#CharlestonSyllabus at Vassar

The Vassar Libraries recently added a sampling of titles from the Charleston Syllabus to our Browsing Collection. Below is a personal essay about the difficult public issues related to the South Carolina shootings. The writer, Deb Bucher, is the Assistant Director of the Library for Collection Development and Research Services.

Following the June 17, 2015 murders in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, I began asking myself some questions. What can I do?  What should I have done? Shouldn’t I be more involved in social justice?  Am I wasting my time working at an elite educational institution?  As a white person, I routinely feel bad about the privilege I get based on my skin color, but also completely overwhelmed by the enormity of attempting to rectify the systemic racism that my privilege comes from.  How can I live my life with integrity knowing I’m the beneficiary of unwarranted privilege?  How can I be part of the solution and not the problem?

#CharlestonSyllabus and Libraries

I often turn to books when I have a question that I need answered.  As a child, I went to the library and read biography after biography and learned to appreciate the lives of others and what they faced.  I learned that going to the library encouraged me to think critically about ideas, about my own life and how I live it, and, most especially, how other people experience life.  So my response after Charleston was to do the same.  Fortunately, I have Dr. Chad Williams of Brandeis University to thank for developing the #Charlestonsyllabus, a list of materials directly related to my questions.  After the Charleston murders, he used Twitter to ask for submissions to a list of readings about the history of race relations and racial violence in the United States.  The #Charlestonsyllabus is now a “library” that brings together histories, movies, personal narratives, poetry and other literature that document the lives of African Americans living with and in the systemic racist and violent society we call the United States.

Libraries as Community

But the #Charlestonsyllabus is more than just a library.  As Chad Williams says, “It is a community of people committed to critical thinking, truth telling and social transformation” (http://aaihs.org/resources/charlestonsyllabus/).   So by reading the books on the syllabus, I will be part of a virtual community of people working to change how we think and act in society.  That’s a start, at least.

If you would like to join the #Charlestonsyllabus community, the Vassar librarians have collected just of a few of the titles on the list and have put them on a shelf in the “Browsing Collection” in the lobby of Main Library.  I invite you look at those titles and take one home.  For the full list, see our guide, http://libguides.vassar.edu/charleston, or the #Charlestonsyllabus website, http://aaihs.org/resources/charlestonsyllabus/.

I believe that libraries are transformative and radical places; I expect the #Charlestonsyllabus to be that kind of library for me, and I hope it is for you as well.

Angela Davis Speaking at Vassar on Wednesday, Sept. 16 – Read all about it!

As many of you have heard, Angela Davis will be speaking at Vassar on September 16th to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Women’s Studies Program at the college.  We here in the library are looking forward to Davis’ return to Vassar, and are taking this opportunity to read about her life and her work.  Looking at the library’s resources on Angela Davis is an excellent example of the broad range of books, primary sources, films and journal articles that you can find here.

angela-davis-political-biographyOn the shelves in the Main Library, you’ll find “A Political Biography of Angela Davis,” a pamphlet that was published by the New York Committee to Free Angela Davis in January, 1971, as Davis was awaiting trial.  If you’d like to dig deeper into the primary sources available about Davis’ trial, you’ll find a selection of documents related to the campaign to free Angela Davis in the database, “Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000.”  You can read Davis’ early work, such as her essay, “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves,” originally published in the journal, The Black Scholar in 1971, or the autobiography she published in 1975 (in print or online).  Or you could read a collection of her more recent speeches and essays, The Meaning of Freedom (excerpted here) or a collection of interviews with Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons and Torture, published in 2005.

You could also learn more about Angela Davis’ background by reading her contribution to the book, Falling in Love with Wisdom: American Philosophers Talk About their Calling or by reading about the formative years she spent in France, recounted in Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis by Alice Kaplan.

Perhaps you’d like to watch a Angela davis combodocumentary film or two?  Invite some friends to watch Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (2013) or Black Power Mixtape (2011).


However you prepare, we hope to see you at the Chapel on Wednesday, September 16th at 5:30.

Welcome to a New Year!

Posted on behalf of Andy Ashton, Director of the Libraries.

Welcome back — and for freshmen, welcome! The Library is a wonderful place to find the information you need for your research interests, a quiet area for study or contemplation, or a place to check out a good book or movie. We’re looking forward to a great new year.

Zines collection

VCL ZinesOver the summer, the library put the finishing touches on a project to make our zines collection available to you.  Zines are a DIY, self-published medium, incorporating voices and narratives frequently absent from more traditional publishing venues.  Our collection includes materials from a wide variety of voices and perspectives, including three Vassar student organization zines.  And we’re looking for more!  As curator Heidy Berthoud noted, [Misc. News 26 Feb 2015 – p7] “We would love to have students make zines and donate them to the collection, because we really want them to record what’s important to students on campus right now, and what their thoughts are.”

zine lounge

The new zines space — our zines lounge — is located next to the Periodical Room (Room 255) on the second floor of the Main Library.  We encourage you to visit, read, and contact us (zines@vassar.edu or @vassarzines) with any questions or zines you’d like to donate.

Kanopy – Streaming Video

Following our trial last spring, we are now using Kanopy to stream films. Kanopy works directly with filmmakers and film distribution companies to offer award-winning collections including titles from Kino Lorber, California Newsreel and the Criterion Collection.

La Habanera

La Habanera, Douglas Sirk, 1937

Access Kanopy through the Databases page on our website, or go directly to Vassar’s connection at http://vassar.kanopystreaming.com.libproxy.vassar.edu/.

Director’s Office

Andrew Ashton

Andrew Ashton, Director of Libraries

On a personal note, I am excited to begin our new semester as well.  I joined Vassar as Director of the Libraries in mid-August and I am enjoying getting to know the students and faculty.  Vassar’s innovative and dynamic curriculum provides lots of opportunities to explore how the library can continue to be a critical partner in the academic life of the college.  I look forward to our new academic year – and I hope to see you in the library!