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How Black Librarians Helped Create Generations of Black Literature

The New York Times [unpaywalled] – “Recent scholarship is uncovering the role of the women who ran libraries during the Harlem Renaissance where they built collections and, just as important, communities of writers and readers…“Mr. Schomburg’s collection is really the seed,” said Joy Bivins, the current director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, as the 135th Street library, currently home to more than 11 million items, is now known. “But in many ways, it is these women who were the institution builders.” Many were among the first Black women to attend library school, where they learned the tools and the systems of the rapidly professionalizing field. On the job, they learned these tools weren’t always suited to Black books and ideas, so they invented their own. At times, they battled overt and covert censorship that would be familiar in today’s climate of rising book bans and restrictions on teaching so-called divisive concepts. But whether they worked in world-famous research collections or modest public branch libraries, these pioneers saw their role as not just about tending old books but also about making room for new people and new ideas.

These librarians were very tuned in and understood that a cultural movement also needs a space,” said Laura E. Helton, a historian at the University of Delaware and author of the recent book “Scattered and Fugitive Things: How Black Collectors Created Archives and Remade History.” “And libraries served that function in every town and city where they were set up.”…

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