how long did it take? Why is it important? I was put to work on the elaboration of the inventory of G/H’s BETA, VHS, and DVD erotica collection in July 2020, finishing in May 2023. (Volunteer Domenic DeSocio is at work currently on a similar inventory for items in the form of film reels.) The existing inventory listed mostly only film titles. My assignment was to verify the existing information for each item and add to it as much detail as possible. Although most of the erotica collection is not cataloged in the same manner as the book collection, the inventory of 10,000+ items is fully searchable by film title, the names of performers, directors, studios, or distributors, or by year of production/release. The contents of the collection are considered archival and accordingly cannot be removed from the library. However, the hardware necessary to view items in the collection is available on site. In some cases, the collection contains only the packaging for a tape, but the packaging alone often provides valuable information. Along with celebratory eroticism and self-discovery, there are a lot of perplexing aspects to pornography: objectification, exploitation, depersonalization, and desensitization among them. These characteristics notwithstanding, pornography is an element of the wider culture and of LGBTQ+ culture and, as such, worthy of serious consideration and study. For example, the emergence of HIV/AIDS and the pushback against safe sex can be traced in a review of box copy across the relevant years. All the items in the collection were donated, as is true of all materials in G/H’s various collections. (A generous donation of around 1,000 tapes and DVDs in the course of the project necessitated a pause for a shelf shift to accommodate the new items.) Additional donations to the erotica collection will always be welcome. The representativeness of the collection is improved when new titles and different forms of the same title are added. Duplicate items go to the popular erotica tables in G/H’s periodic book sales.

You are both a volunteer and a supporter of Gerber/Hart. Why is it important to you to do both? When I first became a volunteer, I thought it would be a pleasant way to counter some of the doldrums of retirement. So, being a supporter in a way was self-serving, helping make sure the library would remain open and be a place for me to pass a few constructive hours every week! Then came the Trump/MAGA by-products of “Don’t Say Gay,” assaults (and worse) on trans individuals and denial of supportive healthcare to trans individuals, censorship of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC books (especially those for younger readers), opposition to drag storyhours and other performances – I could go on. Now I think of G/H and my involvement here as a small bulwark, but a bulwark nonetheless, against the reprehensible reemergence of homophobia in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

Dennis J. Hall

Article and Interview by Roland C. Hansen

During the past 41 years, we have seen many donors come through our doors bearing gifts of all kinds.  After all, we began with a donation of about 100 books back in 1980, when we had a small office space in what was then the Rodde Center on Sheffield, just north of Belmont.  Since then, the circulating library collection has grown to about 25,000 volumes, and pretty much all of them have been donated.  Some donors bring a few titles, some call us to come and get several boxes of books.  Some have even purchased specific titles for the collection.  All of these are welcome donations.

Recently, one of our long-time donors wanted to know if we had a wish list of titles of things we didn’t own.  That donor is Dennis Hall, a former Michigander,  now enjoying retirement and living the life in Palm Springs.  It just so happened that we did have one wish list prepared, and that was to acquire all the winning titles of the American Library Association Stonewall Book Awards.  We had most of the winners, up until about 2015, when the newer titles were found to be lacking.  Dennis agreed to donate these titles by ordering them and then having them shipped directly to us.  We told him about a vendor we use called Better World Books, based in Indiana, and an umbrella organization for many used and new book sellers on an international scale.  He began ordering titles from them, and we now have a full collection of all the winning titles of the Stonewall Book Awards in the circulating collection. 

Were you born and raised in Chicago? Actually, I was born and grew up in the middle of the mitten…Michigan in the lower Peninsula in a very small village named Breckenridge.  I grew up and moved on to Michigan State University and remained in the East Lansing/Lansing vicinity until my move in December of 2018 to Palm Springs, CA.  I had visited Palm Springs for the better part of 35 years and it is the only place that I have visited on this wonderful Earth that I instantly felt that I was home.  I certainly visited the great City of Chicago many, many times over my 71 years of living in Michigan, and enjoyed the cultural amenities of the City.

Have you always been an avid reader, or did you grow into it? I have always been an avid reader.  The village that I grew up in had a very small library in a very old little red brick building.  I believe that I read nearly every book available in that library by  the time I graduated high school. The Librarian finally allowed me during my senior year to read Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar, because she felt that I was ready to read that book!  (It had been up on a top shelf of the Library with a sign “for adults only.’)  

