Oct. 16, 2017

Nichelle Hayes is the director of the new Center for Black Literature & Culture

CELEBRATING THE DIASPORA Nichelle Hayes, Special Collections Librarian for The Indianapolis Public Library’s Center for Black Literature & Culture has spent almost a year preparing for the grand opening of the new space. The center celebrates the African diaspora through books and more.

For almost a year, Nichelle Hayes has worked day and night, traveled to museums across the country and spent countless hours researching and choosing just the right books for the grand opening of the Center for Black Literature & Culture.

Located inside the Central Library, 40 E. St. Clair St., the center – with its high ceilings, dark wood and Hoosier-inspired decor – is designed to educate, enlighten and inform.

“It’s a third place for people to come and gather – not home, not work, but a place where you can come and just sit and discuss ideas,” said Hayes, the center’s Special Collections Librarian. 

On Saturday, Oct. 21, Hayes will finally reveal what she’s been working on during the center’s grand opening from noon to 3 p.m. Roland Martin, a journalist and political commentator, will serve as keynote speaker. The event is free and open to the public.

To say the center is a labor of love for Hayes would be an understatement. She believes her education and professional experiences, along with her love of genealogy, history and black literature, led her to this opportunity – or what she calls her “dream job.”

“I’ve been able to bring together my passions and interests into my work life,” said Hayes. 

Walk inside the Center for Black Literature & Culture and you immediately feel the love and hard work that has been poured into the space. Along the walls are pictures of prominent Hoosiers (specifically from Indianapolis). “That was the hardest part of that whole process of trying to determine who would be in the room,” said Hayes. “We wanted to highlight heroes and sheroes, and we only had a finite number of spots.”

But it’s the books that take center stage.

Equipped to house 40,000 volumes, along with magazines, CDs and DVDs, the center will feature close to 10,000 books on opening day. The literature inside will focus on the African diaspora.

“Frequently when people talk about North America and people of color, they start talking about enslavement, then civil rights and it moves on from there. Well, we didn’t just sprout out from the Atlantic Ocean; we had a rich heritage and culture before then,” said Hayes, who worked with an advisory board to put together a collection development plan.

“So we want to talk about the continent (of Africa), we want to talk about the diaspora and the impact that it’s had on the world.  … If you look around the room at the title boxes (including folklore, medicine, fitness, poetry and autobiographies), we’re trying to get a good collection of books that will tell the story of the African diaspora.”

Although focused on the African diaspora, the center — which will also feature various programs throughout the year — is for people of all ethnic backgrounds.

“This is a place that will have both windows and mirrors. It’s going to have windows for people who are not of African descent so they can learn about us – our accomplishments and our culture. The mirrors are for people of African descent to see themselves reflected in a lot of positive ways,” said Hayes. “So this is definitely a place for everyone to come, to learn, to grow, to discuss and to increase their understanding.

“It’s a place for everyone because black history is American history; black history is world history. What we’re trying to do is reinsert that into the conversation in a way that people will understand.”

Pat Payne, a member of the library’s board of directors and the center’s advisory committee, said having a space like the Center for Black Literature & Culture in Indianapolis is well overdue.

“I am just excited that this is happening, not only while I’m on the board but … it is so needed, so that all people, not just black people, learn the truth about a history that has been deliberately and intentionally omitted and eliminated,” said Payne. “And it’s going to be here at the central public library. To me, it’s just complementing everything that we’ve always done.”

The Center for Black Literature & Culture is funded by a $1.3 million five-year Lilly Endowment grant.