Library Enriches America’s Story by Connecting with Minority Communities, Funded by $15M Mellon Grant

Jazz Alley, 50th and Langley, Chicago; project activities, Chicago, Illinois, 1977. Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection, American Folklife Center. This example from the Library’s American Folklife Center collections stem from a series of large scale cultural documentation projects that the center ran between 1977 and 1999. Through photographs, field notes, interviews, audio recordings of performance, and even some motion picture footage, these surveys present snapshots of cultural heritage of the moment. In many ways, the Community Collections Fellowship program that the American Folklife Center will run with Mellon Foundation funding is an update to the field surveys projects, with the important difference being that the fellowships offer community members an opportunity to document contemporary culture from their own perspective.

The Library today announced a new, multiyear initiative to connect more deeply with Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and other minority communities by expanding its collections, using technology to enable storytelling and offering more internship and fellowship opportunities, supported by a $15 million investment from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The new initiative, Of the People: Widening the Path, creates new opportunities for more people to engage with the Library, thus weaving a more inclusive American story. This work will expand the Library’s efforts to ensure that a diversity of experiences is reflected in our historical record and inform how we use those materials to understand our past.

The initiative will be accomplished through three programs: investing in community-based documentarians who will expand the Library’s collections with new perspectives; funding paid internships and fellowships to benefit from the wisdom of students and engage the next generation of diverse librarians; and creating a range of digital engagements to connect with underserved communities and institutions.

“The Mellon Foundation’s generous grant will enhance the Library’s efforts to develop deeper and mutually empowering relationships with those who are too often left out of the American story,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “By inviting communities of color and other underrepresented groups to partner on a wider, more inclusive path for connection to the Library of Congress, we invest in an enduring legacy of the multifaceted American story that truly is ‘Of the People.’”

The new initiative is part of a larger vision at the Library to connect with all Americans by inviting new generations to participate in creating, preserving and sharing the nation’s cultural treasures and building on the Library’s commitment to collect and preserve more underrepresented perspectives and experiences.

The $15 million invested by the Mellon Foundation in the Of the People initiative represents the largest grant from a private foundation in the Library’s history and is among the largest grants that the foundation awarded in its 2020 cycle.

“We are proud to support Carla Hayden and the Of the People initiative as the Library of Congress envisions and implements new ways to connect all Americans with its unparalleled resources,” said Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. “The Library of Congress is the people’s public library, and we are delighted that it will engage diverse and inclusive public participation in expanding our country’s historical and creative records.”

News, stories and opportunities related to the initiative will be shared on a new blog related to this new initiative in the months and years ahead. Subscribe for updates at blogs.loc.gov/OfThePeople.

The Of the People initiative accomplishes these objectives through three programs: community documentarians working with the American Folklife Center; internships and fellowships for students from minority-serving institutions; and a digital futures program that combines the power of technology with the Library’s digital collections to help communities engage with the Library in ways that have never before been possible.

These are the grant’s main programs:

Community Documentarians with the American Folklife Center

The American Folklife Center will expand its collection by funding and supporting individuals and organizations in collecting and archiving contemporary community-driven cultural expressions and traditions. The Library will offer fellowships to individuals to work within their communities to produce ethnographic cultural documentation, such as oral history interviews and audio-visual recordings of cultural activity, from the community perspective. The center will archive and showcase this fieldwork.

Internship and Fellowships for Students from Minority-Serving Institutions.

The Library will expand internship opportunities and enhance outreach to students attending historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, Tribal colleges and universities and institutions that serve Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The internship and fellowship programs offered will provide experiential learning opportunities to develop a new generation of diverse talent for cultural heritage organizations. The Library has begun work in this area by creating new training opportunities through a pilot program with Howard University.

The Connecting Communities Digital Initiative

A digital strategy program will encourage creators in minority communities to combine Library materials with technology to connect Americans with a more expansive understanding of our past and future. Grants to cultural heritage institutions, community colleges and minority-serving institutions will support engagement with the Library’s collections in communities exploring their own histories. Through the program, creative people making content like videos, photo collages, new music and digital exhibits will bring to the foreground the experiences of Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and Asian Americans and members of other racial and ethnic minority communities in the documents that comprise the story of our national identity. A scholar-in-residence program will connect experts with the richness of the collection and Library expertise. Projects funded through this program will serve as inspiration for those who want to use the Library’s collections to tell their own story. Together, these and other elements of the program will work to strengthen the Library’s connection to communities of color and help the Library engage with all Americans.

Note: The name of the digital strategy aspect of the Of the People program has been changed to the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative. This page has been updated to reflect the change.

One Comment

  1. John Grim
    January 30, 2021 at 11:58 am

    This is a welcome initiative which I hope will also recognize the need for an integral ecology approach, namely, social and ecological awareness as integrally interwoven, social and ecological justice as central to our path forward, people, biodiversity, and planet as the focus of our affection, knowledge, and action.

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