This post is cross-posted from the Library blog Of the People: Widening the Path. We are delighted to introduce Marya McQuirter, the new program director for the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI). 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 and other communities of color. To learn more about CCDI, click here.
- You know firsthand what it’s like to do research at the Library of Congress. When did you first use the Library’s collections? What were you working on?
I first used the Library’s collections circa 1989. I was working as a research assistant for Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas, who was the director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Museum & Archives, located on Vermont Avenue near Logan Circle. She had a carrel in the Jefferson Building, and I would order books for her, read newspapers on microfilm in the Newspaper Reading Room and do research in the Manuscript Reading Room. In the mid-1990s, I was a research assistant for Dr. Tera Hunter for her first book, “To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War.” And in the late 1990s, I used the Library’s collections for my dissertation, “Claiming the City: African Americans, Urbanization and Leisure in Washington, DC, 1902-1957.” One of my chapters focused on reading practices. In the section on libraries, I explored how important the Library of Congress was to Washingtonians in the early 20th century because the Library did not have a whites-only policy.
- How did you hear about the Library’s new Of the People program, and what made you interested in joining this particular work?
I first heard about Of the People through a job announcement for the CCDI director position. I was excited about Of the People because I love libraries and archives, and I love the idea of supporting people who want to work with digital materials. Since I have been lucky enough to get grants and other types of support for my own digital humanities projects, I love the idea of being part of a collaborative effort to offer grants to individuals, organizations and institutions to work creatively and imaginatively with digital collections. And, if I’m honest, I probably would have applied for the Artist/Scholar-in-Residence grant if I had not applied for the director position.
- A lot of your work deals directly with DC history. What’s your connection to the nation’s capital?
Yes, that’s true. Most of my work focuses on DC. I rep hard for DC! And that’s because I’m a Washingtonian. I was born and raised in DC and loved my childhood here in the 1970s and 1980s. In those wonderful years, DC became a black-led, progressive and sometimes radical city. Through my different projects, I seek to understand and map how that came to be.
- If you had unlimited time to dive in to just one of the Library’s collections you’ve never explored before, where would you start?
There are so many to choose from. However, instead of a single Library collection, I’d spend time exploring themes or concepts I was interested in and learning how and where those themes and concepts appear across different collections. I’m fascinated not only by the content of individual collections but also how a range of materials end up becoming a collection. Did a person or organization donate their papers? Did a librarian or archivist assemble different items into a collection? Or something else? And what about the items that are not part of collections? So to highlight the fact that collections are made, I’d be interested in digitally assembling, processing and interpreting a range of disparate materials into new temporary collections. How might we think about those materials, as well as collections and collecting, differently through that approach & practice?