Boston Public Library expands anti-racism collection and virtual accessibility


Hongyu Liu

The main entrance of the Boston Public Library.

By Campbell Parish

An anonymous donation of $75,000 helped extend the Boston Public Library’s collection of anti-racist materials. They saw a 500 percent increase in the circulation of anti-racist titles in the month of June 2020. 

As the BPL shifted entirely to online operations due to the pandemic, they initiated their BPL To Go program. This program helps ensure that the library’s benefits are still accessible for the greater Boston community amid the ongoing pandemic.

The BPL To Go program allows patrons to place a hold online and schedule a time to pick up their material. Each material that is checked out from the library is put in a four-day quarantine hold, then returned to circulation. 

“Through the BPL To Go program, we were able to circulate more than 203,000 physical items and complete about 200,000 in-person patron transactions while continuing to offer an even greater range of online events and services,” BPL President David Leonard said in an official statement on the BPL website

During the height of the Black Lives Matter protests last June, the BPL saw a 500 percent increase in check-outs of popular anti-racist titles such as How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. At the end of the summer, the BPL received an anonymous donation to keep up with the demand for these titles. The BPL published their Antiracist Reading List, enlisting the help of staff and the community to formulate the list. 

The funds from this donation also helped grow the anti-racist e-book collection, which allows instantaneous access to these titles for all community members. The anonymous funding that the BPL received reduced holds on their books by 89 percent, according to the BPL, eliminating long wait times for members. 

“We received an anonymous donation of $75,000 specifically to buy additional copies to keep [up with] demand for [anti-racist] titles,”Andrews said.

The BPL is a publicly funded institution, but it utilizes the Boston Public Library Fund and private philanthropy to ensure that library programs can continue to be accessible and free to all.

“We had a few different librarians recommend titles; we were looking at checkouts and demands,” Andrews said. “Some of [the anti-racist collection] was based on patron demand as well.” 

Among their list are the titles How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, and Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. 

“A portion of that budget went to making 20 of the most popular BLM and anti-racism books instantly available to all patrons, completely eliminating wait times for those titles,” Andrews said. 

All of the books in the anti-racist collection are in e-book format. For some titles, an ebook edition can only be checked out by one person at a time. With the help of the anonymous donation, the BPL was able to purchase copies of these books without this restriction in order to limit wait times. 

On Jan. 11, the BPL announced their new Repairing America Initiative to help bridge the political gap that divides America. The main themes of the Repairing America Initiative include economic recovery, civic engagement, COVID-19 recovery, racial equity, workforce development, and youth engagement. BPL cited a PEW research study that found nearly 80 percent of American adults believe that public libraries are trustworthy and reliable. 

The BPL’s new Repairing America Initiative uses their trustworthy platform as a way to help bridge the political gap and hopefully spark a conversation between patrons. 

“The library is focusing its institutional priorities on finding ways to help Americans become more resilient and able to face and recover from the challenges of today,” an official statement from the BPL said