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HBCU Digital Library Trust: Harvard Library Partnered with AUC Woodruff Library and the HBCU Library Alliance to Expand Access to African American History Collections

HBCU Digital Library Trust: Harvard Library Partnered with AUC Woodruff Library and the HBCU Library Alliance  to Expand Access to African American History Collections

By Harvard Library Communications Office| March 08, 2023


Clark  Atlanta University Center, Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library

‘Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery’ funds will support a multi-year collaborative project to deepen digitization capacity of HBCUs

Atlanta, GA and Cambridge, MA — The HBCU Library Alliance and Harvard Library this week announced a project to sustain and deepen capacity for the digitization, discovery, and preservation of African American history collections held in HBCU libraries and archives. Harvard’s support for the HBCU Library Alliance’s ongoing work is a step in addressing the University’s complicity in slavery and the systemic and enduring educational inequities rooted in slavery and its legacies.

The HBCU Library Alliance has a longstanding commitment to digital access to special collections across HBCU libraries and archives, along with demonstrated educational excellence. This four-year project will expand existing services and business models to scale up and strengthen capacity for the digitization, discovery, and preservation of collections. The project will build upon the HBCU Digital Library hosted by the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, extending training, resources and services through regional service areas established within the HBCU network of libraries and archives. Once materials are digitized, access to many more finding aids and collections will be available to the public online through the HBCU Library Alliance Digital Library portal.

The HBCU Library Alliance and Harvard Library are embarking on this project with the shared goal of advancing open, public access to archives and special collections pertaining to African American history. Funds are provided by the Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery initiative, which has designated $6 million for this project.

HBCU Library Alliance Board Chair Tiwanna Nevels shared additional context about the importance of the archives serving as the project’s focal point.

“Historically Black College and University archives document and preserve the histories and accomplishments of African Americans,” Nevels said. “Their archives are rich with artifacts for scholars to understand the past in preparing for the future.”

She added, “The HBCU Library Alliance is delighted to be in partnership with Harvard University as we advance our mission to preserve and make accessible the historical legacies of these institutions. This multi-year project will center itself on deepening the capacity of these historical collections through digitization. This is an exciting time for HBCU libraries as the Alliance continues to further our overall mission.”

Loretta Parham, CEO and Library Director at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, and a co-founder of the HBCU Library Alliance, said she looks forward to building upon the existing HBCU Library Alliance collection hosted by her library.

“The existing collection, ‘Celebrating the Collections of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,’ is already rich with photos and documents of several HBCUs,” Parham said. “I am thrilled beyond measure about this commitment from Harvard Library and its partnership with the Alliance that will expand upon the collaborative work begun in 2007 to make our materials digitally accessible. Students, faculty, scholars, and others will benefit greatly from this project.”

Harvard Vice President for the Library and University Librarian Martha Whitehead added that the project will amplify the critical work taking place within the HBCU libraries.

“The HBCU libraries have deep connections to African American history and expertise in records that are incredibly important,” Whitehead said. “This partnership will open and preserve access to many significant research collections held in HBCU libraries, while ensuring they retain ownership of the collections. Students, scholars, and researchers around the world will benefit from the preservation and digitization of these materials. Harvard Library aspires to expand world knowledge and intellectual exploration, and we’re grateful that we can partner with the HBCU Library Alliance as they share and preserve their cultural resources and research.”

Whitehead expressed gratitude to members of the HBCU Library Alliance, saying, “It’s an honor to work with the HBCU Library Alliance, an organization that champions African American history, the education of Black students, and academic excellence at HBCUs.”

The project is expected to span four years, beginning in 2023.


The HBCU Library Alliance is a consortium that supports the work of the information professionals at the libraries, archives, and special collections of the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Guided by the historic significance of HBCUs, the strength and voice of the HBCU Library Alliance is displayed through its ongoing involvement and connection to its membership of libraries serving HBCU institutions. Since its founding, the HBCU Library Alliance has provided an array of resources and programs to transform and strengthen its member libraries by developing library leaders, preserving member collections and making them more accessible, and planning for the future.


At Harvard Library, we are champions of curiosity. We aim to be global leaders in expanding world knowledge and intellectual exploration. We engage with our communities in the creation and sharing of new knowledge, connecting them with the vast collections that we curate and steward through collaborations around the world. At its core, our mission for nearly four centuries has been to advance the learning, research, and pursuit of truth that are at the heart of Harvard. Our efforts are motivated and powered by working collaboratively, embracing diverse perspectives, championing access, aiming for the extraordinary, and always leading with curiosity.


The Presidential Initiative on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery, announced by Harvard President Larry Bacow in November of 2019, is an effort to understand and address the enduring legacy of slavery within the Harvard University community.

The first phase of the initiative’s work was to uncover the truth of Harvard’s ties to slavery through deep research guided by a committee of distinguished faculty drawn from across the University. This phase concluded in April 2022 with the release of the Report of the Presidential Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery, along with recommendations from the guiding committee based on report findings.

President Bacow accepted the committee’s recommendations in full and announced a historic commitment of $100 million to fund their implementation. Martha Minow, who is also the 300th Anniversary University Professor, a law professor, and former dean of the Law School, has been leading the process of implementing the committee’s recommendations. Sara N. Bleich has been named the inaugural vice provost for special projects and will lead the ongoing work for the initiative.


HBCU Library Alliance
Sandra Phoenix, Executive Director
[email protected]

Harvard Library
Anna Burgess, Communications Officer
[email protected]


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