Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From a Personal Library to a Public One

Beginning in the spring of 1998, I began building what I  envisioned as an expansive personal library. I was a student at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, but during the spring of 98, I lived in New York City, participating in a semester-long program at New York University (NYU).

Prior to my time at NYU, my undergrad professor, the literary scholar Jerry W. Ward, Jr. and the university's archivist Clarence Hunter had been priming me for expansive readings in black studies well before I was introduced to the formal idea of "black studies." In New York, I met this cool independent scholar Donald Garcia who shared his wonderful personal library of books and recordings of speakers from C. L. R. James and DuBois to Malcolm and bell hooks with me; Mr. Garcia also introduced me to over a dozen used bookstores across the city so that I could start developing my own personal library.

Between 1998 and 2003, my collection of books went from 50 or so works to well over 1,000 books, including the highlights of my library: black poetry, black history, works by and about Richard Wright, African American literary criticism, and the Black Arts Movement. I started working at SIUE in the fall of 2003, and since I would now have a  salary, I was at last financially prepared to really extend my personal library.

Then, I met SIUE's humanities librarian and professor Julie Hansen.

Through requests here and there for titles on books that the library should consider purchasing, Julie convinced me to give more attention to assisting in the selection process for Lovejoy Library's acquisitions. A personal library collection like mine is fine, she taught me over the years, but what about also helping to shape the contents of a public collection?

There's much truth and power in the prominent feminist statement, "the personal is political." What I've also come to better understand over the years is how the personal (selection) is public. In this case, many authors and works that I helped bring attention to are now publicly available on the bookshelves in Lovejoy Library. I suppose there's something personal and political associated with a humanities librarian capable of transforming a private collector into a public library's unofficial yet devoted assistant.     

Julie Hansen Week: Af-Am Lit, Black Studies & Lovejoy Library

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