On July 6th, the Library of Congress hosted the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI)’s Summer Fuse, a hybrid event which celebrated the initiative’s inaugural grantees. CCDI is a four-year program encouraging creative uses of the Library’s digital collections to center the histories, lives and experiences of Black, Indigenous, Hispanic or Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander and other communities of color in the United States. CCDI is part of the Mellon grant-funded, Library-wide Of the People: Widening the Path program.
The event brought together members from the initiative’s advisory board, grantees, a cohort of Junior Fellows, Library staff, and audience members who participated in-person and virtually. While you will find some highlights from the event here, you can also view a video recording of the event online.
The event opened with remarks from Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, who expressed that being at the event was “seeing the manifestation of an idea of making the Library of Congress relevant, useful, and inspiring for everyone in this country.” She said that this work was not just about opening up the Library’s “treasure chest,” but also about adding to it. Judith Conklin, the Library’s chief information officer, followed, saying “Amazing things can be done when we invite people to push the boundaries of technology to unlock new ways of seeing and experiencing the Library’s collections.”
The CCDI Grantees’ Work
During the event, the CCDI grantees presented on their projects and shared more about their upcoming work.
Scholar-in-Residence: Maya Cade
Maya Cade, the creator and curator of Black Film Archive, believes that “love and tenderness… can change the trajectory of our lives.” She created the Black Film Archive during the wake of the protests against the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and wanted to respond to “a growing question among Black Americans: how does the media, especially film, represent our history?” Cade asked: “Can there ever be an accurate memorialization of our lives?”
In her work, Cade’s main concern is “centering Black people’s film knowledge.” She takes on a variety of roles as the creator of Black Film Archive, from developing the content to driving the artistic direction of the film repository. As a grantee for CCDI, she has engaged with staff from the Moving Image Research Center, which provides access to the Library’s motion picture and television collections. She plans to explore a myriad of collections, including the Alice Guy Blaché Film Collection and the Black Films Collection.
As part of her work as the inaugural CCDI Scholar-in-Residence, Cade will build out the Black Film Archive using the Library’s resources, create a filmography of tenderness of Black film from early film history until today, and engage the public through touch points. Cade also plans to create a short film that captures conversations between herself and Black filmmakers about “how tenderness has shaped their work.”
Libraries, Archives, and Museums Recipient: Kenton County Public Library
Kenton County Public Library (KCPL)’s project team, made up of Ann Schoenenberger, phrie, and Jameela Salaah, shared that their project, “Crafting Stories, Making History: The African American Experience in Covington, KY,” aims to tell the full story of the Eastside neighborhood and Black life in North Kentucky. phrie, who describes the team’s work as a collective community research project, notes that the Library’s collections will help their community “explore whose stories we need to care for.”
During their presentation, the team introduced the community of Covington, Kentucky to the audience, highlighting local places with deep historical meaning. phrie, the team’s Artist-in-Residence, has a personal connection to the work—her aunt, Patricia Humphries Fann, was the founder and publisher of a local Covington newspaper called Suspension Press. The team hopes to not only digitize articles from the Suspension Press, but to also connect it with stories found in the Library’s vast newspaper holdings, including Chronicling America.
As part of the project, the team will engage with a variety of Library of Congress collections, including Quilts and Quiltmaking in America from 1978 to 1996, Kentucky Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture, among others. The team also found inspiration from many of the Library’s various activities and resources, such as Primary Source Sets, Classroom Materials, and Resources for Family Engagement.
Ann Schoenenberger, digital librarian for KCPL, provided an overview of their project activities, including: community history fellowships; monthly community events; mini-grants to support Eastside residents in building skills for community research; and more. Schoenenberger also outlined a public library series that will connect people to the Library’s collections through books and stories.
Jameela Salaah, a partner and program manager for The Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington, highlighted the team’s upcoming community events, such as Covington’s annual “Old Timers” event, where a community resident will capture intergenerational stories during the community celebration. The team will also partner with Learning through Art to spark truth and reconciliation through community conversations. These project activities will culminate in a Spring 2023 Community Exhibit that will celebrate the Black Eastside Community, showcase the project’s work, and recognize community residents who continue to preserve the history of Covington and Eastside.
