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Quatrefoil Library celebrates 30 years of queer reading and community

Taken at the grand opening of the library in 1986, the photo includes the library's two co-founders, Dick Hewetson (left) and David Irwin (right), with the guest of honor, Quentin Crisp.

Taken at the grand opening of the library in 1986, the photo includes the library's two co-founders, Dick Hewetson (left) and David Irwin (right), with the guest of honor, Quentin Crisp.

For 30 years, Quatrefoil Library has served the LGBT community of the Twin Cities, and the anniversary will be marked this week with an exhibition of books and ephemera at the Hennepin History Museum. The show opens Thursday night, when you can take a look at some of the gems of the library’s collection.

Besides books, the exhibit also includes photographs and other objects from the library’s history. There will be movie posters from when Quatrefoil used to host movie-night fundraisers at the Heights Theatre, according to Kathy Robbins, Quatrefoil’s head librarian, who is also the former board president of the organization. Also on view will be a list of the “100 Best Gay & Lesbian Novels” created by the magazine Publishing Triangle, which notably contains books that are all available at Quatrefoil. 

“One thing people will be entertained by is that we have a letter jacket given to one of two founders,” says Robert Frame, a longtime volunteer with the organization. The letter jacket, which looks like one that a star high school athlete would wear, has a purple Q on the front, with David Irwin’s name written in script. There’s also a photograph of Irwin and his partner Dick Hewetson, at the fireplace with James Barr, who wrote the gay-themed novel from which the library got its name.

Irwin and Hewetson originally started the library in their linen closet, eventually forming a library that opened in 1986 in north Minneapolis. They moved the collection to St. Paul a year later, where it remained until 2013, when it moved into the Spirit on Lake Building on Lake Street. Run entirely by volunteers, the library is open seven days a week, and has over 30,000 books, periodicals, and DVDs in its catalog.

Besides the exhibit at the Hennepin History Museum, a separate exhibit, called “Collected Voices: 30 Years of Quatrefoil Library,” opened last month at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and runs through October 16.

Since its beginning, Quatrefoil has sought to create a community space, Frame says. That mission was especially important when the library opened in 1986, at the height of the AIDS crisis. “That [community component] was an enormously important piece because culture didn’t make space for it," Frame says.

Paperback edition of the novel<i> Quatrefoil</i> originally published in 1950

Paperback edition of the novel Quatrefoil originally published in 1950

Robbins says that many of the materials were very hard to find back in the day. Now there are certain aspects of the collection that have decreased in usage just because people can get materials elsewhere. At the same time, the library is always putting on different activities, from author nights and book clubs to game nights. “It’s more akin to a community center,” Robbins says. “It’s more of a place to get together and have fun, and to learn about our history.”

Robbins says she hopes people will come check out the exhibit to find out about the library, but also about the history of the LGBT community. 

"In and Out: 30 Years of Quatrefoil Library" opens Thursday, with a reception from 5-8 p.m. at the Hennepin History Museum.