The Middlebury Campus

Library Display Celebrates Black History Month

LEANNE GALLETLY

By JAMES FINN

Literatures and cultures librarian Katrina Spencer has collaborated with other staff and students to create a display in Davis Library celebrating Black History Month. The display has been in place since Thursday, February 1 and will remain in the library until Wednesday, February 28. It consists of books, DVDs, CDs and recommendations for podcasts created by and about black authors, artists and entertainers, according to Spencer. In addition to the physical display in Davis, user experience and digital culture librarian Leanne Galletly worked to curate a digital space for a series of interviews entitled “In Your Own Words.” Spencer held these interviews with members of the Middlebury community who “trace their origins to the black diasporas of the world,” according to the In Your Own Words web page.

Spencer began working as literatures and cultures librarian last February, on the first day of Black History Month, and immediately felt a need to do more than was being done to celebrate Black History Month at Middlebury. “Succinctly, I saw the need to do more, and once I was in a position to effect change, I did,” Spencer said. “I went all out, as I am wont to do.”

In creating the display in Davis, Spencer focused on contemporary work of individuals such as Kendrick Lamar and Issa Rae, as well as earlier works by Miles Davis, W .E. B. DuBois and others. The display also includes a collection of essays by James Baldwin, “Dear White People” by Justin Simien, Ernest J. Gaines’ “A Lesson Before Dying,” and many others. Spencer worked to balance the collection between the works of contemporary authors and artists and the works of earlier generations.

“My primary concern, I suppose, is to remind people of all colors that we have living black heroines and heroes,” Spencer said. “Celebrating black history needs to include celebrations of people who are impacting the world in our modern era and still have blood pumping through their veins. We are here. Despite what commemorative ceremonies will tell you, the black struggle did not end in the 1960s.”

Spencer said that one of her focuses in selecting the literature was selecting works that came from all over the world, as opposed to focusing solely on the United States. Consequently, the display includes works such as Mariama Bâ’s “Une si longue lettre” and music by Cuban singer Celia Cruz.

“My father is a black Costa Rican, so the concept of otherness, foreignness and the immigrant narrative has hovered about me all my life,” Spencer said. “If I want to tell my whole story, I must tell stories of Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, the Spanish-speaking world, the Americas and the legacies of both slavery and colonialism, too. I can only tell of who I am by engaging those narratives. And for many of the black and brown students on this campus, the same is true for them, as evidenced by the In Your Own Words oral histories project. So, I primarily drew from my knowledge base and experience and invited others to supplement any gaps. Every student should graduate from Middlebury with an understanding of the concept of ‘diaspora.’ The black diaspora is one of the richest and most diverse in the world, from Quebec City to Bahia, Paris to Windhoek, New Delhi to Brisbane.”

In addition to the physical books on display in Davis, students have the opportunity to engage with podcast recommendations, music and the In Your Own Words interview series. Galletly worked to ideate and curate digital components of the display. “I think it’s important that the work going into these doesn’t disappear after the display comes down, so the digital display allows people to see the resources anytime,” Galletly said. “ I think it’s valuable, especially for a largely white campus like Middlebury, to hear the perspectives and narratives of non-white people on campus. Learning the stories of those around us is a powerful way to empathize and build connections with our community.”

The In Your Own Words series (viewable at go/bhmdigital) is a collection of 11 interviews with members of the Middlebury community. In conducting the interviews, Spencer asked her guests questions regarding changing notions of race and ethnicity based on where they are and who they’re with, what her subjects wish others knew about race and ethnicity, and more. Spencer said that working on presenting student stories was equally as important as focusing on media and literature because focusing on abstract figures outside of one’s immediate sphere doesn’t have the same effect as celebrating the identities of those in one’s immediate sphere. “When we talk about Hollywood, we talk about an abstract conceptualization, as Denzel Washington is not my friend and Viola Davis is not my aunt,” she said. “We have to make blackness real, tangible, relatable, concrete and intersectional. Again, blackness is not just Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education. It’s right here. It’s everywhere. This will help us to understand that Sandra Bland is us. Trayvon Martin is us. And Eric Garner is us. We are still fighting to be seen as human. And if I can help one person to see that their black dorm mate is human, the black woman preparing food in the cafeteria is human or the black librarian who keeps putting up displays is human, I’m realizing a greater mission.”

In addition to the In Your Own Words interview series, a digital rendition of the books on display in Davis can be found at go/bhmdigital.

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