How two Library rockstars transformed Poudre Libraries approach to inclusive programming
May 2022 marked the first time that Poudre Libraries hosted a recurring program specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community; our QSA program debuted in Spring of last year and Jace Long is the library employee behind it. When he’s not enjoying vanilla or matcha lattes, getting artsy, or exploring stick and poke tattoos, he’s busy planning programming as Old Town Library’s Teen Librarian.
Originally from Ohio and growing up on the Western Slope of Colorado, Jace has had a connection to libraries from a young age. “I was homeschooled and one of the few places that we could ever get out was either church or the library which always felt peaceful and at-home for me. It was quiet and I could find books and just sit in the corner doing my own thing.”
Jace had a short-lived desire to be a math teacher which was fizzled out by a calculus class, and lucky for us, he leaned into his affinity for libraries continuing to volunteer and work at Mesa County Public Libraries in his late teens and into adulthood.
Centering the Youth Voice
As a teen who spent time in a Library, Jace (pictured left) is even more connected to his work with adolescents today, “Teens need a lot of help and support but sometimes people don’t like them, are awkward around them, or don’t know how to help them. I kind of identified with that so I wanted to do what I could to fill that roll or at least be someone for them to talk to.”
Queer-specific programing was a gap in our offerings when Jace started at Poudre Libraries. He saw the opportunity to fill that gap which led to QSA being born.
“I identify as part of the queer community, and when I first came here as a Library Assistant, I didn’t feel like we had anything that was specifically geared towards supporting queer youth, which is also a big problem in our world climate. So, I thought there needed to be a place where they can be safe, have a voice, and meet outside of schools.”
The voices of regular attendees to QSA have helped to drive decisions made for other queer programs that Jace has spearheaded like the recent Magical Masquerade dance planned in partnership with Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, SummitStone Health Partners, CSU Pride Resource Center, Fort Collins City Cultural Community Programs, and Bohemian Foundation. Over 60 teens ages 14 through 18 attended this prom-like event designed for the youth LGBTQ+ community.
“The QSA was my way of creating a center point for people… we could have a group of teens that could come together, and we could start having them gear the programming and center the youth voice.”
Jace Long, Teen librarian
Creating Queer Spaces
Jace isn’t the only employee centering queer voices. Alex Schumacher, a Library Assistant at Old Town has also dedicated themselves to building programming for the queer community.
When they’re not working at the Library, Alex draws on their passions for the arts, reading, and writing. They’re currently writing a novel and even coined the genre “sad fiction” as a description of their first adventure into the literary field. He also recently starred in a play called “Lifespan of a Fact” at Bas Bleu theatre (directed by library colleague Peggy Shaughnessy). Like Jace, he also works with teens in his other job as a Speech and Debate Coach for local highschoolers.
He and his husband moved to Fort Collins to live near the mountains in 2021 – something they always wanted to do. “We were young and reckless so we figured that we should do that while we’re still young and reckless.” Immediately, Alex recognized a need for more queer spaces in Fort Collins.
“Coming from the Twin Cities where there is a very vibrant, deeply rooted queer community, I realized the need for there to be things for queer adults to do in this town. It was really driven by the sense of wanting to meet other people and realizing there was a big need for it.” In addressing this gap, Alex also found opportunities to meet other locals doing the same work and pool community resources.
Previously, Alex spent most of their career in the restaurant industry working while attending school at the University of Minnesota, but as a writer, and a community builder, they were drawn to libraries.
“I love that the Library is one of the most visible ways that the government is trying to help people and build community. I really love doing that work; trying to build a sense of community, create a vibrant community, and really tangibly help people.”
He explained the motivations behind his work are two-fold, driven both by art and programming and in particular LGBTQ+ programming. His own identity, and the importance of having spaces built for queer people, pushes his work at the library.
“Being queer, you are often not raised around other queer people and it can be a very isolating experience… young people end up going online to try to find a sense of community. As we know, the internet is not always the best place but it is sometimes the only place. Building a connection with teens and giving them a sense that there is life, there is vibrancy, there is a reason to be happy, and doing this with adults.”
Alex also brought up loneliness in the United States, an issue which was declared a public health crisis in May this year by the Surgeon General of the United States. This is a problem for all adults; when the queer community is centered, the places that are specifically built for them narrow even further.
“The only place for queer adults that is a tangible physical location catered to them is R bar which is the size of a large living room. It’s great and I love it, but it’s really small and it’s a 21+ bar.” He connected this fact to creating other spaces for queer people to build connections.
A Team Effort
When Alex came onto the team at Old Town Library, Jace invited him to help out with QSA. Alex has gone on to plan a Gay for the Holidays program which invited queer adults to unwind both before and after the holiday season which can be a difficult time for queer individuals returning home.
Alex also helped Jace orchestrate the Magical Masquerade dance which featured a safe space for teens 14-18 years old to gather and enjoy kicking off Pride month with music, dancing, a drag parade, and more.
Alex’s other program, an LGBTQ+ book club called Reading Rainbow also started this month with one of their favorite books of all time, Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Next month, they’re reading Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. They also arrange the artist exhibitions in our treehouse area at Old Town Library drawing on their passion for the creative side of the world, “To me, art helps give life meaning and nuance and so that’s one of the reasons I love doing that work because it’s like a mirror.”
Both Jace Long and Alex Schumacher have worked and continue to strive to make Poudre Libraries a space to belong for our local queer community. With an increasing number of book bans targeting LGBTQ+ books and anti-LGBTQ+ laws in state legislatures (over 600 have been introduced while 40+ have been passed in 2023 to date), creating spaces for the queer community to feel safe and be themselves is particularly salient.
If you’re queer, if you know someone queer, or if you need a space to be yourself, know that the library welcomes you with open arms, a caring spirit, and great advocates like Jace and Alex.
Looking for book/TV/movie recommendations from Jace and Alex? Jace has recently been reading Lore Limpus, a web comic creator, various fan fictions that center queer stories, and can always dive into his comfort shows like Community or Bob’s Burgers.
Alex recently finished “White Cat Black Dog” by Kelly Link that he described as “modern stories told with the energy and style of a fairytale and always a little bit queer.” He and his husband have also been enjoying the show Broad City.