TAMPA, Fla. — The African American Experience in Florida is a new collection by The University of South Florida Libraries.
Project leaders say they were paying attention to what happened last year when George Floyd was killed and the protests that followed across the country.
“As librarians, we have as our reasons for being, the collecting of materials. We organize them and collect them and share them and make them accessible to people,” said Todd Chavez, Dean of USF Libraries.
They wanted to use their talents and pull their resources together to create a meta-collection that could help provide context to the Black experience.
“We could potentially provide good information to help with the conversation that needs to go on around these issues,” said Chavez.
As the first consolidated university project in the libraries, the librarians all set on a process to gather the materials and organize the collections into six different themes.
- Black-owned businesses
- The community
- The arts
- General history
“Those are the six areas where we felt we had the greatest strength to offer in this meta collection. Individually those collections were interesting and strong, but collectively, it’s a much different product that we’re really proud of,” said Chavez.
The information in this collection ranges from racism against African Americans and the history of injustice to their families, cultures, and communities in the state.
“Very interesting stories of the daily lives and experiences of African Americans throughout the state of Florida. Text, images, oral histories. A lot of the material deals with the social injustices that have occurred in the state of Florida, over many years. We even have narratives of previously enslaved people,” said Chavez.
He says they want this collection to contribute to the solution and promote social justice.
“Rather than everyone being reliant on what other people tell them people think, feel, and experience, this is the experiences of people in their own words,” said Chavez.
“It gives you the opportunity to form your own understanding of things without having it interpreted for you,” he added.
Right now, many of the materials in the collection are in their hard copy format. Some of the collection is online for people to access, but for everything else, they created online aids to help you learn about the existence of the other materials.
There are plans to gradually digitize the materials to have the entire collection online.
This is an evolving project that will continue to grow. They hope to open it up to the community so people can contribute their own personal collections to expand the resources and fill in some of the gaps.
“We’d like to create opportunities for individuals to share their collections. There are a lot of personal collections out there,” said Chavez.