ISU Library receives grant to digitize and amplify collections of Black Iowa history curated by local organizations

Apr 28, 2022 · Nacuya Rucker

The Iowa State University Library, the African American Museum of Iowa, and six partner organizations will embark on a three-year project to digitize and increase access to collections that center the histories, shared experiences, and achievements of Black Iowa communities. The $179,000 grant was awarded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Digitizing Hidden Collections: Amplifying Unheard Voices program. The program prioritizes the digitization of rare and unique content stewarded by collection organizations across the U.S. and Canada.

Over 6,000 items, including newspapers, manuscripts, oral histories, photographs, and artifacts, will be digitized throughout the project, resulting in extensive collections highlighting the impact of Black communities in Iowa and, by extension, the Midwest. Items, some of which date back to 1880, are held in the collections of all participating organizations, including the Iowa State University Library, African American Museums of Iowa, Des Moines Public Library, Fort Des Moines Museum and Education Center, Grinnell College Libraries, Grout Museum District, Nodaway Valley Historical Museum, and State Historical Society of Iowa.

After digitization, collections will be used to expand learning locally and nationally through collaborative community programs, educational and curriculum support, and academic research projects and initiatives from February 2024 to May 2025.

Hilary Seo, dean of library services, says this project weaves together Iowa State’s land-grant mission and the library’s collection expansion efforts. “Not only are we preserving and sharing knowledge within local communities, we’re expanding the breadth of our collections to fill gaps in Black representation throughout Iowa’s history,” Seo said. “The collections that stem from this project will showcase the rich, extensive contributions of Iowa’s Black communities and help us curate a more inclusive narrative of the Midwest.”

This collaborative project, which is the first of its kind in Iowa, will model similar initiatives, such as the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (Chicago), Black Archives of Mid-America (Kansas City), and Save the Black Press (California) – all of which collaborate with community-centered partners to cultivate collections.

Amy Bishop, rare books and manuscript archivist, and Laura Sullivan, digital collections librarian, are leading this project in collaboration with Felicite Wolfe, curator at the African American Museum of Iowa. Bishop says each partner offers a different window into understanding the ongoing history of Black communities in Iowa from the 1880s to today.

“The enthusiasm and expertise of our partners are essential to the success of the project,” she said. “We are looking forward to continuing to work with this group, and we hope that this project will spark further partnerships with cultural heritage institutions in Iowa.”

Starting this summer, an advisory board of community members will be established to help guide the project and navigate sensitivities around ethics and privacy. The team is accepting recommendations for members and encourages interested individuals to contact them.


The Iowa State University Library advances the university’s academic excellence and land-grant mission by collecting and preserving world knowledge for its faculty, staff, students, and community; by teaching the information literacy skills that enable researchers at all levels to identify, access, and use high-quality information; and by actively participating in the creation, sharing, and application of knowledge, research and creative activity, to energize and empower its users toward creating a vital future for the state of Iowa and the world.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.

For more information, contact:

Amy Bishop, rare books and manuscript archivist,

Laura Sullivan, digital collections librarian,

Felicite Wolfe, curator at the African American Museum of Iowa,