Thirty years ago, it was intensely difficult for people with HIV/AIDS to access information about the disease, recalled John Cunningham.
“At the time, there was so much that was unknown,” Cunningham said. “There were speculation, rumors, ignorance and fear. People with AIDS wanted information to make good decisions to enhance their chances of survival. But [people with AIDS] were the tip of the iceberg; caregivers, friends and family, medical and social-services provider, and public-policy advocates all needed information.”
This was why Cunningham and Heshie Zinman founded the AIDS Library, a program of health-services organization Philadelphia FIGHT. Through the efforts of volunteers and staff, the AIDS Library has stood for 30 years and will celebrate that milestone at an anniversary celebration Nov. 10.
“It’s amazing,” Zinman said of the anniversary. “It’s a legacy and I’m very proud of the impact that the library has had on the hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV. It is an amazing resource in so many ways and I’m ecstatic.”
The anniversary celebration, held at William Way LGBT Community Center, will introduce the “Still Fighting for Our Lives” exhibit. The collection consists of several visual materials donated to William Way’s archives, including banners, brochures, fliers, posters and photographs. Each piece showcases historical HIV/AIDS-awareness campaigns, promotional pieces and protest banners dating back to the 1980s.
Additionally, the library will honor five volunteers for their commitment to the AIDS Library: Jacqueline Bryant, Dominick D’Ortenzio, Gregory Grant, Anthony Johnson and Samantha Spott.
“The AIDS Library was here cataloguing these articles that were really hard to find,” said Ally Richman, FIGHT’s Library and Digital Literacy director. “They were in obscure health journals that regular people didn’t have access to and a lot of that work happened by volunteers going through journals or making sure we had photocopies and making sure things were indexed or available for folks.”
The event will also showcase different highlights from the AIDS Library’s history. Richman said there will be a book filled with stories submitted from community members about how the AIDS Library has impacted them.
“I love hearing about folks who, either they were newly diagnosed and were looking for a place that would have information, but also folks who were trained to be able to provide that kind of support. I think that’s one of the best things about the AIDS Library,” Richman said.
Although information about HIV/AIDS is now readily available on the Internet, Richman noted that AIDS Library remains relevant. Onsite staff members include case managers and librarians trained in health-information and research skills.
Said Zinman, “Information is power” and it abounds at the library.
“There is so much new information about HIV that you really need to stay current with it to understand it. To have that resource at the AIDS Library is amazing. It really is essential to be able to access information in all different kinds of formats at all different levels, and that’s what the library provides.”
Even with 30 years under its belt, the AIDS Library will continue to grow in the future, Richman said. In 2018, the library will expand into FIGHT’s Critical Path Learning Center, a digital-inclusion training and advocacy program. Richman said it is going to be an “educational hub devoted to the intersection of health and literacy that really expands on the legacy of the AIDS Library.”
“As we are thinking about the needs of our community these days and how to continue to serve who we’ve always served, [we also want to think about] some 21st-century needs,” she added. “We’re very excited about this idea to expand the library and the offerings, in particular the educational component, to really embrace this intersection of health, literacy and technology.”
The AIDS Library 30th Anniversary Celebration will be held 5:30-8 p.m. Nov. 10 at William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St. Visit http://bit.ly/2ikDGjL to register for the free event. Visit www.aidslibrary.org for more information on services and hours of operation.