Indianapolis Public Library Debuts New Center For Black Literature And Culture

Located in Central Library’s West Reading Room, the space features a growing collection of books, magazines, and research volumes.

The Indianapolis Public Library’s new black heritage centerpiece opened to the public on Saturday. Following the festivities, we found answers to some frequently asked questions about the new space:

This is a big space—like, 3,800 square feet big. Where did the library get the money to build it?
Lilly Endowment chipped in a $1.3 million grant to build the Center for Black Literature and Culture. And by “chipped in,” we mean came in clutch.

How big is the Center’s collection?
More than 10,000 books, magazines, DVDs, and e-books currently fill the shelves. The library plans to quadruple the collection to 40,000 items over the next five years.

What type of variety can we expect in the collection? Will it just be Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” on shelves?
Nope. Actor Morgan Freeman’s Caribbean cookbook shares shelf space with a book exploring “Blaxploitation” in film, so you can delve into social justice scholarship and learn how to whip up a winning wakame salad.

How much of the material is newly acquired v.s. relocated from the library’s existing collection?
Approximately 20 percent of the collection is certified fresh, according to Deb Lambert, the library’s director of collection management. The rest of the material is consolidated into one room for the first time.

The larger-than-life window posters of Indiana icons are pretty hard to miss. What other locally inspired decor should I keep an eye out for?
The wood-paneled wall opposite the window banners features a photographic timeline of Indiana Avenue’s history and music scene dating back to 1865. “Funky Broadway,” “The Grand ‘Ol Street,” “The Yellow Brick Road”—whatever you want to call it, downtown’s hoppin’ African American cultural district gets a wall-to-wall tribute.

Back to the ginormous window posters–who’s got one? What local legends made the cut?
Each of the Center’s nine windows sports the likeness of a local luminary, from former Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings to poet and playwright Mari Evans. The banners will rotate, so if your favorite figure didn’t make the cut the first time around, don’t despair (we’re looking at you here, Reggie Miller).

Heaps of history, local legacies—got it. But what 21st century programming is on tap for the new space?
The Center has author fairs, poetry slams, and art exhibits lined up for next year, with the first event happening next month. Fall Fest ‘17, which kicks off Nov. 18, features the Slammin Rhymes Challenge XII for middle and high school poets. The author fair is scheduled for next summer.

So, can we expect a Native American or Hispanic Cultural Center anytime soon?
Probably not. “We wanted a black cultural center because 30 to 35 percent of the population in Indianapolis is African American,” says Nichelle Hayes, special collections librarian and project manager for the new Center. “With a growing urban core, we wanted to bring people’s attention to [people of color] and create a space where they can gather.” While Hayes says the construction of similar centers is unlikely, she sees the potential for this Center’s programming to address the concerns of other marginalized groups.“There’s a lot of overlap between issues of concern to, say, Native Americans and people of color,” she says.

The Center for Black Literature and Culture is located inside the Indianapolis Central Library. 40 E. St. Clair St.