Rainbow flags hang prominently in the windows of the Quatrefoil Library on Lake Street in Minneapolis.
Housed on the ground floor of a residential building, the library is open on weekends and weeknights, and run entirely by volunteers. Kathy Robbins has been the head librarian for 15 years.
"I became a librarian in real life, and I'm a lesbian, so it seemed like a perfect fit," she said.
The library was born out of the private collection of Dick Hewetson and David Irwin, a gay couple who were also bibliophiles. Robbins said Irwin in particular was a collector, with an affection for gay fiction.
"They lived in a condo on Grand Avenue in St. Paul," she said, "and they began to run out of room."
That was in the early 1980s, when finding gay literature was still very difficult, and checking out a gay novel at a public library was a courageous act.
Friends encouraged Hewetson and Irwin to make their collection more widely available. They moved the books into a room of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union building in St. Paul. They named it the Quatrefoil Library, after one of the first novels to positively depict a gay romance.
Word spread fast, and people began patronizing the small library — and donating their own collections. Over the years, Quatrefoil has moved twice to accommodate its continued growth.
Robbins said the library now boasts more than 20,000 books, 5,000 DVDs and numerous magazines and newspapers.
"Everything in this library is GLBT-related," she said. "Either the authors are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or the topic of the book: Either the plot of the fiction or the topic of the nonfiction."
Many of the authors' names are familiar: Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, Federico Garcia Lorca. There are biographies of Bob Mould and Boy George. One book cover asks, "Are there closets in heaven?"
Anyone can stop by the library to peruse its collection, but to check out material you need to be a dues-paying member. Quatrefoil has 325 active members.
Over the years, Robbins said, the library has become an increasingly important resource for students.
"We've had junior-high history day students through high school, college — many, many college students come in and use our resources," she said, "and some grad students as well."
L. Warnest came to Quatrefoil when she was a senior in high school working on a history paper about Stonewall.
"When I first came here with my mom, I'm pretty sure I wasn't technically out of the closet yet," Warnest said. "She seemed fine with the space, maybe a little put off by the GME section — the gay male erotica."
Quatrefoil is now establishing itself as a community center.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, the library was buzzing, with a volunteer ice cream social in the community room, and a round of Dungeons and Dragons underway at a table in the back.
Greg Toltzman has been a member for 18 years — in large part because of the library's archive: "For research," he said, "and for just our historical understanding of who we are and who we've been and what our relationship is in politics in the city."
Toltzman said he's particularly proud of the research Quatrefoil volunteers did to help compile numbers for gay homicides before the police department began tracking such things. But he also enjoys coming to just hang out and play D&D with friends who don't care if he's flirting with the prince or the princess.
Despite the strides the LGBT community has made over the years, Robbins said there are still Quatrefoil members who insist on picking up their new library cards in person, "because they are not out to their spouse or their family or their children or whoever, and they don't want us to mail anything that says Quatrefoil Library on the envelope."
Just as the LGBT community continues to come out, so does the library. In the past it has participated in the Twin Cities Pride Festival — and, this year, Quatrefoil will be at Pride festivals around the state.