Marabou Reads About: Dorothy Porter Who Decolonized the Library Catalogue at Howard University

Marabou came to the Smithsonian Magazine article, “Remembering the Howard University Librarian Who Decolonized the Way Books Were Catalogued” via the Instagram post (below) from The Conscious Kid. Per their website, “The Conscious Kid is an education, research and policy organization dedicated to reducing bias and promoting positive identity development in youth.”

Marabou shares this article with you because it explains how colonial structures, systems, and thinking are so deeply imbedded that their affects are always felt, but seldom seen.

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"Howard University librarian, collector and self-described “bibliomaniac” Dorothy Porter reflected on the focus of her 43-year career: Not only collecting and preserving a wide range of materials related to the global Black experience, but also addressing how these works demanded new and specific qualitative and quantitative approaches in order to collect, assess, and catalog them. As some librarians today contemplate ways to #decolonize libraries—for example, to make them less reflective of Eurocentric ways of organizing knowledge—it is instructive to look to Porter as a progenitor of the movement. Starting with little, she used her tenacious curiosity to build one of the world’s leading repositories for Black history and culture: Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. But she also brought critical acumen to bear on the way the center’s materials were cataloged, rejecting commonly taught methods as too reflective of the way whites thought of the world. [At the time] “no American library had a suitable classification scheme for Black materials.” All of the libraries that Porter consulted for guidance relied on the #DeweyDecimal Classification. “Now in [that] system, they had one number—326—that meant slavery, and they had one other number—325, as I recall it—that meant colonization." In many “white libraries,” she continued, “every book, whether it was a book of poems by James Weldon Johnson, who everyone knew was a Black poet, went under 325. And that was stupid to me.” Consequently, instead of using the Dewey system, Porter classified works by genre and author to highlight the foundational role of Black people in all subject areas, which she identified as art, anthropology, communications, demography, economics, education, geography, history, health, international relations, linguistics, literature, medicine, music, political science, sociology, sports, and religion. Porter’s classification system challenged racism where it was produced by centering work by and about Black people within scholarly conversations around the world…and showing the centrality of that knowledge to all fields." (Zita Cristina Nunes, @smithsonianmagazine) #librariansofinstagram

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