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MOLINE — Readers in the Quad Cities who are LGBTQ, BIPOC, or women now have a new space to find writings that reflect their identities, through The Project of the Quad Cities.

The nonprofit has started a “lending library” in the lobby of its new, expanded headquarters at 4101 John Deere Road in Moline, Ill. The library features books by, for and about people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or gender-nonconforming; who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color; or who identify as female.

Any member of the public can partake of the library at any time during TPQC’s lobby hours, which are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 3 p.m. on Fridays.

Lending library leaders Kai Newell and Kasia Leikyna

Kasia Leikyna, left, and Kai Newell are leading the effort to stock the new Lending Library at The Project of the Quad Cities in Moline.

“I hope that everyone can find a character that they connect with, and see themselves in,” says Kai Newell, an HIV prevention specialist for TPQC.  “When people see themselves authentically represented in books, it can help to validate their experiences. It is the type of representation that I wish I would have had growing up. Our library is meant to amplify the voices of the unheard.”

TPQC lending library started with LGBTQ+ employee group

The idea first began with the nonprofit’s LGBTQ+ Committee, an employee group formed to help workers handle the stress of being “a queer person who is also taking care of queer folks,” says marketing director Tyler Mitchell.


“We realized it would be nice to be able to connect with one another, and it helps us socially to have some support and a peer group we can come to,” he said.

Newell and other TPQC staffers also began to wonder where they’d store their own books used to provide the HIV prevention and treatment, LGBTQ health care, and behavioral health services that TPQC provides to 22 counties in Illinois and Iowa.

“Before you know it, we were making connections to some of our community partners,” they said. Case manager Kasia Leikyna joined in to help create a list of books and resources for clients.

“Providing LGBTQ+ and BIPOC content (both fiction and non-fiction) to our clients and staff is a great way to educate and disperse information,” they said.

Book bans make TPQC lending library especially meaningful

The library is especially meaningful because of restrictions on reading material that have been hitting schools and public libraries nationwide, including Iowa.

Book bans in classrooms and school libraries increased 400 percent from 2022 to 2023, writes Pen America, from 333 to 1,263. Thirty percent of the banned books featured people of color or LGBTQ+ storylines and characters, Pen wrote.

Last year, Iowa restricted books featuring sexual and LGBTQ+ content, a ban that has been put on hold by a federal judge until a lawsuit by the ACLU and several families is heard in court, reports The Des Moines Register.

“Book bans all across our country have a common denominator: they target authors and perspectives belonging to the voices that are often oppressed,” Mitchell said. “Our lending library is an explicit effort to amplify those voices when they are needed most.”

Lobby for The Project of the Quad Cities new headquarters on John Deere Road

Anyone can stop by to read, drop off, or trade books at the new lending library in the lobby of The Project of the Quad Cities.

Readers can check out writings, read them on-site at The Project, or swap out readings for books they bring in. The library will operate on an “honors system,” with reminders to ‘Read, Return, and Repeat!’”

“If there’s even one person who gets a book from this library,” Mitchell said, “and feels like there’s a community who loves and supports them, that will make this project a success.”

(Photos are courtesy of The Project of the Quad Cities. Story features work by Sarah Elgatian and Christine Hawes. A version of this article in the February 2024 print edition of The Real Mainstream incorrectly identified Joaquin Buenos Diaz.)