Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Transforming a Storage Space into an Underground Reading Room

Early stages of the Underground Reading Room's development
In the summer of 2010, when we started looking for a place to regularly host black studies public humanities events, Julie Hansen mentioned a storage room on the third floor of Lovejoy Library. Maybe that place would serve our purposes.

For years now, I've worried about what the lack of a black academic space on our campus implies. Without a key site or two or three that allow for the regular display of African American artistic ideas and the gathering of a diverse group of people in a space that is viewed as a black space or at least as a non-white space, then institutions and their officials who speak of diversity are merely only speaking. Poor Julie Hansen has had to hear me going on and on concerning those kinds of points on more than a few occasions.

One day as I was expressing my concerns about the lack of a space for black studies presentations on campus, Julie came to the rescue with a simple question: "What about the room we use for storage on the third floor of Lovejoy?" Not long after that question, my black studies crew was prepping the space that would become known as the Underground Reading Room.

Display panels in the Underground Reading Room

Our space can only fit 15 or so people, but we've managed to make it work. Over the course of two years, we have hosted more than 50 events in the Underground, from mixed media exhibits and poetry readings to interview sessions and presentations by Black Theater Workshop. The room has had over 1,000 visitors.

One of the most exciting moments in the brief history of the space occurred in the spring of 2011 when we hosted a reception for Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates. He spent extra time walking around the room closely observing and asking questions about our many display panels and posters on the shelves. Coates's sincere interest in the room gave my crew and me a sense of pride. We were also pleased to have participated in the efforts to  transform this small storage space into an active Underground Reading Room.

We're indebted to Julie Hansen for first suggesting the idea. 
Julie Hansen Week: Af-Am Lit, Black Studies & Lovejoy Library

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