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From left to right: The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price by Linda Rae Brown, I Don't Want to Die Poor: Essays by Michael Arceneaux, and Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America by Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin are among the several novels featured on the Penn Libraries Black History Month reading list. 

Penn Libraries published a list of featured books for Black History Month, including audio from Ella Fitzgerald and folktales edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Comprised of print books, e-books, videos, and streamable audio, the list of librarian-recommended resources aims to help students explore the works and lives of Black Americans. Penn Libraries decided to include a variety of electronic resources to reach students who are not currently on campus. This year, the selected titles fit an overarching theme of the connections between education and activism.

The list is published online, with electronically accessible resources and print titles available through PickUp@Penn, a service that allows students to reserve books for pickup on the ground floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. 

Head of Collection Management at Van Pelt Eileen Kelly said the featured books initiative aims to highlight the diversity of collections available at Penn Libraries. The 2021 book list represents a new format, with only 10-12 titles accompanied by staff-written blurbs that showcase an aspect of the chosen resource, Kelly said. In previous years, Penn Libraries has created a physical display in the library including a higher number of print books.

Kelly said the featured resources also highlight the various paths to learning, adding that the list intends to encourage learning, growth, and exploration among student readers. She said this concept is particularly present in Katherine Dunham’s biography, which discusses her journey creating an influential pedagogy for teaching dance and becoming one of the first Black women to attend the University of Chicago, where she earned bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in anthropology.

The featured list for Black History Month also contains many pieces that demonstrate the relationship of history to present day, Kelly added.

“History has its place in our everyday lives and we are constantly interacting with history and legacies,” she said. 

Coordinator and Librarian for Humanities Collections Nick Okrent said the United States is still shaped by history today.

“There’s a tradition in the country of cultural institutions not representing everybody who’s a member of the community,” he said. 

Penn Libraries' work is informed by a desire to address and improve upon disparities in representation, while also building a strong collection of national importance, Okrent said. He is involved with Diversity in the Stacks, an initiative started in fall 2019 which aims to expand Penn Libraries' collections that represent minority groups.

Okrent said the librarians are available to answer any questions students seeking to go beyond the highlighted book list may have. Kelly added that the list should serve as a "first stop" for readers interested in the topics and people represented in the list. 

“One thing that I hope is that, in learning about these books that were picked out to be highlighted, people who read the piece come away thinking, 'I don't have to figure it out myself. I can contact a librarian and tell them my interests, and they'll just write me back with some ideas,'” Okrent said.