Since 2017, the Pima County Public Library's Kindred team has been buying books, hosting programs and creating book lists that support and celebrate the Black community.
The initiative grew out of a desire to fill a hole in the library's collections and outreach, says Tenecia Phillips, the chair of Kindred and managing librarian at the Sahuarita Library.
"It really came from the fact that librarianship and library staff is very white and very female-driven, and that's just the profession across the board," Phillips says.
So she started working with another Black library staff member at her branch, talking about work, experiences and books.
"We took it upon ourselves to fill those holes," Phillips says. "That's what we're doing: Filling those holes, building better library programming and being visible. Representation matters."
Last year, that meant monthly programming at the Dunbar Pavilion and the One Book, One Community Project with Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower."
Since 2017, the team has also created dozens of book lists showcasing Black authors and featuring Black characters and history. In recent weeks, those lists have spotlighted anti-racist titles, responding to the waves of protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
Phillips says the goal behind the book lists is to give people a manageable place to start learning. She also says she doesn't want all of these books to focus on the negative.
"We need folks to remember, too, that for as trying and as difficult and as violent as our history has been as Black individuals, there is Black excellence and Black love and Black joy," she says. "And we have lists that share that, and we need to get people to read those, too."
Knowledge is power, she says.
"When you have information, you can know more and do better and be better," Phillips says. "And so this can also foster conversation and shift the narrative and change behavior. And that's what we're seeing right now."
Here are a few ways the library can help you start.
Check out the Kindred book lists
The Kindred team has been creating these book lists for years.
"It's part of my own healing process just keeping my head above the water and acknowledging, as a Black woman who works in librarianship and is committed to fighting for social justice and these different things that, I am, in this moment, not OK," she says.
That list is a resource she hopes others can use for their own self care.
"I have to take care of me, so I can take care of my daughter and my community and fight the fight for the time that it needs to be fought," she says. "And that includes taking care of yourself physically and mentally."
Another new list, So You're Hear to Talk About Racism showcases Black authors.
"If your goal is to learn more about the Black community and individual experiences with racism, start with that list, because those books are written by Black authors and that centers the Black voice," Phillips says. "Not that the other lists aren't great, but it's important that you start with listening to the people who have been doing this work and are in the community and experiencing it. Stop and take information from them, and then you can move outward."
Start with an audiobook or documentary
Chances are, when you explore these book lists, you're going to encounter some titles with lots of holds on them. Phillips says library staff is working on that. But also, coronavirus is still impacting ordering, processing and shipping.
So in the meantime, place a hold and then peruse the lists for something that is available. Remember, most library branches are offering limited services, so although you can't browse the shelves, you can place holds and pick them up, often curbside.
While you're waiting, check out an audiobook on Black history. This list features audiobooks that are available with no wait time through the RBDigital app. Your library card gives you access.
Kanopy, a free streaming service also available to library card holders, has a number of documentaries about social and systemic injustice that you can watch.
Join a book discussion
At the beginning of this year, Kindred launched a quarterly book discussion to help connect the community to more Black authors.
In March, the Read Black project focused on women. On Saturday, June 27, the book discussion (on Zoom) will be Read Black Pride with a focus on black authors from the LGBTQ community.
The Read Black book discussions are meant to celebrate Black literature, history and culture and are not genre-specific. Phillips says the June 27 book talk will be a round-robin style discussion, so all participants can share books they've read that relate to the theme. Phillips adds they hope to host another themed book discussion in the fall.
"This way we get to share and introduce those in attendance to a possibly new author," Phillips says. "There are a lot of great books and you may never get to know all of them."
For more book lists by the Kindred team, visit library.pima.gov/kindred.
Read Black Pride is Saturday, June 27, 1-3 p.m. on Zoom. For more information, check out the Facebook event.