In January 1981, Gerber/Hart Library was brought into existence as a joint project of the Gay Academic Union–Chicago Chapter, Gay Horizons, and the Chicago Gay and Lesbian History Project. Spearheaded by Gregory Sprague, who headed the History Project, the organization achieved independent status on November 20, 1981 when it was incorporated by the State of Illinois as a not-for-profit corporation. Although now known as "Gerber/Hart Library," the organization was first christened "The Midwest Gay and Lesbian Archive and Library." In April 1981, to honor 1920s Chicago activist Henry Gerber and civil liberties attorney Pearl Hart, the organization changed its name to "The Henry Gerber–Pearl M. Hart Library: The Midwest Lesbian & Gay Resource Center."
The first home of Gerber/Hart Library was at 3225 North Sheffield Avenue, as a guest in the offices of Gay Horizons. After moving five times, Gerber/Hart has resided since November 1998 in a 5,000 square foot double storefront at 1127 West Granville Avenue in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood.
The vast majority of books and periodicals in the library have been donated. This fact is a testament to the genuine support Gerber/Hart enjoys in the Chicago lesbigay/trans community. The collection is divided into three components: library, special collections, and archives. The library currently holds 15,000 volumes in addition to thousands of periodicals. Artifacts such as clothing, buttons, banners and posters, as well as rare books and periodicals find their home in special collections. The papers of individuals, organizations, and businesses are housed in the archives. All of these items portray a rich and vibrant history of the community in Chicago and the Midwest.
Volunteers have been the backbone of Gerber/Hart Library since its inception. Fundraising, programming, administrative tasks, and library and archival work have all been performed by hundreds of dedicated volunteers. To recognize these individuals, in 1994 Gerber/Hart established the "John H. Mueller Volunteer Service Award." In September 1993, after nearly thirteen years as an all-volunteer organization, Gerber/Hart Library hired its first employee, a part-time administrative assistant. A salaried managing director was employed from June 1996 to March 1999.
Outreach has been an integral part of the mission of Gerber/Hart Library. Book groups are a vital component of this endeavor. Currently, Gerber/Hart sponsors two book groups and one video group. The lesbian book group has met continuously since September 1987, while the gay men's group was initiated in February 1993. In 1994, Gerber/Hart was part of a nationwide coalition that founded "Lesbian and Gay History Month," which is now celebrated yearly in October. In July 1995, the organization established a Web site and thus opened its doors to the world.
Gerber/Hart Library completely transformed itself in the 1990s. The past decade ushered in an unprecedented level of fundraising activity, beginning in 1991 with the initiation of an annual fall benefit. The yearly book sales begun in 1992 have become a community tradition, and are now scheduled four times per year. Foundations such as the Chicago Resource Center, the Chicago Foundation for Women, the Sara Lee Foundation, and WPWR/Channel 50 have bestowed multiple grants upon Gerber/Hart Library.
Gerber/Hart received its first major bequest in November 1993. The parents of a deceased volunteer donated $30,000, adding to that a later gift of $20,000. This contribution enabled Gerber/Hart to purchase both the hardware and software necessary to develop a computerized online catalog. The cataloging was completed in the fall of 1996. Since that time, researchers have been able to access easily the organization's holdings, and all books are checked out through this system. Gerber/Hart Library received its second major bequest, from the estate of Samuel Judah Todes, beginning in 1995. Todes, a member of the first board of directors of Gerber/Hart and a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, bequeathed over $100,000 to the organization in honor of Gregory Sprague. In response to this generous gift, the board of directors established the Samuel Judah Todes-Gregory Sprague Fund.
AIDS has had a profound impact on Gerber/Hart Library. Gregory Sprague, the driving force behind the establishment of the organization, died of AIDS-related tuberculosis in February 1987. Joseph Gregg, who served as archivist and later as male librarian from 1982 onward, died of AIDS in November 1987. Sadly, volunteers have also fallen to the disease. Materials pertaining to AIDS are found in every component of Gerber/Hart Library. Books in the library, records of AIDS organizations in the archives, and buttons and posters in special collections all testify to the devastating toll of this illness.
Gerber/Hart Library has been recognized four times for its contributions to enriching Chicago's LGBT community. In 1989, the organization's Pride Parade float won the award for "Best Entry Using Theme." In 1992, Gay Chicago Magazine chose Gerber/Hart Library as its "Organization of the Year." And in 1995, Howard Brown Health Center bestowed its "Friend for Life" Award upon Gerber/Hart. The proudest moment in the history of the organization occurred on November 12, 1996, when Gerber/Hart was inducted into the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame. Previously, the organization's namesakes, Henry Gerber and Pearl Hart, had been inducted in 1992. Gregory Sprague followed them into the Hall of Fame in 1994, in recognition of his contribution as a pioneer researcher in gay history.
Gerber/Hart Library stands poised to continue its mission to preserve the history of sexual minorities and to protect the records and artifacts that illuminate that history. We invite you to join us as we journey toward our Silver Anniversary.