Higher Education Recipient: Huston-Tillotson University
Huston-Tillotson University’s project, “Harlem Renaissance Meets Huston-Tillotson University,” focuses on highlighting connections between Austin, Texas and the Harlem Renaissance. Bree’ya Brown, project lead, said that the project aims to emphasize the legacies of Black culture and education in the United States by means of exploring archival materials owned by the Library and Huston-Tillotson University, a Historically Black University.
Brown, who also serves as the university archivist, emphasized that the “student body population is a vital entity that contributes to a collaborative narrative that spans generations.” However, “despite this compelling legacy in conjunction with technologies and digital resources, H-T’s student population experiences are not widely known.” Through art residencies, instruction, and additional forms of support, the university’s undergraduate students will use creative art forms inspired by the 1920s and 1930s to contribute and share their perspectives. Significantly, the project will center students’ experiences, allowing them to tell their own stories and draw connections between the past and present.
As part of the project, students will engage with a variety of Library materials, including the Van Vechten Collection, Fine Prints Collection, and Zora Neale Hurston Plays. Downs-Jones Library staff also will offer four-month long Artist-in-Residence opportunities for up to eight undergraduate students. Students will also have the opportunity to travel to Washington DC to visit the collections in-person.
A Conversation: A Sense of Place, Space, and Joy
Following the presentations, Erika Gault, a program specialist for the CCDI initiative, moderated a conversation between the grantees to learn more about their project journeys thus far and the motivations behind their work.
Gault asked Bree’ya Brown about the importance of supporting students in connecting the history and the present at Huston-Tillotson University and the Library of Congress. Brown spoke to the importance of centering students, saying: “it is significant to offer a way for students to express themselves in a way they feel is appropriate and to gain better perspective for their future.” Specifically referencing the project’s artist-in-residence program, Brown noted that the program can give students autonomy to connect their experiences with archival materials on their own terms.
Cade said that Black film has the capacity to change the trajectory of our lives. Gault asked: “What does that mean for you in relation to how you make use of the collections or your own work?” Cade replied: “Black film has been seen on a binary lately. When you look to the past, there are more expansive ideas of Blackness that we can gleam from.”
Similarly, for Kenton County Public Library, phrie expressed that a driving force of their work is about “cultivating a sense of place in the Ohio River borderlands and being able to tap into the magic of liminality of being in a border community.” As a resident between two worlds, phrie said that she felt that she had to choose between the geographical identities of Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky. Jameela Salaah agreed that creating a sense of place was significant to her own experience as a Covington resident. She wanted to support people in changing their communities and empower them to feel proud of where they call home.
Advisory Board Panel: Unpacking Accessibility at the Library
Six of the initiative’s nine advisory board members engaged in a lively panel discussion which reimagined how the Library could fulfill its mission in becoming accessible to all Americans. CCDI’s advisory board members include experts from a range of fields whose various experiences center the lives, experiences, and perspectives of communities of color. The panel included Dr. André Brock, Brian Carpenter, Jennifer Ferretti, Dr. Gabrielle Foreman, Bari Talley, and Janet Tom. The panelists were asked to share their digital visions for the Library in 2030. Responses from additional advisory board members–Samip Mallick, Elizabeth Méndez Berry, and Jewon Woo–inspired some of the moderation questions.
Olivia Dorsey, program specialist for the CCDI initiative, served as moderator and opened the conversation, asking a question inspired by one advisory board member’s response: “What would happen if we took the institution out of the Library’s mission and instead made the focal point serving the various critical information needs that Americans have today?”
Dr. Foreman spoke to the methods of collaboration and partnerships the Library could engage in. She said that opening the treasure chest is “a question about how are we accountable to time and place. How do we make ourselves accountable to communities?” Foreman also referenced her work with the transcription of the Mary Church Terrell Papers for Douglass Day. She encouraged the Library to view partnerships through a “temporal arc of belonging” and to consider how it can invite people to think of themselves as having the keys to the treasure chest, rather than inviting them to access those keys.
