Cornell University Library

John Henrik Clarke Africana Library

History of the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library

History of the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library

Reprinted from: Black Caucus of the ALA Newsletter, vol. XXIV, No. 5 (April, 1996), p. 11.

The John Henrik Clarke Africana Library is a special library located within Cornell University's Africana Studies and Research Center. The library is one of nineteen units of the University Library system, and offers a full range of services. Its collection of volumes focuses on the social and political dimensions of the history and culture of peoples of African ancestry. It supports the curriculum of the Africana Studies and Research Center and sustained, independent study. Included here are basic books, complete collections of works of important writers, and highly selective research materials that complement the collections housed in Cornell University's research libraries. The Africana Library's documentation collection contains valuable primary source materials, including copies of rare monographs, manuscripts, newspapers, and journal publications on microfilm and microfiche. Those resources focus on especially important material on the American civil rights and Black Power movements.

The Africana Center was founded in 1969 following black student protests on the Cornell Campus. One notable event involved black students depositing hundreds of books at the undergraduate library circulation desk and denouncing them as irrelevant to their experiences. Historically, the faculty of the Africana Studies and Research Center has always had a strong commitment towards maintaining its own library. The Africana Center included a library when it was first established. Later, after its building was destroyed by arsonists (April 1, 1970), it garnered funds from the university and local community to replace materials lost from its library collection. Once it relocated to its present site the library was prominently established near the building's entrance.

In the late 1970s there was heated debate on campus about relocating the Africana Center once more. Because it's location was some distance away from central campus (approximately 20 minutes walking time) and many of its courses were taught at the Center, some considered the Africana Studies program too segregated. A number of more central locations were proposed for relocation. In the end these were rejected because they entailed substantial reductions in space. Ultimately, the Center's fledgling library benefited from this consequence. A reduction in space would have affected collection size and overall growth.

During 1984-85 the Africana Center and University Library reached an agreement to transfer the library administratively to the University Library. Faculty of the Africana Studies & Research Center named the library in honor of Dr. John Henrik Clarke during the summer of 1985. As a distinguished historian, Dr. Clarke was instrumental in establishing the Africana Center's curriculum in the 1970s and taught courses in black history at Cornell. Several years later, in 1990, the Africana Center and University Library collaborated to raise $50,000 to renovate the library's space and enhance the overall level of service. The John Henrik Clarke Africana Library now occupies most of the lower level of the Africana Center's three-story building. A third of this space is shared with a graduate student lounge and a computer lab. All of the library's holdings are included in the University Library's online catalog, and the Africana Library itself houses several online catalog terminals, a circulation terminal, CD-ROM and various audio-visual equipment, and has access to numerous locally networked bibliographic databases.*

*Note: The Africana Library has a new location which opened its doors in January 2005.