Monday, February 11, 2013

Black History Month

February is Black History Month. At the Central Library, we have set up a display of titles that might be of interest to patrons seeking to learn more about topics related to African American history and to students working on related research projects. The display contains important older titles, but features some of the more notable books that have been published in the last couple of years (some of them listed at the end of this article).

The library often creates special displays related to nationally designated “history” months that draw attention to the experience of those who have been neglected in the mainstream narrative of our national story. For example, we have featured books for Gay History Month and Women’s History Month here at the library in the past. Some might dismiss these efforts as a bow to identity politics or political correctness, but that’s not what this is about. Libraries, like schools, are public institutions, and as such they seek to serve all segments of their very diverse public. That role is reflected in the breadth and inclusiveness of their collections, in the scope of their outreach, and in their public programming.

A sense of one’s own history, as an individual or as a group, is what gives one identity, and identity is the path to inclusion and the foundation of full citizenship with others in a community. One of the ways we marginalize people is to treat them as a group without history, as people who are not a part of the national narrative that includes all the rest of us, the shared story that has given us a sense of identity, that tells us who we are. That exclusion marks people belonging to certain groups as somehow less than others, and results in social and civil inequality. Yes, celebrating this or that group’s “history month” is a sort of self-conscious redress and recovery of “lost” history, but there is a purpose to it that seems to be consistent with the public service ambitions of a library and its civic role in helping to create community.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, however, about the history of any group in our society is that their history is in the end the history of all of us. The history of African Americans in this nation tells us something not only about African Americans but about aspirations that are common to us all and, more ominously, about the dominant culture that thwarted those aspirations for so long. The history of women in America tells us about where we for so long thought political power should reside, about the structures we built to enforce those ideas, and about how we have defined roles and expectations concerning gender in America. So our hope in featuring titles in displays like this is that not only will the books be of interest to various traditionally marginalized groups--those seeking to recover their own history--but that they will be of interest to other patrons who seek to broaden their knowledge of American history and their understanding of their fellow Americans today.

Here is a brief list of some of the interesting and relatively new titles that have become a part of the collection here at Burbank Public Library. You can read more about them by clicking on the link for each book.
Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence by Alan Gilbert; Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable; The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson; More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889 by Stephen Kantrowitz; Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom; Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr by Michael Vinson Williams; At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance: A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire; The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement by Taylor Branch.

Another of the 100 reasons to visit your library!

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