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Mellon Foundation to fund diversity programs at Library of Congress
Thomas Jefferson Building. Photo by Shawn Miller.

by Colin Moynihan

WASHINGTON (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The Library of Congress is starting an initiative to expand its collection, encourage diversity among future librarians and archivists and make it easier for members of minority groups to explore the library’s digital archives.

The program will be instituted over the next four years and is funded with a $15 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, part of a shift by the foundation toward issuing art and humanities grants through what it has called “a social justice lens.”

The library also described the move, called “Of the People: Widening the Path,” as part of a larger plan to help the institution by building on a commitment to collect and preserve more “underrepresented perspectives and experiences,” according to a news release, and inviting new generations to participate in creating and sharing vital cultural materials.

In doing so, “we invest in an enduring legacy of the multifaceted American story that truly is ‘Of the People,’” Carla Hayden, the librarian of Congress, said in a statement.

The initiative will be carried out in three ways — through the library’s American Folklife Center, through outreach to students at universities and colleges, and with grants to cultural heritage institutions.

The Folklife Center will have fellowships to produce ethnographic documentation of contemporary cultural activities among people whose experiences might not otherwise be included in the national record. (The center includes decades of written records, oral histories and video segments and was designed to document, among other things, “the songs, stories and other creative expressions of people from diverse communities.”)

In addition, the library will increase outreach to students at tribal and historically Black colleges and universities and be involved with institutions and programs that serve Hispanic people, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and will offer internships “to develop a new generation of diverse talent for cultural heritage organizations,” the release said.

The library will also issue grants to cultural heritage institutions that will encourage people to incorporate material from its digital collections into works like photo collages, new music and digital exhibits that explore experiences among people of color.

“The Library of Congress is the people’s public library, and we are delighted that it will engage diverse and inclusive public participation in expanding our country’s historical and creative records,” the Mellon Foundation’s president, Elizabeth Alexander, said in a statement.

Last summer, the foundation, the largest humanities philanthropy in the U.S., said that it was placing greater emphasis in its grant-giving to programs that promote social justice.

One such program plans to spend $5.3 million for what Alexander called “freedom libraries.” Those are 500-book collections of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and other writing that will be sent to 1,000 prisons across the country.

Then, in October, the foundation announced its $250 million Monuments Project, which is meant to help reimagine the country’s approach to monuments and memorials, in an effort to better reflect the nation’s diversity.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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