Around the middle of last year, officials from the Mississippi Humanities Council communicated with libraries around the state to ensure that librarians would be able to effectively respond to the national conversation of racism in America.
In doing so, the council awarded the Lamar County Library System a $1,000 grant that enabled all four branches of the system to institute an Anti-Racism Reading Shelf, a selection books aimed at addressing the problem of racism in society. The shelves, which are available now, feature approximately 120 books that explore systemic racism, the history of white supremacy and how America as a nation can strive to create a racially equitable society.
“It’s just amazing, at a time like this, to just be able to say, ‘Okay, we’ve had this flat budget year – what are we going to be able to do?’” said Diane DeCesare Ross, director of the Lamar County Library System. “One of my staff members had done some research and realized that we were a little low on our books that might help with anti-racism.
“So just to be able to respond has been good, and we’re done with our budget.”
The MHC worked with the Mississippi Library Commission and humanities scholars to develop a list of suggested books for all ages regarding systemic racism. The list includes works by distinguished scholars, as well as contemporary Mississippi writers of fiction and memoir.
The books can be found at the Sumrall, Purvis, Lumberton and Oak Grove branches of the Lamar County Library System.
“They offered this funding, and let us know that they had a list of books that we could choose from – we didn’t have to, but they had prepared a list that had been recommended,” Ross said. “I was so happy that we did get the application out, and they awarded us $1,000, which is a good chunk of money for something like this.
“So we’ve spent the time since then purchasing the books and getting them catalogued. Now they’re out on the shelves and ready for people to see.”
Because the books on the Anti-Racism Reading Shelf have just been made available, library officials haven’t yet received much feedback on the initiative, but Ross expects that to change soon.
“Judging from what people have asked for in the past, I think they will be (popular),” she said.
Funds to support the Anti-Racism Reading Shelf program – which has been instituted in several libraries across Mississippi – come from the National Endowment for Humanities, as well as private donations from Mississippians.
Back in January, officials from the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal and Forrest County received the same grant from he MHC, enabling an Anti-Racism Reading Shelf at that library.
“This really gives us an opportunity to put a laser focus on the issue of racism – the fact that it’s there, and the fact that as a society, it’s really incumbent on us to do something about it,” director Sean Farrell said. “I’ve also ordered a few audiobooks in our CloudLibrary digital download (app) as well, for folks that aren’t as text-minded.”