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Edith Renfrow Smith Black Women’s Library to open in the BCC

Rayyon+Robinson+%E2%80%9819+curated+the+new+Edith+Renfrow+Smith+Black+Women%E2%80%99s+Library%2C+which+offers+a+variety+of+books+written+by+black+women.+Photo+by+Liz+Paik.+
Rayyon Robinson ‘19 curated the new Edith Renfrow Smith Black Women’s Library, which offers a variety of books written by black women. Photo by Liz Paik.

By Brendan Hyatt
hyattbre@grinnell.edu

On Tuesday, April 16, the grand opening of the Edith Renfrow Smith Black Women’s Library will take place in its new designated space in the Black Cultural Center. This intersectional Black women’s library is named after Edith Renfrow ‘37, the first Black woman to graduate from Grinnell College. According to Tuesday’s campus memo, the library is aimed to “cultivate a creative, communal, and academic resource for Black women on campus.” Students will not be able to remove books from the library, but all texts in it will be additionally available for rental at Burling Library. The library will also regularly host a Well Read Black Girls Book Club.

Rayyon Robinson ‘19, who led the project to found the library, worked to build a library that included a wide range of Black women authors. Funded by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, she found a wide variety of authors across the Black diaspora in genres ranging from fiction to academic text, centering on feminist and queer literature. She sent surveys to various multicultural leadership groups, consulted knowledgeable faculty members and conducted online research in order to find texts suited to the library’s direction. The library will also feature a number of texts written by Black women alumni and faculty of the College.

Robinson said that she was personally driven to start the library due to her experiences with librarianship as a political profession. Her first-year externship shadowing with university archivist Melissa Torres ‘02 changed her perspective on librarianship. That externship “got [me] thinking about librarians as agents of social change who have a role in history,” she said.

That and subsequent experiences looking at the role of Black women within literary movements “pulled me into librarianship as a way to radicalize the profession,” Robinson said.

She was particularly inspired by the librarians in Ferguson, Missouri, who kept the public library open as a space for members of the community to organize and take refuge amid the city’s 2015 unrest.

Robinson said that she thought that the library was an important addition to the college due to a “lack of adequate scholarship in terms of centering Black bodies, lives and experiences.” She added that she hoped “that Black women scholars and other women scholars of color can find their space and see themselves reflected in the literature.”

Robinson said she is optimistic about the future of the library, stating that she hopes it “expands into whatever [future students] want it to be, depending on the books that they put into the catalog.”

Although students will not be able to check books out of the library, they are encouraged to sit and read in the space. The reception will take place on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Refreshments will be served, and book donations from students are welcomed.

Rayyon Robinson ‘19 curated the new Edith Renfrow Smith Black Women’s Library, which offers a variety of books written by black women. Photo by Liz Paik.
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