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Indianapolis Public Library preserves Black history online

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A picture doesn’t always last forever. Photographs can become damaged, lost or forgotten about. To make sure mementos of the city’s Black history don’t fade like a forgotten photograph, the Indianapolis Public Library created “Black History, Indianapolis History,” a digital archive of family memorabilia.

The archive, which became publicly available June 28, includes photos, newspaper clippings, certificates and other documents that tell a small piece of Black history in Indianapolis. “Black History, Indianapolis History” contains over 200 entries ranging from the 1920s to today. Its goal is to preserve local Black history, something Meaghan Fukunaga, head of digital collections at the Indianapolis Public Library, said online archives too often overlook.

“One of the things that we know about digital collections is that minorities are underrepresented,” Fukunaga said. “Particularly, personal histories and personal photos are very underrepresented, so in addition to capturing the big organizations that make up the city we wanted to make sure we captured the individual memories because that’s what the history of Indianapolis is.” 

The library collected the entries at Scan-A-Thon events where locals brought family photos and records. One library employee digitally scanned the items, making one copy for the library and another for the family, and another employee took notes and asked about the document’s context such as time period and people involved. The sessions lasted one to three hours, but Fukunaga said attendees still enjoyed the experience because of the chance to share their family history.

“The scanning is really secondary to the process,” Fukunaga said. “It’s more of a conversation. As [attendees] started telling stories about their high school days and their elementary school days and pointing out relatives, it became more of a discussion.”

Stephen Lane, head of special collections at the Indianapolis Public Library, remembers meeting Rebecca Robinson at a Scan-A-Thon. Robinson is the granddaughter of Dr. Earle Robinson Sr., a doctor who was one of the first 27 Black graduates of Homer G. Phillips Hospital. Lane enjoyed hearing Robinson describe her grandfather’s history working in a Black hospital during pre-civil rights times. 

“The stories she told about her grandfather and her father were really powerful,” Lane said. “She was so invested in making sure that their stories were told, that their stories were heard and that their stories are preserved in the telling of the history of Indianapolis.”

The Indianapolis Public Library plans to continue holding monthly Scan-A-Thons at its Michigan Road Branch in order to grow “Black History, Indianapolis History.” The next event will be July 27. The Scan-A-Thons are free, but people need to call the branch in advance. Lane believes continuing the Scan-A-Thons will allow everyday residents to play a role in how history remembers Indianapolis.

 “It’s important to show the diversity of our city and to express how the city has been growing and unfolding throughout time, so we will continue to do the Scan-A-Thons for sure,” Lane said. “I think it really gives the community ownership of their history, and it gives them a time to come in and share with us and reflect on their own personal histories.”


Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.

Photographs are not the only kinds of documents stored in the Indianapolis Public Library’s “Black History, Indianapolis History” digital collection. One item is a 1971 article from the Indianapolis Recorder discussing new councilors, one of whom was Indiana Pacers player Roger Brown. (Photo provided)

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