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New essay collection celebrates Black librarians

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A new essay collection, “The Black Librarian in America: Reflections, Resistance and Reawakening,” has been released by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA). Published by Rowman & Littlefield, the essays were written by and for Black librarians to call attention to race, diversity, recruitment and activism within the library profession. It’s part of “The Black Librarian in America” series and is the first volume to be edited entirely by women — Shauntee Burns-Simpson, Nichelle M. Hayes, Dr. Ana Ndumu and Dr. Shaundra Walker.

“The book overall is broken into four themes,” Burns-Simpson, a librarian at New York Public Library, said. “We talk about Black librarian history, talking about our collective as well as individual identity. We’re all Black but all coming from different kinds of Blackness — we’re made up of men and women, from different places around the world — but we’re talking about how to move forward as a profession as Black librarians.”

The essays also discuss the activism of librarians and some of the difficulties that libraries across the nation are having in the recruitment and retention of Black librarians and librarians of color.

Hayes, a librarian at Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL) and leader of the Center for Black Literature and Culture, said the essay collection gives readers a more dynamic look at librarianship and puts some of its issues into context.
“What it does is it gives you a different voice to hear from, which is important,” Hayes said. “If you’re only hearing a tenor, you think that’s all the choir is, but you need to be able to hear the altos and sopranos. … We’re talking a lot about our experiences in libraries and getting into the field, and the stresses. It paints a unique picture.”

Starting Feb. 18, BCALA will have virtual book tour events. Once COVID-19 cases decrease, Hayes hopes to have an in-person gathering at IndyPL’s Central branch, though no date has been set. While the book is geared toward librarians, Burns-Simpson said the issues discussed in the essays are important for the whole community.

“Our libraries are probably the most democratic institution there is in the country, following the principles the country was founded on,” Burns-Simpson said. “Members of our communities need to see themselves in the staffing and programming we provide.”

“The Black Librarian in America: Reflections, Resistance and Reawakening” is now available to purchase at bcala.org/orderbook.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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