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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > July/August 2005

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Information Today
Vol. 19 No. 4 — Jul/Aug 2005
Special Report

Black History Project Wins 2005 Libraries Change Lives Award
By Jessica Dye

Librarians often make the extra effort to reach out to the groups within their communities that are traditionally overlooked. When they do, they deserve recognition—and a round of applause couldn’t hurt, either.

The Libraries Change Lives Award, sponsored by the Library + information Show (LiS) and organized by CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, is currently in its 13th year, having been established in 1992 to honor one United Kingdom library each year for initiating an exceptional community outreach program. This year’s winner is the Northamptonshire Black History Project, a collaboration between the North­amptonshire Racial Equality Council, the Northamptonshire Libraries and Information Service, and other agencies to promote their common goals of community literacy and an understanding of local cultural heritage.

Northamptonshire’s history, like most of Western history, has been dominated by images of white, aristocratic men, with minorities being largely relegated to the background. But a small group of citizens in this rural U.K. county knew that there had to be something (and someone) more. Back in the 1980s, they began digging through local historical records to find the untold stories about North­amptonshire residents of Asian, African, and Caribbean origin. What they discovered was a rich legacy that spanned nine centuries, and so the Northamptonshire Black History Project was born, and the library was invited to be one of the partners. Volunteers methodically documented their findings in order to create a comprehensive historical archive that now includes 660 references from county records going as far back as the 12th century, an oral history archive containing more than 185 interviews, and record collections for 11 local black community organizations.

The project also partnered with local schools (and the Northampton Town Football Club) to bring a heightened awareness of cultural diversity and racial tolerance into the classroom. Students learned the stories of black historical figures with the help of the Black History Project’s archives. By giving people a compelling new reason to explore the library’s resources, the project has made the library and its archives a main focal point for locals looking to understand Northamptonshire’s racial past and present. According to Nigel Thomas, who chaired the judging committee for this award, “Northamptonshire’s Black History Project is proving how vision and commitment has [sic] changed and enhanced the lives of individuals whose history has been forgotten and unacknowledged for years.”

Carolyn Abel, the program’s director, has tied this grass-roots initiative even more closely to the community by involving a number of different organizations. Headed by the Northamptonshire Racial Equality Council, the Black History Project secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other agencies, and collaborated with the Northamptonshire Libraries and Information Service, local government and record offices, a university, a museum, and several county black organizations.

According to CILIP’s press release, the Northamptonshire Black History Project attempts to reverse historic discrimination, celebrate cultural diversity, and enhance the lives of local individuals and communities. As the 2005 winner of the Libraries Change Lives Award, this project’s leaders received £4,000 (approximately $7,200 U.S.) to continue and expand its work.

Two Other Projects Also Recognized

Two runners-up were also recognized at LiS and awarded £1,000 ($1,800) apiece. The first, It’s My Life, is a partnership between Enfield Disability Action and Enfield Libraries that helps adults with learning disabilities by providing computer skills training that enabled each of them to create their own life-story book.

The other runner-up was the New Horizons Estate Reading Campaign. Based in Islington, one of England’s poorest and most densely populated boroughs, this project aimed to increase a general interest in reading by opening small, in­formal libraries in the middle of five of Islington’s most impoverished housing projects. By making new, donated books easily accessible and eliminating fines, the New Horizons Estate Reading Campaign has provided a low-cost and convenient library experience to approximately 900 underprivileged people each year since 2003.     

What the Award Is Really All About

The CILIP/LiS Libraries Change Lives Award rewards libraries that go above and beyond their normal service to address inequalities within their communities. In the past, winners have included The Mobile Library Travellers’ Project (a library on wheels serving the nomadic Traveller community, 2004), eye2eye (helping to provide computer technology and training for the visually impaired, 2003), and the Big Book Share (allowing prisoners to connect with their families through reading, 2002).

Judges’ chair Thomas stated that the Black History Project provides “a fantastic example of how libraries can partner community-led initiatives and serves as a model which can be replicated in libraries across the country.” By giving winners international exposure in addition to the cash prize, the award helps make other librarians aware of their own potential for new and engaging ways to serve their communities.

The award was presented by renowned British poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah at LiS’s 16th annual convention this past April in Birmingham, U.K. CILIP, which organizes the judging and awards process, is the U.K.’s largest organization for library and information specialists. The Library + information Show, the award’s sponsor, is run by VNU Exhibitions Europe (formerly Imark Communications). LiS and CILIP have already announced that next year’s Libraries Change Lives Award will carry more prize money—£5,000 for the winner and £2,000 for each runner-up. Entries for the next award will be accepted beginning in September, the shortlist will be announced in February, and prizes will be awarded during next year’s Library + information Show, which takes place April 26–27, 2006, in Birmingham.


Jessica Dye is the editorial intern for several Information Today, Inc., publications, including MLS and Information Today. A recent graduate from Princeton University, she has spent many hours in libraries of all kinds.

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