Susie R. Bock
Susie R. Bock is Head of Special Collections and Director of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at the University of Southern Maine. She has almost 30-years experience managing primary materials and developed collections preserving the history of Maine’s LGBT communities. She was the recipient of the 2011 Friend of USM Women & Gender Studies Award.
Queer!NEA recently featured an interview with Ryan Conrad, a Concordia University PhD candidate who conducted a research and digitization project at the Sampson Center. I thank Susie for giving us an opportunity to learn more about the LGBT Collection at USM by sharing her own thoughts and perspectives.
Q1. Could you give one or two examples of the ways the collections have been utilized by researchers? How has your work and the work of scholars contributed to a better understanding of Maine’s LGBTQ history?
S.R.B. It has been used in 3 annual events in 2005, 2006, 2008 for the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine (the parent institution of the LGBT Collection). These events include an opening reception, lectures, exhibition and printed exhibition catalog. For digital resources from these events, go to
Our work has made it clear that LGBT people and culture exists throughout the community, whether that community is Caribou, Maine, or Portland, Maine or San Francisco. The LGBT community has changed as does the overall society, and reflects human history just as well. You can not understand any period of history without knowing all the stories, not just the dominant culture.
Q2. What would you say, if anything, is unique about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Collection at the University of Southern Maine? Does its focus on a smaller state such as Maine present any distinctive challenges or rewards?
Because the LGBT Collection is part of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, one sees clearly how any under-represented group, any minority, can suffer, and thus the principle of civil rights being absolute in the United States, not subject to the whims of the majority, is a bedrock that allows America to thrive.
Maine is a large state, with a small, disperse population. The internet had good and bad effects on the material culture we collect. Before the internet, people were forced to create local organizations and communicate by print. These all created tangible material to collect. The internet has replaced much of this activity, yet not created sustainable resources. However, the internet makes it easier to communicate and promote the LGBT Collection and has aided collection development.
Q3. The LGBT Collection, along with the African American Collection of Maine and the Judaica Collection, constitute the majority of the holdings of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. How does the mission of the LGBT Collection correlate with the work of the Center as a whole, and how can the LGBT holdings inform perspectives on civil rights as a whole in Maine?
The LGBT Collections makes Maine stand out in the study of civil rights. In what many would judge to be an American “back-water” in terms of culture and economics, is in fact the first state to pass anti-discrimination legislation by a general election. This would seem to infer, that everyone can understand and champion the importance of civil rights for all. That “life as it should be” means everyone is valued.
We preserve and make available the stories that can educate and empower activists. If you remember history, you are not doomed to repeat it.
Q5. Can you name a collection in the Sampson Center’s holdings that you find to be particularly interesting or noteworthy? If so, why do you think it is significant?
Yes, it is the series of LGBT collections that chronicle the local and then state fight for anti-discrimination legislation because it is a triumph of the best qualities of human nature. And this story gives me hope for the future.
Everyday, I love my job, because what I do matters.