From Beinecke Library Director Edwin C. Schroeder, June 10, 2020:
Last week’s Beinecke Library e-newsletter began: Black lives matter. It shared Frederick Douglass’s words, “There can be no virtue without freedom, and no peace without justice.”
With the Yale community and our neighbors, we mourn the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. We affirm: Black lives matter.
Anti-Black racism, state violence, and systems of oppression are real across four centuries in America, over time and in this time. Progress is only possible when Black voices and stories are seen, heard, centered, and honored. As a library, we commit to act in solidarity and to struggle against white supremacy, racism, and prejudice.
The James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, named for a forceful leader for liberation and against racist violence, includes Grace Nail Johnson and his papers along with founding archives entrusted by Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, Gwendolyn Bennett, and many more. Its establishment made Yale Library special collections a place where the voices and stories of Black American writers can be seen and shared across generations. It is an honor to steward such resources that promote critical engagement with the past, in the present, for the future.
Beinecke Library continues to expand the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection with historic and contemporary material. Black voices and stories are included and increasing in other curatorial areas. Access has grown through research and teaching, exhibitions, the digital library, and social media. The Langston Hughes Papers, consistently the single most consulted collection in the library and open to all for research, are an exemplar. Hughes’s life and works, and those of other Black authors, artists, and activists in the collections, have been central to numerous past exhibitions and feature in planned future exhibitions. The trust these writers placed in the library obligates us to do even more to honor their lives and legacies.
As a librarian, I give great importance to writers and to words. Library collections offer resources for learning, reflection, renewal, and advocacy. Their power is witnessed when works of Hughes, Johnson, and others are read, recited, and sung in the streets and shared online, on air, and in print.
Words are essential. Without action, they are insufficient. Racism is systemic and institutionalized. My colleagues and I will examine our work and practices more critically to determine what we can do, how we must change, and how we will hold ourselves accountable.
The reading room and exhibition hall are closed at present due to the pandemic. We look forward to when we can once again welcome all to the physical library. Substantial material is always freely accessible on the digital library. We have added tens of thousands more images while working remotely. When new digitization work resumes on site, we will prioritize efforts to make more material accessible. We will develop new collections guides and teaching aides, refine existing ones, and be an ally and resource for faculty and students. We will intensify work to center Black voices in teaching and research, exhibitions, and digital media.
University Librarian Susan Gibbons has charged us“individually and as a library community to re-examine power structures and confront systems of oppression and the conditions under which they persist.”
We are a part of Yale Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, the nation, and scholarly communities worldwide. We have work to do within Beinecke Library and work to do to strengthen existing partnerships and forge new alliances. With humility, open ears, an active mind, and a resolve to take action and learn from mistakes, I pledge personally and for Beinecke Library: we will work against systemic racism and for a more perfect union.
Edwin C. Schroeder
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library