Little Black Library comes to Lansing

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Library display highlights Black authors, seeks to start discussion

By Josh Bootsma

LANSING, Ill. (February 8, 2021) – Patrons of the Lansing Public Library in the last week may have noticed a new section of the Library called “Little Black Library.” The display of a few dozen books arranged on a series of wooden blocks are not only a display for Black History Month, however. Backed by a nonprofit organization of the same name, the Little Black Library in Lansing the latest site of a growing, nationwide campaign to promote “reading and discussions of literature on antiracism and the Black experience.”

The goal of Little Black Library

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“LBL brings a collection of important books on the Black experience and racial justice to your community. We want to promote deeper engagement on topics of race, identity, and systemic racism through knowledge sharing and discussions,” says the “About” page on LittleBlackLibrary.com, the organization’s website.

By featuring books by Black authors on the Black experience, Little Black Library hopes to provide a means for communities across the country to engage in challenging conversations about race and differences.

Little Black Library
A Little Black Library is now located inside the Lansing Public Library. The display highlights Black authors and the Black experience. (Photo provided)

Lansing roots

Cathy Chukwulebe graduated from TF South in 2010. She’s currently studying to get her Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Harvard Business School. She is a biracial immigrant and started Little Black Library in response to the racially-charged events of last summer. “I started LBL last summer when the egregious cases of violence against Black people fueled many people to start a personal journey towards being actively anti-racist,” she said.

Chukwulebe said she noticed that most of her own education regarding racial issues came primarily through reading and conversation. “Though many books on antiracism were selling out from physical and online bookstores at the time [during the summer of 2020], it would likely not be sustainable,” she said. “Unless there are processes in place to remind people the importance of continuing their allyship, they tend to ‘move on.'”

The Little Black Library is a way for individuals to continue to read and learn about racial justice and the Black experience, and Chukwulebe hopes the initiative will allow people in places like Lansing to “grow together and catalyze action within our communities.”

A library within a library?

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Although there are 10 Little Black Libraries so far across the country, the one in Lansing is the first located in an actual library. The other locations follow a model similar to “Little Free Libraries,” where interested readers take a book and leave a book as they see fit. Though that method has seen success, says Chukwulebe, it involves significant maintenance work and oversight.

The easier solution, and one the nonprofit organization is hoping will spread, is to partner with local public libraries. “The benefit of having a LBL in a public library is that these books are on display front and center for anyone looking to learn about racial justice or the Black experience,” said Little Black Library board member and 2019 TF South graduate Jadyn Newman. She says the initiative is a great way for public libraries to highlight the best Black authors and bring about meaningful conversation.

Little Black Library
Lansing Youth Librarian Associate Jadyn Newman was instrumental in bringing the Little Black Library to Lansing. (Photo provided)

Newman is on the board of Little Black Library with seven other women from across the country, and says the organization is excited to use the Lansing Public Library as a prototype for what she hopes is the first of many library partnerships. “Eventually, LBL will use Lansing as a model to encourage libraries nationwide to create their own Little Black Library displays,” Newman said. Newman works at the Lansing Public Library as a Youth Library Associate and was instrumental in bringing the Little Black Library to the location.

Blackness and books

Unlike the Little Free Libraries ubiquitous in areas like the north side of Chicago, Little Black Libraries have criteria about what books are included. A base foundation of books is available on the organization’s website, and is broken up into categories.

“We are continuing to curate a wide-ranging list of books for all ages and of all genres. The current list includes social commentary, antiracism literature, memoirs, young adult fiction, children’s books, and many other books featuring Black protagonists and by Black authors,” said Chukwulebe.

Some of the books include “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.

The books can be checked out from the Lansing Library like any other library book.

Diverse books for a diverse Lansing

Jadyn Newman speaks at a peaceful protest on June 13, 2020. (Photo: Dan Bovino)

“Reading is something incredibly important to me, and as a Black person, it can be hard to locate books about Black people, by Black people,” Newman said. “Working to promote these titles that are sometimes difficult to find and placing them on display for all to see, read, and experience is beyond exciting.”

“Public libraries have long been a place where everyone is welcome: a place where accessibility and diversity are valued. By creating a display of books about the Black experience, the library aims to serve our diverse community of Lansing, which is over 40% African American,” she said.

Chukwulebe said that although she’s ten years removed from Lansing, she sees improvement in the area when it comes to racial justice, and hopes the Little Black Libraries can help that process. “When I hear news about dissolving the TF South ‘Rebels’ mascot, which has been a long-time nod to the Confederacy, I’m hopeful that we are heading in a new direction,” she said.

Newman agreed, and said that although much good has been done, there’s still work to do. “[The] drive to improve racial justice, even just within TF South, has greatly impacted me and, likely, many other students and alumni,” she said. “I would love to see a similar drive from local leadership, within other institutions around Lansing. I would love to see intentional movement towards antiracism across the community, through meaningful support of the people of color in our town. I believe Lansing often chooses to pretend we don’t have a problem with racism within our community. Once we recognize that we have a lot of work to do, it will make the shift towards equity in our neighborhoods and the experience of people of color much better.”

The Lansing Public Library is located at 2750 Indiana Avenue, Lansing, IL.

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