Library’s event supports curiosity, belonging through Black history archive

The Richmond Public Library hosted its Black History Month Research Assistance, allowing visitors to explore Richmond's Black history through local genealogy, church directories, archived newspapers and more. Photo by Ghailah Nyeanchi.

Ghailah Nyeanchi, Contributing Writer 

“I hope that people take away that Black history is Richmond history and we want all our community members to be represented in our spaces,” said Chloe McCormick, special collections librarian at Richmond Public Library. 

The Richmond Public Library hosted Black History Month Research Assistance on Feb. 5 and 7 and will host it on Feb. 12, 14, 21, 26 and 28 as well. The event occurs in the Richmond Room and is open for walk-in research assistance, according to the library’s website. 

The event will give visitors a chance to explore Richmond’s Black history through local genealogy, church directories, archived newspapers and more, McCormick said. 

The event will also give visitors a chance to complete a guided discovery into their own history, according to McCormick. 

“It’s partially geared toward Black members of the community that have questions,” McCormick said. 

Whether Black history is personal or not, McCormick said she hopes visitors feel comfortable doing research within the collections the library offers. 

“I want people to learn more, whether that’s looking up their family or their neighborhood or just learning more about the city out of curiosity,” McCormick said. 

Though the Black History Month Research Assistance event is sponsored throughout the month, the archival records are available at the Main Library all year, McCormick said. 

“I think one of our strengths is that we’re the first stop for a lot of people,” McCormick said. “Our library has a really low barrier to entry and we want to connect people to the resources they need.” 

Richmond Public Library can also direct visitors with more specific questions to institutions with answers around the city, McCormick said. 

“I think it’s really cool how much information we have to offer,” said Casey Clauberg, library associate at Richmond Public Library. 

Clauberg assists McCormick with displaying, organizing and preserving records, she said. 

“It’s important to delve into a collection of primary sources,” Clauberg said. “Even though digitizations are available on the library website, information on paper is important. Most of the time it tells an unbiased story.” 

The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia donated pieces to be displayed alongside the library’s records, Clauberg said. Clauberg and McCormick worked closely to curate which archival records to display for the Black Research Assistance Event. 

Oliver White Hill, Maggie Walker and Arthur Ashe Jr. were one of the many names of prominent Black leaders featured throughout the Main Library’s collections room.

Periodicals, newspapers and service remembrance pamphlets of Black Richmond leaders were enclosed in glass cases within a hallway of the library. An aged map of the Jackson Ward district sat alongside a yearbook for Virginia Union University dated back to the early 20th century.  

Thick books, peeling with age, lined the shelves of the Special Collections Room ranging from Virginia Black penal laws to literature detailing the plight of slaves during the cotton trade. 

“I think it’s crucial for any library to keep their community in mind during times of cultural remembrance, such as Black History Month,” said Hannah Kilgore, library associate of arts and programming at Richmond Public Library. “Especially since Richmond is the former capital of the Confederacy.” 

We need to actively engage in connecting with that history instead of ignoring it, Kilgore said. 

Kilgore hopes that people feel welcomed and safe at Richmond Public Library and that they come away from the event with a sense of belonging and curiosity, she said. 

“This event allows us to tap into our very diverse city and elevate Black voices and Black history,” Kilgore said. 

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