Up in Harlem at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Mary Yearwood is quite sure the namesake of the New York Public Library branch would be comfortable and thrilled in the digitally enhanced 21st century.
Born in 1874 and active during the culturally vibrant Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s, Arthur Schomburg, who died in 1938, was known for collecting and imparting information about African history and culture by every means at his disposal — and today, the library branch’s Digital Schomburg initiative continues to meet these goals in cyberspace.
Would Schomburg be taking advantage of today’s digital age tools if he were here today?
“He absolutely would be,” exclaimed Yearwood, the director of collections at the Schomburg. “He’d be doing podcasts,” she said, theorizing that the renowned bibliophile, historian and lecturer would take full advantage of the today’s technology.
“There are still books that people come in and access and hold in their hands and read — books and bound serials. As far as the transition to digital environment is concerned, we did our first project around 1998,” said Yearwood.
The public library acquired a collection of Schomburg books, manuscripts, etchings, paintings and pamphlets for its Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints on W. 135th St. in Harlem, forerunner to today’s Schomburg Center.
The Digital Schomburg initiative, one of the first digitizing projects undertaken by the New York Public Library System, began with a focus on black women in literature. “The idea was to digitize about 40 or so volumes of published works by African-American women writers from the 19th century to the early 20th century using works from the Schomburg Rare Book Collection,” Yearwood recalled.
That project was initially called Digital Schomburg, but came to encompass all digital exhibitions, websites, live streaming and podcasts, she said.
Looking forward, Kevin Young, the current Schomburg director, continues to build on Schomburg’s collection and visions of providing knowledge to the public, “We do this through our Digital Schomburg activities, by livestreaming the majority of our programs, through having an active social media presence, and by ongoing efforts to make our new arrivals and legacy holdings accessible online,” said Young.