May 1, 2023

Penn State University Libraries Amplifies ‘Black History and Visual Culture’ With Digital Collection

Penn State University Libraries Eberly Family Special Collections Library has launched the Black History and Visual Culture digital collection, a celebration and remembrance of Black life at Penn State campuses, broadly across the United States, and around the world.

The permanent collection, free for public viewing, features posters, poetry and visual materials that have been digitized in an ongoing effort to expand holdings of published and primary source materials related to a diversity of Black experiences. Sourced from materials within the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, the collection highlights the significant contributions made by Black literary and historic figures to American cultural life.

“The goal in creating this collection is to make visual materials about African Americans more accessible to researchers, professors, and beyond,” said Patrice Green, curator of African American Collections at Eberly Family Special Collections Library and curator of the Black History and Visual Culture digital collection. “We chose many of the materials by challenging ourselves to think more holistically about representations of Blackness and how they manifest, from poetry broadsides to theater posters.”

Green said that while curating the collection, the team was compelled to think deeply about how University Libraries names and describes collections, explaining that offering materials online does not inherently make those materials accessible without incorporating inclusive language in the metadata. Moreover, some materials gathered for the collection emerged intuitively as the team worked to navigate Penn State’s past and present social landscapes. Green noted long-ceased Black student publications that were located in various parts of the University Archives that the project “allowed us to bring together in a much more cohesive way.”

In terms of visual culture, the collection contains the Sara Willoughby-Herb collection of Black history posters, a gift of Jill Willoughby and Sara Willoughby-Herb. Among them is a 1969 printing of “Nguzo saba, The Seven Principles,” one of the most popular items in the University Libraries digital collections.  A newspaper issue documenting a previously undocumented Colored Convention held in St. Louis in 1868 is also on view.

Audiovisual materials of interest include a documentary entitled It’s Our Thing about the Black Arts Festival held in 1969, and a recording of a reading given by Nikki Giovanni in 1973, both of which took place on the University Park campus.

The Black History and Visual Culture collection also contains a selection of Black student publications from the 1960s and 1970s, documenting a time of social change and political turmoil in the United States and at Penn State. The titles selected for this collection, such as Focus on Black and the Black Eye, provide a glimpse into the lives and activities of past Black students at Penn State that will hopefully resonate with students today.

“As the collection grows, we look forward to telling more stories about the Black experience at Penn State through the archives, with supporting Penn State research, instruction and student expression,” said Kevin Clair, digital collections librarian for the Everly Family Special Collections Library.

Additional resources related to the Black History and Visual Culture digital collection include:

Black Life student publication during the 1970s, for a snapshot of student life at Penn State during noteworthy times in the history of the University.

The Black Alumni Oral History Collection, part of the Penn State University Archives Oral History Collections.

The Charles L. Blockson Collection of African-Americana and the African Diaspora, for books, magazines, photographs, manuscripts, sheet music, postcards, record albums, and artifacts of the African experience in the United States, Latin America, Caribbean, and Africa, dating from 1632 to the present.

African American Studies library guide, resources helpful for research in African American Studies.

“Predominately white institutions have a responsibility to invest a dedicated effort in highlighting, but not tokenizing, the stories of marginalized people on their campuses. I’m hoping we played a small part in that here,” said Green.

Visit the Black History and Visual Culture website to view the digital collection. To learn more about this digital collection or questions about special collections, contact the Eberly Family Specials Collections Library at (814) 865-1793 or For information about the collection’s use for research or instruction, please contact Patrice Green, curator for African American Collections, at