Library of Congress Will Put $15M Grant Toward Minority-Focused Digital Futures Program

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The program aims to bring forward minority voices through digital storytelling.

The largest private foundation grant in the Library of Congress’ history will be going, in part, toward building a digital strategy to help content creators better share minority stories.

The Library announced Wednesday a $15 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will be used for “a new, multiyear initiative to connect more deeply with Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and other minority communities,” according to a release. The new program will include a focus on minority-serving academic institutions, as well as digital content creators from across the nation trying to tell diverse stories.

“The new initiative, Of the People: Widening the Path, creates new opportunities for more Americans to engage with the Library and add their perspectives to the Library’s collections, allowing the national library to share a more inclusive American story,” the release states.

The new initiative has three parts, including funding more folklore documentarians to record living stories and new internship opportunities for students at minority-serving organizations such as “students attending historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, Tribal colleges and universities and institutions that serve Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”

The third piece of the program will invest in a push for up and coming creators to use Library resources in their digital storytelling as part of the Digital Futures Program.

“Through the program, creative people making content like videos, photo collages, new music and digital exhibits will bring to the foreground the experiences of Black, Indigenous and Americans from other racial and ethnic minority communities in the documents that comprise the story of our national identity,” the release states.

The funding will also be used to hire a scholar-in-residence to help content creators and experts find the resources they need.

The Library has, for much of its history, been focused on providing content and context for storytellers. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital storytelling and remote research have become even more important, according to Kate Zwaard, the Library’s director of digital strategy.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic makes online communications more critical and the national conversation about race grows, the Library of Congress will join other efforts across the country to incubate projects that explore, re-imagine and re-present the knowledge of the past,” Zwaard wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “The goal is to foster a creative, vibrant, and collaborative additions to the cultural record that are designed by, for, and with all of the people of the United States.”

Using the new grant funding, the Digital Futures Program will “offer grants to libraries, museums, scholars, teachers, and young people working to create ways of sharing stories that spotlight the perspectives of communities of color,” she said.

Zwaard offered some suggestions about how this could work, such as using augmented reality to share stories while maintaining social distance or, “create new collections by assembling the stories of Black people currently hidden in the papers of white enslavers.”

The funding will also go toward hiring new staff for the Digital Strategy Directorate based out of LC Labs.

The release notes the $15 million investment from the Mellon Foundation “represents the largest grant from a private foundation in the Library’s history.”

“The Library of Congress is the people’s public library, and we are delighted that it will engage diverse and inclusive public participation in expanding our country’s historical and creative records,” Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander said in the release.

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