Outhouse library: a new home in Dublin for LGBT literature
Ciarán Clark has brought the Outhouse centre’s library back to life and created a city centre gem in the process
Ciarán Clark: ‘We all had the idea to make it into a proper library.’ Photograph: Alan Betson
Capel Street in Dublin has a habit of throwing up surprises, and a new project there is attempting to revitalise a literary resource that had fallen out of use.
Outhouse, No 105 on the street, is a not-for-profit LGBT community and resource centre. The centre offers counselling services, meetings with the Garda LGBT liaison officer, free legal advice, peer support groups, training and outreach, switchboard and helplines, support for deaf people, and also works with LGBT health services. It has free wifi for people who might find accessing LGBT information problematic in their own homes. But it’s also a cultural hub, with a theatre space and events. And it is now home to a new LGBT library, in a small room that is a hidden gem on the street.
The newly refurbished library room is overseen by Ciarán Clark, who started volunteering at Outhouse before taking up an internship with the goal of revitalising the centre’s library. Clark, who studied English literature and journalism, has worked without a budget or funding to bring the library back to life. It’s a beautiful room, small but serene, up a worn stairs past the Outhouse cafe.
“For a long time, nobody was really doing much with the library,” says Clark, sitting in the room, surrounded by bookshelves that were built by a friend of the centre. “A couple of people did over the years organise it, but because they didn’t have anyone permanently looking after it, it reverted back to being disorganised.
“I came in at first volunteering. I just thought it was really nice: a gorgeous collection of books, a gorgeous room. We all had the idea to make it into a proper library. I went into the public libraries and spoke with some people there and decided to do a scaled-down version of a public library, where you can join as a member, where everything is catalogued on a system, and I’m working on getting an online catalogue up.”
Membership is free, and the shelves are full of LGBT classics. While most capital cities have gay book stores, Dublin is lacking in that respect, although many bookshops have small LGBT sections. In a 2010 report on young people and libraries in Ireland, as part of the National Children’s Strategy Research Series, just a single library authority reported providing specific services to young gay and lesbian people. Tallaght Library has marked LGBT History Month since 2010, and an exhibition on a history of LGBT Pride in Ireland has toured the same library, as well as Cavan County Library and Ballyroan Library in Dublin 14. In UCD, the James Joyce Library recently showcased 50 LGBTQ books chosen by participants in the Daphne LGBTQ Empowerment Programme.
Outhouse’s library includes books by Simone de Beauvoir, William Burroughs, Gore Vidal, Virginia Woolf and Daphne du Maurier. Biographies and autobiographies include those of Andy Warhol, Alfred Kinsey, Truman Capote and Leigh Bowery. There’s erotica, art, self-help, lesbian fiction, gay fiction, photography, art, poetry and drama, LGBT studies, history, travel, and short fiction sections, all packed into this beautifully lit small room with high ceilings and comfy couches.
A Queer Story book club
The library has also started a new book club called A Queer Story, with the first book up for discussion being Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster.
“What I’m trying to do is get more people into the library and using the resource,” says Clark. “I’ve opened a dialogue with the Writers’ Centre, because what I want to start doing is having a space for queer writers to come and give readings, or maybe for new writers to do book launches – just to kind of make this a hub for LGBT literature and writers.”
Publishers and writers have also been responsive to his requests for new LGBT books. “The material that was here when I arrived, it was all donated,” says Clark. “Since then I’ve started a dialogue with publishers and writers themselves [and asked] for them to send review copies. They’ve been really amazing, really happy to donate their work.”
Clark is considering crowdfunding as a way to make the library sustainable in the short-term, believing the project could get a much-needed boost “because the community is so great here, and so good at supporting each other”.
Without a budget or funding, the library is also seeking donations of LGBT books from anyone willing to give. “We’ll take anything,” says Clark, “as long as it isn’t totally falling apart.”
The Outhouse Library, Capel Street, is open Monday to Friday, 1pm-9pm, and Saturday, 1pm-5.30pm. outhouse.ie
In the Name of Love: An Oral History of the Movement for Marriage Equality in Ireland by Una Mullally is published by The History Press