Throughout history, libraries have often provided a way for historically disenfranchised individuals and groups to gain access to knowledge and information.
“So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else,” noted the poet and author Maya Angelou in the 2014 “American Libraries” article “Remembering Maya Angelou.” In it, the author of the piece, Mariam Pera, looks back at how Angelou valued and spoke about libraries and education during her life.
A unique part of the overall Purdue Libraries’ collections at Purdue University are the materials in the Black Cultural Center Library, located on the second floor of the Black Cultural Center on campus. With more than 7,000 books, journals, and media, the BCC Library includes materials and information dedicated to African-American culture and experiences and his managed by BCC Librarian E. Nikki Johnson, who came to Purdue last November.
According to Johnson, last month (Black History Month), the BCC exhibited banned books written by African-American authors. Incidentally, Pera’s “American Libraries” article notes that Angelou has been “one of the most frequently challenged authors (and authors of color) of the 20th and 21st centuries,” per the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
“The goal [of this exhibit] was to stimulate discussion about the content of these literary works and why they were considered for censorship,” explained Johnson.
With the BCC’s 50th anniversary falling in 2019, Johnson has arrived at Purdue in time to help plan this important milestone celebration for the Black Cultural Center.
Below is a brief Q&A with Johnson, in which she shares a bit about her background and her interest in library and information science and African-American collections and studies and, briefly, plans for the Golden Anniversary milestone the Purdue community will commemorate next year.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your background and how you came to serve in your current position at Purdue.
Johnson: I have always been very strongly attached to the discipline of African-American history, culture, and social impact. As an undergraduate student, I declared a double major in political science and African and African-American studies. This decision caused me to fully appreciate and embrace my academic journey, and it helped me to define my professional goals.
Upon completion of my degree, I became both familiar with and fond of the authentic academic research process, which led me to my interest in library and information science. I was encouraged by my undergraduate professor and mentor to consider a career as an academic librarian, as she recognized my desire to cultivate a professional presence within a scholarly environment. I was grateful for her direction because it provided me with purpose for my goals, and I gladly accepted her guidance and completed my graduate degree in library and information science.
Considering how these experiences and ambitions culminated, pursuing the position of librarian at Purdue’s Black Cultural Center felt incredibly consistent with my academic and professional journey, and I am privileged to serve and develop within this role.
Q. What are some of your favorite materials in the BCC Library’s collections?
Johnson: I am still in the preliminary stage of exploring our collection, but at this time I am most fond of our assortment of vinyl records. I have a collection very similar to it at home, and I closely identify with the genre of music within it.
Q. What is information about the BCC Library you would like to impart to the Purdue campus, perhaps information that may not be widely known?
Johnson: The BCC Library has a collection of “Debris” yearbooks that are available for circulation. The issues that we have available to patrons date back to 1955.
Q. In 2019, the BCC will have reached an important milestone at Purdue. What are the plans to celebrate the BCC and BCC Library?
Johnson: Next year, the BCC will celebrate its 50th Anniversary as a vital resource to Purdue University. We are working to create a calendar of events that will commemorate the existence and contributions of the Black Cultural Center and how it has served and will continue to impact this campus and community.