Augusta Baker Bibliographies: A digital project

I wanted to share about my project proposal and where I am currently. My studies at the graduate center, including the capstone, has centered around diversity in children’s books and programming. The lack of diversity has become more apparent in recent years, and while I am currently working on the present I wanted to look at the past and those who worked to identify the bias happening in libraries and the publishing world. Someone I am familiar with is Augusta Baker. Baker was a children’s librarian at the Countee Cullen branch of the NYPL. Shortly after her hire, Baker and the branch began collecting children’s literature that portrayed black people in a positive light. The collection was named the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Children’s Books, and led to the publication of the first of a number of bibliographies of books for and about black children. In 1971, it was retitled The Black Experience in Children’s Books, and its criteria played an important part in bringing awareness about harmful stereotypes of black people in children’s literature. Baker furthered this project by encouraging authors, illustrators and publishers to produce books depicting black people in a favorable light. In 1961, she was named Coordinator of Children’s Services, becoming the first African-American librarian in an administrative position in the New York Public Library.
The focus of my project was initially about the bibliographies. NYPL has two digital collections featuring the bibliographies: The Black Experience in Children’s Books: Bibliographies and The Black Experience in Children’s Books: Selections from Augusta Baker’s Bibliographies. The first are the bibliographies themselves and the second is books in the public domain from the early bibliographies. My initial project was to combine the two digital collections, meaning a user can “read” the bibliography and then click on a link to the actual book. I was inspired by the Early Caribbean Digital Archive and their ‘Exhibits’ section, and wanted to create a website to showcase the bibliographies. On the site, I would include a section on the history of children’s books as well as background on Baker.
My research on Baker took me to her collection which is held at South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina. I wanted to offer my audience a look into Baker’s selection process by including materials like meeting notes or correspondence. I would upload images of her materials and connect them to a bibliography. My project would now include 3 digital collections. The finding aid for the collection lists 8 boxes of correspondence, photographs, publications and personal papers and would hold valuable pieces I could include in my project. Unfortunately, the collection is not digitized and I had no plans to travel to South Carolina to view the collection. I immediately contacted the library, introduced myself and my project and asked if any items in the collection were digitized. The staff kindly offered to email me scans from other researchers’ requests and said that they can scan more items but their backlog is extensive due to the pandemic. I received 3 files, with roughly 300 images from different folders. The scans and subfolders are not named, so it has been difficult to find materials to include in my project. Most of the materials are pamphlets and personal correspondence starting from the 1960s, so would not include insight on the earlier bibliographies. I emailed library staff with my requests, but I don’t think I will have anything in time for this semester. I am hopeful that the last half of the subfolders include items from the 40s and 50s that I could highlight in my project. This has been an interesting experience in remote archival research, and I appreciate the staff who sent me the scans for free!