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In honor of Frederick Douglass' birthday, Penn Libraries participated in Douglass Day 2024 on Feb. 14, where Penn community members attempted to transcribe all of Douglass' letters in one day.

Credit: Chenyao Liu

Penn Libraries is featuring several collections of books and DVDs to commemorate Black History Month and highlight the achievements, contributions, and history of Black Americans.

This year, Van Pelt Library curated a ten-piece collection of books and DVDs that highlight Black authors and filmmakers, with topics ranging from jazz music to community activism. Penn Libraries is also presenting a special exhibition on the history of Black communities in relation to Mercy-Douglass Hospital and the Nurse Training School in Philadelphia. 

The Van Pelt collection is located on the first floor of the Library center, next to the “New Books'' section. The multifaceted collection includes titles such as “Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story,” edited by Willard Jenkins, and “One Night in Miami,” directed by Regina King. 

The collection draws from both Van Pelt Library and LIBRA, Penn's Research Annex in New Jersey. Head of Collection Management for Van Pelt Library Eileen Kelly said that the selection is a result of collaboration among library staff, who frequently suggest books that they have handled. 

She highlighted the importance of continuously encountering new books, adding that the curation of the Black History month collection is one of her favorite parts of her role. 

“This is just a labor of love for me," Kelly said.

In the past, Penn Libraries has featured a list of print books, e-books, videos, and streamable audio to commemorate Black History Month. It has also hosted Black authors such as Ashley Bryan, who has published more than 50 children's books on African culture and the experiences of Black Americans. 

Kelly said that she hopes the featured collections will continue honoring historically marginalized voices. 

"We want to honor and celebrate the great achievements that we have seen throughout American history," Kelly said.  

In addition to Van Pelt Library, Holman Biotech Commons is honoring Black History Month with a display on the history of Mercy-Douglass Hospital and Nurse Training School in Philadelphia. Mercy-Douglass was the merger of the first two fully Black-led hospitals in Philadelphia. However, due to funding inequalities that played part in the lack of supplies and consistent training, Mercy-Douglass has been closed since 1973. 

Jessica Martucci, the head curator for The Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, said that this collection came about after the center hosted a screening of a short documentary on the hospital. Staff and students engaged in a Q&A discussion panel with the filmmaker and Philadelphia native Karen Smyles, who utilized Penn’s extensive catalog and records on Mercy-Douglass. 

"I wanted to make sure that something could live on longer beyond just that one afternoon of a program," Martucci said. 

The exhibit consists of many photographs of African American nurses attending school and participating in medical procedures. Martucci highlighted the importance of the display given that many students may not be familiar with the history of Black hospitals. 

"There's value in learning more about our relationship to the city around us, as students and people at Penn," she said. "And then, from a healthcare history perspective, thinking about how this history of segregation and racism in healthcare professions was really not that long ago, right? How do we think about the implications of that for today?"

Martucci said that there are certain pieces, such as attendance records and handwritten documents, that she was not able to include in the display yet provide additional insight into this history. She encouraged interested students to dive deeper into the topic of segregation in hospitals and the history of Mercy-Douglass.

The Van Pelt Library exhibit will be up over spring break, and the Mercy-Douglass Exhibit in Biotech Commons is on display until March 29th.