Do you have a favorite genre or author?  When I came out in my late 30s, I decided that I wanted to read everything and anything gay!  So, for the most part, my reading genre continues to be gay literature.  The only gay literary genre I am least enthusiastic about are autobiographical novels.  As for favorite authors, that one is difficult because it has changed over time, but the three authors that I always read their newest novels are Carole Cummings (fantasy/steam punk), Don Travis (crime, detective, mystery) and Mark Wildyr (Native American historical fiction).  All three of their collective works are at Gerber/Hart Library and Archives.  I have actually become good friends with all three authors over time following my sending them messages regarding their work.    
Do you have an all-time favorite book, or books?  I have two favorites that I continue to keep on my bookshelf to re-read from time to time. The first  involves one of my other passions which is gardening. The first book is Our Life in Gardens written by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd.  The authors were a wonderful gay couple and the book is a wonderful read that inspires in the loving manner that the two interacted with each other, as well as providing a wealth of gardening information and knowledge provided in a unpretentious manner that opens up the gardening world to people who may not be gardeners. The second book that remains on my bookshelf is a book written recently by Carole Cummings titled Sonata Form.  It is a fantasy novel in a world she created with wonderful characters, and includes dragons!  What makes this novel special is way she captures the essence of all the horrible things that can happen when “others” become attacked by the majority in a world that believes that everything is actually very normal.  Sound familiar? I would urge all readers to pick up a copy of both books!  [All of the rest of the books I read, which can be up to 20 a month, are all shipped to Gerber/Hart Library and Archives.]  

When did you discover Gerber/Hart Library and Archives? Gosh, that is a complicated question.  If memory serves me correctly, I would say I learned of Gerber/Hart Library and Archives between 10 and 15 years ago.  I had been donating gay literature to the Special Collection at Michigan State University (MSU) for many years.  All at once I was informed that the Library would no longer take my books unless I would make a “nice” direct contribution to the Library to help “cover the cost of archiving my books” into the Collection.  Otherwise any future book donations would be sent to the University’s Storage, Resale and Recycling Center for resale.  A friend of mine who also donated books and volunteered at the MSU suggested that I contact the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives in Chicago to see if it would take my donation of books.  And as they say, the rest is history! I drove from Lansing to the Library on a trip to Chicago and delivered several boxes of books and was given a tour of the Library and Archives and was hooked as a permanent friend of the organization ever since!

What books are on your nightstand right now?  Ok, you asked for it.  (Sometimes I might be reading a couple of books at the same time.) Currently I am reading Why We Did It by Tim Miller [who is a gay Republican political operative].  As back-up here are any one of the following:  Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s The Foundlings/Ghost Swifts, Blue Poppies and the Red Star/The Chester Creek Murders; Kim Fielding’s The Little Library/Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking For Love/The Taste of Desert Green; Ripley HayesUndermined; Brad Shreve’s A Body On The Hill; Marshal Thornton’s Never Rest; Tal Bauer’s The Grave Between; William E. JonesI Should Have Known Better;  John Morgan Wilson’s Simple Justice (a re-read from many years ago of a new reprint); Paul Mendez’s Rainbow Milk; and finally Oliver Bosman’s You or No One.  

When we have books remaining from our book sales, we send them to Better World Books.  And there are a few reasons for this.  They have an international literacy program which helps fledgling libraries get started in Third World countries and other countries as well,  throughout the world.  They also help the environment by recycling and reusing books and paper.  Also, every time someone purchases a book we have “donate” to them, we get a little percentage of the sale, so we receive a check every few months of our “share” of the sales.  And, the best part, anyone can “shop” Better World Books online and order books, both new and used, for their personal collection.  Visit their website and have a look.

And speaking of Better World Books, Dennis also wanted to include this statement to our readers:

“Dear Readers and Friends: If you are interested in helping fill up the shelves of books staff feel should be a part of the historical reserve, then if you ask nicely, they will provide you with a wish list of books.  What I have been doing is ordering books on the [Stonewall Book Award] list from Better World Books. This company will ship the books directly to the Library free of charge!  So, here is a wonderful option for those who wish to contribute to the cause!  And you might even discover a couple of books you would like to read yourself!”

Our next wish list is to acquire winners of The Lambda Book Awards  (The Lammys) which is a larger list than the Stonewall List.  If you think you might be interested in ordering and donating from the Lammy list, please email us at

And as always, if you have books you want to donate, we are always willing to take any donations  of books, videos, and sound recordings.  We are also very interested in any archival materials you may have regarding LGBTQ life in Chicago and the Midwest.  These may include personal papers and correspondence, periodicals/magazines, posters, t-shirts, pins and buttons,  and the like.  Photographic collections are particularly wanted.  For more information visit our website at, or better yet, come visit us in person at 6500 N. Clark Street, 2nd Floor, and we will show you around. You will be amazed!

Roland Hansen has an MLS from Wayne State University from before the digital age but learned all he knows from 30 plus years as a Librarian at The School of the Art Institute Flaxman Library, and Columbia College Chicago Library.  After he retired in 2015 he returned to the roost as a volunteer at GHLA where he gladly handles any task that comes his way.