Harvard Library hosted an event celebrating the reopening of Widener Library’s West Stacks Reading Room as a space with new artwork devoted to equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging, and antiracism on Tuesday morning.
As part of a month-long Faculty of Arts and Sciences initiative to celebrate the lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, the updated space now features artwork and literature representing marginalized groups, including works on disabilities, abolitionist history, and LGBTQ+ experiences.
Martha J. Whitehead, Harvard Library vice president and University librarian, shared her excitement for the reopening of the West Stacks Reading Room and future aspirations for the library.
“We’re excited by this opportunity to highlight our values in the very heart of Harvard Library, as we aspire to be a truly antiracist research library and a center of knowledge that addresses issues of bias and minimizes all forms of oppression,” Whitehead said in her opening statement.
Whitehead said the team sought to provide works that intersect issues of race and ethnicity with other experiences and backgrounds.
“We decided to focus on intersectionality across race and ethnicity to specifically help us learn more holistically about people’s experiences. Each subject contains works written by or about marginalized experiences from around the world, and we will continue to add materials overtime,” said Jerome Offord, Jr., the associate University librarian for antiracism.
“Within each subheading in the room, it has voices from all races, ethnicities, and people,” Offord said in an interview after the event. “We want it to really be about how we all belong holistically, and not just race or specific gender, but how we all have intersectional personal lives.”
MarQuis Bullock, a former Harvard Library intern, said in an interview following the event that the team aimed to innovate upon a traditional reading room.
“Our overall vision was to create a space of radical openness, a place of radical possibility.” Bullock said. “That would be a departure from what we normally think of when it comes to library spaces.”
Matthew Berdon, another former intern at the library, said the team sought to highlight media that takes on innovative forms.
“We really wanted to think outside the box when it came to the literature in the print and electronic media that was available for students and other members of the Harvard community to access,” said Berdon, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
One of the team’s “outside the box” ideas is a music playlist, curated to accompany the space. It features music from a diverse set of backgrounds and will be available for commercial streaming in the near future, according to Offord, the associate University librarian for antiracism.
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