Last summer, Stuart Rockoff, who serves as executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council, reached out to officials from the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal and Forrest County to gauge their interest on an “Anti Racism Reading Shelf,” a selection of books aimed at addressing the problem of racism in society.
Library director Sean Farrell immediately jumped on board, and with the help of a grant from the council, the library recently unveiled the new shelf, which features approximately 100 books that explore systemic racism, the history of white supremacy and how America as a nation can strive to create a racially equitable society. The shelf, which was made available Jan. 11, is located on the second floor of the library.
“As the title of the shelf suggests, (these books) could really help face historic and contemporary racism, and confront the racism that has and does exist in our society,” Farrell said. “To me, there’s little else that is a more direct conflict with the values that our country was founded on than racism.
“We’re founded on ‘all men are created equal,’ we’re founded on ‘liberty and justice for all,’ and of course racism is the antithesis of that. So we’re very excited about the opportunity to participate (in this shelf).”
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.
“The humanities council supplied us with a list of about 100 books to choose from to spend $1,000 on,” Farrell said. “I was happy to see that we already had maybe a third of those books in our collection, which indicates we had already considered this an important issue, and we were able to purchase additional books.
“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. I’ve also ordered a few audiobooks in our CloudLibrary digital download (app) as well, for folks that aren’t as text-minded.”
So far, the new collection has proven to be popular with library staff and patrons alike.
“People have adopted it even before there’s been even any publicity or anything like that,” Farrell said. “We put up the books and some signage, and immediately books are flying off the shelf.”