Tom spoke about the power of storytelling as a way to bring people into the Library. She noted that while working in public libraries, she has noticed that patrons know what the Library of Congress is but do not know that it is open for everyone. She said that you have to tell people that the Library exists and that they can use it. Tom suggested that the Library could create an awareness campaign called “Weaving Your Stories” and enlist the participation of storytellers from a myriad of local communities. Public libraries could participate and share what the Library has to offer with their patrons.
Carpenter touched on his experiences in re-centering organizations towards broader expertise. He said that, for any archival institution, it is the people who form meaningful relationships with the materials. He argues that institutions may wrongly assume that they are the reason why those relationships form. For example, “Often, the institution is clueless that this is occurring,” said Carpenter. For example, he once received a reference request from the office of a First Nation. The requester wanted digital copies of photographs that his institution had sent them in the 1990s. The requestor’s office had published a book with the photographs in them and they knew exactly what collection the records were located in. Carpenter went to the finding aid for the collection and found that most of the photographs had been unidentified. His institution digitized the images and they discovered that a copy of the book was actually located in their collection. The book contained place names and additional information about the photographs, but it had not made its way back to the finding aid.
Ferretti spoke about accessibility as information ethics, being concerned with who has the right to what information and how, access to information technologies, and access to information. She said that “it’s great to talk about what’s digitized and what’s online, but some populations do not have access to phones.” Similarly, Talley spoke to the importance of accessing information to foster a sense of belonging and to access critical information. Talley referenced her work in developing the Sípnuuk repository to manage and share understanding of Karuk history and culture. The repository was built with Mukurtu, an open-source content management system built for and with Indigenous communities to manage and share their cultural heritage. She noted that accessibility does not necessarily mean that everyone gets access to everything. Sometimes materials relating to a community should only be available to that community.
Brock and Ferretti touched on “access to the profession.” Ferretti noted that she never wanted to be a librarian because she didn’t know what librarians did. Since she is now in the profession, she makes sure to tell people what work the profession entails. She said that underlying all of the access issues is the issue of neutrality. Whether designing subject headings, digitizing materials, or designing software, Ferretti says we should design while putting communities of color at the center.
Brock, who describes himself as a “researcher of Black digital life,” has found that “Black people are acutely aware of their information needs and behaviors,” especially when it comes to digital content. He has considered how to access, collect, and store what Black folks talk about every day through the collective social media platform known as Twitter. This content is not limited to the trauma we see unfolding in events of police brutality against Black people, such as Jayland Walker or George Floyd, but also encompasses moments of hilarity and joy. Brock wishes for the Library to chronicle Black life, not only its trauma, but also its pleasures and catharsis in a way that remains accessible for future generations.
One audience member asked: “With regard to these amazing ideas and critiques from the advisors— in addition to supporting the grantees’ projects— is there also an explicit goal to document gaps in the collections, types of use that aren’t yet supported, and other barriers they encounter? If so, how and is there also a commitment to collections and access work based on those findings?” Hayden emphasized that “this is not just a one-off thing. This is giving us the foundation, the research, the proof-of-concept, to have things institutionalized and to move forward. There is a commitment to make sure that this continues and is part of what the Library of Congress does.”
Marya McQuirter, program director, closed by emphasizing that this event is only the beginning for CCDI and encouraged audience members to stay tuned.
Watch the video recording to learn more about the grantees’ projects and to hear from both panels as they discuss additional topics such as: ways to disrupt gatekeeping and build trust in communities; the value of creating ethics as an institution; and how to cultivate a sense of belonging in your archives.
What did you pick up from the conversation? What are you looking forward to seeing from the grantees’ work? Let us know in the comments!
Learn more about CCDI
Curious about the CCDI and the Library’s historic Of the People initiative? Learn more on the Of the People website. For more updates on CCDI, subscribe to the Of the People blog.