The Lesbian Herstory Archives is an institution located in Brooklyn, NY filled with the world’s largest collection of lesbian-related materials. The Archives was founded in 1974 by Joan Nestle and Deborah Edel with the purpose to “gather and preserve records of Lesbian lives and activities so that future generations will have ready access to materials relevant to their lives.”
I’ve never been to Brooklyn, so I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the Lesbian Herstory Archives, but you can still access plenty of resources virtually. From the home page, check out the navigation block at the top center.
The “Virtual Tour” link has some photographs and description of the physical building, which is neat, and the collections descriptions are particularly interesting. Unfortunately, most are either not digitized or not available via the website, so this area is mostly descriptive text. If you dig somewhat, however, you’ll find the Special Collections Guide (http://herstoryspecialcollections.wordpress.com/) which lists collections by time period and alphabetically.
Wondering how in the world you might get a chance to see some of this fascinating stuff if you don’t live in the area? Check out the “How to Use the Archives” link, which states “We may be located in New York City but we do actually provide services to lesbians the world over.” If you call or email them (http://www.lesbianherstoryarchives.org/contact.html), they will help you with specific research requests, point you to relevant resources, and possibly copy something for you. The key here is that you have to have a specific request—so take some time to look through the collection titles and descriptions and formulate your question.
They also have some digital collections. As of today, the “Digital Collections” link has two distinct material types: First, a Spoken Word collection with 3,000 oral history tapes, located at http://herstories.prattsils.org/omeka/. These audio collections are on an Omeka site, which I think is attractive and easy to navigate—it’s very easy to browse and listen to different recordings.
Second, there’s an enormous photograph collection located at http://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/search/collection/p274401coll1. This collection is part of the New York Digital Heritage Collections, which is a research portal to lots of different archival collections, so take care not to get lost! Sadly, this platform is not very user friendly, so you’ll have to play around with searching and browsing. Be aware that if you just hit “search”, you’ll be searching within ALL collections, so you need to click “new search” and select “within results.”
Good luck and have fun exploring!