On Decimals, Catalogs, and Racial Imaginaries of Reading
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 October 2020
Entering Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, one still passes through the “catalog room,” an antechamber filled with rows of card drawers. Inaugurated in 1930 by the librarian Dorothy Porter, this catalog of the “Negro Collection” served for much of the twentieth century as one of the only portals to African American print culture. This article reconstructs the creation of that catalog in order to chart the relation between infrastructure and racial imaginaries of reading. Porter contravened the routine misfiling of blackness in prevailing information systems by rewriting Dewey decimals, creating new taxonomies for black print, and fielding research inquiries from across the African diaspora. She built public access to books “by and about the Negro” at a moment when most black readers were barred from libraries. In so doing, she fueled a broader sense of what a black archive—or what Porter called a “literary museum”—might afford.
- Special Topic: Cultures of Reading
- PMLA , Volume 134 , Issue 1: Special Topic Cultures of Reading , January 2019 , pp. 99 - 120
- Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2019