I met David Irwin in the summer of 1975. He was an avid reader who had been reading "gay" literature throughout his entire life. Even though he had purchased many books and magazines, he had always discarded them after he read them. Up until the latter part of the twentieth century it was dangerous to be known as homosexual. Homosexuals were illegal, sick, and sinful. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a disorder. Overnight we were all healed! But homosexual behavior was still illegal in most states including Minnesota. And it was considered sinful by most religions.
The two of us became a couple and bought a condominium in St. Paul's Summit Hill neighborhood in the fall of 1976. Being more comfortable about his sexuality he began collecting LGBT literature. We also subscribed to several periodicals. Thus began a substantial library.
He was sensitive enough to put all the books that had titles on he spine with such words as gay, homosexual or lesbian. These we kept in a linen closet in the same hallway that had copious bookshelves.
Some of our friends began to borrow books from us. We eventually came up with the idea of forming an actual lending library. At a brunch we hosted in 1983 for four friends we began to discuss the idea and acutally drew up plans to incorporate the library. The four were Jane Lilja, Ann Richter, Keith Grenier, and Dan Hanson. David wanted to call the library Quatrefoil--the title of a novel he liked that had been published 1950.
In 1985 the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union offered to rent us space in a building they purchased in north Minneapolis. Although anyone could use the library, we would charge a small membership fee that would allow people to borrow books. Many folks thought we were completely crazy at the time and predicted it would never work.
The library opened in February 1986 with 1500 books and many periodicals. Through press releases in local and national gay periodicals we asked for donations of books and publications. The very first donation, a complete set of the GALA (Gay Atheist League or America) Review, came from our friend Tom Rolfsen in San Francisco. Six cartons of books came from a gay couple in Los Angeles who were preparing to move to smaller quarters. Local people continued to show up with boxes and shopping bags full of books. Within eighteen months we outgrew our space, and in the summer of 1988 we moved to the historic Richards Gordon School in St. Paul's midway area. Because of growth we again expanded to a different location in that building.
The collection has now grown to 30,000 volumes, historic periodicals, archival material and many DVDs. The library has always operated completely by volunteers and has never had a paid employee. In 2014 the library moved to its present location on Lake Street in Minneapolis. It occupies part of the first floor of a new building, Spirit on Lake, which provides housing for LGBT elders
What may have seemed a crazy idea has become a premier resource in the United States. And it continues to flourish thanks to the hundreds of devoted volunteers who have devoted themselves to Quatrefoil library for thirty years.
On October 13, 2016 Quatrefoil celebrated its thirtieth anniversary
2016 Press Release and fact sheet
Quatrefoil Library at 30∫ Growing and changing
Launched in the 1980s by the book loving couple Dick Hewetson and David Irwin, Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis has grown to become the country’s second largest LGBT lending library with a searchable catalog of more than 30,000 books, periodicals and DVDs, more than half of them circulating.
The library celebrates its 30th year in 2016 with exhibitions, book sales, readings and a free anniversary party.
Run entirely by volunteers, Quatrefoil is open seven days a week at its 3,000 square foot location at E. Lake St. and 13th Av. S. Its members checked out more than 3,400 items last year, and thousands visited the library to browse, join book clubs and attend events. The library’s popular annual used book sale on Pride weekend in June benefits the library’s ongoing operational expenses.
Quatrefoil opened in north Minneapolis in 1986, and moved to St. Paul in 1987, where it remained until moving to its current 3,000 square feet space in 2013.
Along with the archival JeanNickolaus Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota, Quatrefoil makes the Twin Cities a center for LGBT books and history, rivaling much larger cities, including New York and San Francisco. Only one LGBT lending library, in Chicago, has a larger circulating collection.
Dedicated volunteers and veteran board members can tell the story of Quatrefoil and its value to people who are coming out, those doing research, or just avid readers with an ongoing interest in LGBT issues, culture, literature and history.
An exhibition about Quatrefoil will be on view at the Literary Commons at Open Book, 1011 Washington Av. S., Mpls, June 24 to Oct. 16. The exhibition “In and Out: 30 Years at the Quatrefoil Library” opens July 14 and runs through Aug. 28 at Hennepin History Museum, 2303 3rd Av. S., Mpls.
Quatrefoil sells books and DVDs in Loring Park during the 2016 Pride festival, June 25 and 26.
The library has used book sales at its location on Sat., Sept. 10 and Sat., Dec. 3, 1220 E. Lake St., Mpls.
All are invited to a free anniversary party on Thursday, Oct. 13, 6-9 p.m., at Open Book (1011 S.
Washington Av., Mpls) that will feature drinks, appetizers, presentations, guest speakers,
dessert and coffee.
Visit the library, which is open Monday-Friday from 7 to 9 p.m.,
Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and
Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.
Library phone is 612-729-2543.
Check press release at
bottom of page
A Historys of Quatrefoil Library by Adam Keim can be found on the QL web site.