Preserving the history of the black university library


The Robert W. Woodruff Library at University Center Atlanta serves the oldest and largest consortium of historically black colleges and universities.

The successes of more than 100 libraries participating in the Alliance of Historic Colleges and Universities (HBCU) libraries — involving institutions in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands — are captured through the organization. Preserving Project Our History ”. The two-year effort is funded by a $ 70,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded to the alliance in January 2011. The goal is to document and disseminate the history of the alliance, to showcase member successes, contribute to literature on libraries and HBCUs. , and provide a collaborative model for other libraries, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean.

The HBCU Library Alliance, a consortium that promotes collaboration among information professionals and excellence in library leadership, was established in 2002 and continues to provide a range of training and development opportunities for institutions. members, including photographic preservation, reports, reviews and leadership workshops.

So far, the project has documented nine successes. Here are two of those stories: that of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and the University Center of Atlanta.

Meeting academic needs

The University of the Virgin Islands has campuses in Saint-Thomas and Sainte-Croix and welcomes more than 2,600 students. Founded in 1962, UVI is the only HBCU and the only higher education establishment in the territory.

St. John, the most northeastern island, does not have a college campus. UVI students who live there must travel to the westernmost port of the island, take the ferry to St. Thomas, then take land transport (called “safaris”) to get to classes, a hike that can last four hours each way. It is also expensive for students with modest budgets.

Following its inauguration in March 2010, UVI President David Hall made it a priority to connect with students and community members in St. John as well as St. Thomas and St. Croix. “When I got to UVI, I made a commitment to find the answer to this problem,” said Hall. He traveled to St. John to find out firsthand the experiences of the students and met with residents to discuss other barriers, including the lack of regular access to a library and quiet study spaces.

These discussions led to the creation of a learning center on the island, the St. John Academic Center. UVI obtained funding through an HBCU Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act grant from the US Department of Education. Tina Koopmans, director of information at UVI, along with the library and computer staff, developed a plan for the center and found a location in a major shopping district in St. John. The center, a redesigned gymnasium, set a new standard for university centers: accessible and integrated into the contours of everyday life.

Students can now take courses via video conference at the St. John Academic Center, where a computer lab, small library and other electronic resources are available to them. The center has the capacity of several daily courses from a catalog of 43 offered each semester. Although not a full-service campus, the center allows students to reduce their weekly trips between the islands.

With more time to study and less money for travel, student enrollment increased in one semester. “We have seen an increase in our St. John student population from 37 to 47, and we are only at the beginning of that process,” Koopmans reported.

“A lot of our students come to UVI unprepared for college courses,” said Judith Rogers, Manager of Learning Resources and Faculty Technology Services. “The library provides unique resources and strategies to help students develop as they should. The center plans to rotate staff with librarians trained in information technology.

“The university community is attached to St. John,” said President Karl Wright. “It is in our strategic interest to serve all three islands, including Saint-Jean. In the immediate future, UVI plans to create an adult bridging program for returning learners and to increase the number of course offerings.

Rogers recognized the importance of the HBCU Library Alliance in supporting the goals of the UVI library and campus: “Our librarians have been challenged to take on leadership roles to adapt to the changing needs of students. , by applying what they have learned from leadership institutes.

Plan it and they will come

The Robert W. Woodruff Library at University Center Atlanta (AUC) serves the oldest and largest HBCU consortium: Clark Atlanta University, the Interfaith Theological Center, Morehouse College, and Spelman College. With approximately 8,700 students and 700 faculty members, these institutions make up the Atlanta University Center.

Established in 1982 to enrich the academic environment of the AUC, the library was not fully integrated into the community for many years, largely due to communication issues, including the lack of image of brand, inconsistent messaging, a dated and incomplete website, and insufficient visibility across all four campuses.

The disconnect between the library and campuses was reflected in faculty and student references to the institution as “the” library as opposed to “our” library. This perception of the library persisted until 2002, when an external review committee produced the Frye Report, which made eight equally strong recommendations for library improvement.

Loretta Parham, Executive Director and Director of the Library, explained that the primary focus was on communications, as the library leadership saw communications as the heart of the organization and the essential means of moving the mission forward. in the library and in the community.

“It was through communications that we were able to secure funding, that faculty and staff became familiar with our programming and correct the misconception that the library had nothing to offer,” Parham explained. “Communication is a catalyst, the heart of transformation. As we faced the challenge, we knew we needed a very concrete plan. We were doing a little bit of everything, and we realized we needed more strategy and focus. “

In 2004, the library’s first strategic plan as an independent, not-for-profit entity was created under the leadership of Carolyn Hart, Deputy Director of Planning, Evaluation and Communications. That same year, the library hired a communications manager.

Since then, the AUC Woodruff Library has made great strides in its communications. He implemented four key strategies: strengthening the visual branding, identifying key messages, creating outlets to effectively disseminate these messages and reinforce the brand image and messages through various channels. The library also began to associate with members of the university community by attending monthly meetings on AUC campuses and actively engaging faculty and students.

The result was threefold: streamlined communications and programming, increased and improved library visibility, and cutting-edge marketing. “Our communications manager recently created a new library brochure featuring a QR code,” Parham said. “This use of technology in our marketing materials is something quite new to our library. It’s another innovative way to communicate with the students and faculty we serve.

Today, Woodruff Library is considered an integral part of the University community, offering an information-rich website, newsletters, and on-site locations for visiting librarians. Teachers and students now understand how the goals of the library intersect with their objectives and recognize the library as theirs.

Although communication materials and strategies have improved significantly, Parham believes there is still room for improvement. She suggests that libraries develop a communications plan that will build buy-in from staff and encourage widespread participation and accountability. Parham also recommends collaborating with other libraries.

“Within the profession there are so many opportunities, and information sharing is at the heart of our business,” said Parham. “Library staff can ask other libraries for examples of great communication ideas and advice. “

When asked to describe the voters’ perception of the role of the Woodruff Library at AUC now, Parham replied, “’Centered’ describes the place and desirability of the library within the University Village, as the heart of intellectual discourse. “

Other projects

The other seven HBCU libraries and success stories that the Library Alliance has documented so far are:

  • Claflin University, Orangeburg, South Carolina: “Establish a successful information literacy program”, which focuses on students and faculty;
  • Delaware State University, Dover: “Support effective research with standardized topic guides” for topic-specific resources;
  • Fayetteville State University (NC): “Safeguarding institutional history through collaboration”, emphasizing preservation;
  • Savannah State University (Ga.): “Innovate to ensure excellent customer service”, which takes a holistic approach to innovation to ensure excellent customer service;
  • Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, Louisiana: “Rationalization of library service points”, with librarians working in all departments;
  • University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Princess Anne: “Create collaborative study spaces”; and
  • Virginia State University, Petersburg: “Preserve Black History and Train a New Generation of Archivists. “

For more information about the project and the participating libraries, visit

SHANESHA RF BROOKS-TATUM, HBCU Library Alliance project coordinator and editor, she holds a PhD from the University of Michigan and is a former postdoctoral fellow at the Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center, where she taught research methods and writing. She is the author of several scientific articles and co-editor of a collection of scientific essays, Reading African American Experiences in the Obama Era: Theory, Advocacy, Activism (Peter Lang Press, 2011). Brooks-Tatum is currently a visiting scholar at the Interfaith Theological Center in Atlanta, where she is working on a book on Christian hip-hop music and teaching a graduate course on gender, race, and religion in hip-hop.


Comments are closed.