Brown is first non-HBCU invited to join national HBCU Library Alliance

The University is the newest member of a nationwide alliance dedicated to preserving and advancing the scholarly and institutional library collections of historically Black colleges and universities.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University is the newest member of a nationwide alliance dedicated to preserving and advancing the scholarly and institutional library collections of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Brown is the first non-HBCU member institution invited to join the HBCU Library Alliance, which was founded two decades ago to support collaboration among library professionals who provide resources to strengthen HBCUs and support their academic communities.

Brown Librarian Joseph Meisel said the University’s addition to the alliance marks the beginning of what is expected to become an enduring, mutually beneficial partnership — one that offers myriad learning opportunities for library professionals and broader communities of students, faculty and staff at Brown and at HBCUs across the country.

“We are deeply honored to be the first non-HBCU member of this important alliance,” Meisel said. “This partnership will allow Brown to advance its approach to collecting, sharing and presenting its vast holdings with an eye toward centering African American stories that have long been overlooked. Brown and the HBCU alliance share common threads in our missions, and we believe we can enrich each other and become stronger together.”

Membership in the HBCU Library Alliance will open the door to exciting new opportunities for students, faculty and library staff at Brown, Meisel said. The alliance facilitates internships for students interested in library science careers, convenes professional development for library administrators and kickstarts collaborative research ventures. 

Collaborating with HBCUs will enrich us beyond measure. ...That community, in all its richness, is now open to us, a partner we can learn from.

Amanda Strauss Associate University Librarian for Special Collections

But perhaps the biggest benefit to Brown lies in the chance it now has to learn from the unique ways in which HBCUs curate and share their holdings. 

“Collaborating with HBCUs will enrich us beyond measure,” said Amanda Strauss, associate University librarian for special collections. “We must recognize that we are of course an information service, but also a site of scholarship and a service to the wider community beyond Brown. HBCUs have thought of their libraries in this way for some time. Their libraries are sacred spaces that lovingly preserve the legacy of African Americans in order to empower future generations. That community, in all its richness, is now open to us, a partner we can learn from.”

Sandra Phoenix, director of the HBCU Library Alliance, sees Brown’s new membership as a mutually beneficial partnership and one that will open doors for HBCUs much in the way it will do so for Brown. She said Brown stands out among other universities for its openness to collaboration, including directly with HBCUs, pointing to its decades-long partnership with Tougaloo College, a historically Black college in Jackson, Mississippi.

“I see Brown not only as a partner in a shared mission, but as a benefactor of our work together,” Phoenix said. “I know that Brown and the HBCU Library Alliance have much to learn from and share with each other regarding our work and communities.”

Meisel and Strauss said they hope the University’s membership can play a role in assisting the alliance’s libraries to diversify and strengthen their collections. Brown’s libraries are home to a number of active projects aimed at amplifying essential historical contributions of African Americans on the Brown campus more broadly. Staff are digitizing speeches given on campus by Civil Rights leaders, cataloguing the 50-year-old archive of the University’s Rites and Reason Theatre, and working with Brown’s Harambee House — a community space centered on issues important to the Black community at Brown — to preserve historical materials and devise new ways to bring forgotten voices to the fore in existing collections.

Already, library staff said, the alliance has facilitated connections between the HBCU and Brown communities.  As part of the alliance’s summer conservation and preservation internship program, Michelle Venditelli, head of conservation, preservation and the Library Annex, and Andrew Majcher, head of digital services and records management at the library, mentored Camryn Johnson, a junior at Hampton University, as she worked on a project sewing book supports for her university library. Over the course of the summer, Johnson, Venditelli and Majcher met for a series of interactive webinars focused on preservation in libraries, and the staff provided guidance as needed for Johnson’s project.

“Forging partnerships like this alliance membership helps to make clear the vital role we must play in the community, at Brown and beyond,” Strauss said. “We’re not just a marble building on top of a hill — everyone belongs here, and this material belongs to the public.”

Created in 2002 by deans and directors of HBCU libraries, and incorporated in 2006, the HBCU Library Alliance is home to approximately 105 members across the U.S. Brown’s membership marks the first non-HBCU addition to the alliance since a 2017 bylaws change to opened membership to non-HBCU institutions by invitation only.

Potential non-HBCU members include institutions that have previously partnered with or supported the HBCU Library Alliance’s mission of developing leaders, preserving collections and planning for the future of HBCUs.

“At this very critical time is our nation’s history, diversifying the membership base will continue to enhance opportunities to develop meaningful collaborative relationships and forge new strategic partnerships that will further demonstrate the value of the HBCU Library Alliance community,” Phoenix said.