With Powell Library, a cherished campus hub for intellectual curiosity, closed indefinitely, UCLA librarians wanted to create a virtual version of the genre-organized book stacks that line the perimeter of the library’s main reading room.
Before the pandemic, Bruins would visit the massive 275-seat space — a Romanesque Revival marvel — both to study and explore these reading collections, ranging from finance to travel and anime. Now, during safer-at-home orders, there’s an interactive digital platform for discovering institutional resources: the Powell Library Community Collections.
In November, the collection’s initial reading list was Highlighting Black Authors and Creators, addressing the national reckoning around racial inequality.
For this collection, UCLA librarians contributed subject-area expertise, selecting genres that went beyond the cultural critiques on “must-read” lists in the wake of last spring’s Black Lives Matter protest movement. Hosted on Adobe Spark, the community collections are organized into science fiction and fantasy, cookbooks and food culture, travel writing, recent fiction and video games.
The list includes works by leading African American writers, such as:
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s “Mycroft Holmes”
- Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower”
- Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Water Dancer”
Lesser-known voices are also represented, including:
- Camille Acker’s “Training School for Negro Girls”
- Zinzi Clemmons’ “What We Lose”
- Tété-Michel Kpomassie’s “An African in Greenland”
- Noo Saro-Wiwa’s “Looking for Transwonderland”
“If there is one silver lining to the strange and stressful past year, it’s been the renewed — and this time, hopefully, sustained — focus on how Black Americans have shaped this country, and finding areas where their voices have been overlooked or silenced,” said Ashley Peterson, research and instruction librarian. “We hope that this exhibition can contribute to these efforts, as well as show us, the librarians who make purchasing decisions, how our collections might fall short when it comes to representing diverse perspectives.”
The Powell Library Community Collections reflect the hybridized resources that Bruins are currently using to advance their coursework and research, which the UCLA Library actively empowers. Materials are a mix of print, now accessible through the library’s page and pickup service; e-resources requiring UCLA authentication, such as the HathiTrust Digital Library; and web-based content, which reflects the library’s commitment to open access scholarship.
“When choosing individual works to highlight, each contributor used their own unique knowledge of their collection areas and also followed a loose template of selecting some print items to remind folks that print books are still great, some readily accessible digital content [e-books, streaming videos, etc.] and some freely available resources to facilitate further exploration on a given topic [websites, podcasts, etc.],” said Peterson.
“Historically, librarians worked with student groups and nurtured student curators to build thematic collections that evolved over time,” explained Simon Lee, librarian and collections coordinator. “The overarching goal for the community collections is to support and promote student intellectual growth, health and well-being, and creativity. With the online collections, we have responded to and are informed by current events, shaping and developing collections to meet the needs of our users.”
The idea for the initiative came about from a conversation between Lee and Peterson, who wanted to hybridize a reading list with a digital exhibition. The community collections selection team, which also includes Powell librarians Salma Abumeeiz, Katherine Kapsidelis and Sylvia Page, decided to launch the initiative with Black authors and creators.
As primarily remote teaching and learning is scheduled to continue through the spring quarter, the Powell Library selection team has decided that its next online collection will focus on books and resources for enjoying life at home.
“Powell’s main reading room used to be — and will be again — a hub that encourages serendipitous discovery, exploration and learning,” Peterson said. “While our connections are physically remote, we hope that these digital exhibits can spark some of the same experience. We also hope that our collections and these exhibits will become more collaborative and more representative of the entire UCLA community.”