Libraries across the U.K. this October are celebrating Black History Month with a variety of activities. The month is an opportunity to raise awareness and celebrate the contributions of people with African and Caribbean heritage to British society, and to promote a better overall understanding of Black history and literature.
The U.K.’s first Black History Month celebration took place in 1987 in London and has since grown across the country. Libraries are marking this year’s Black History Month through special programming, such as the opportunity to join musicians and artists in making peace flags at Gateshead Central Library, or taking walks created by the African Lives in Northern England project and Historic England. Lambeth Libraries are offering programming such as a poetry and spoken word night, talks with authors, film screenings and an opportunity to learn how to explore one’s family history. Redbridge Libraries’ planned programs include an exhibition of British studio portraiture exploring black presences in the 19th and early 20th century, to share just a few examples.
Uncovering “Hidden Gems” in your Library Collection
Another way libraries can promote Black history is by highlighting books relating to this community that library users may not have previously read. To help you identify those titles, collectionHQ has researched data from its DEI Analysis to uncover literature that has proven popular with readers but has been available at only a relatively small proportion of the 90 U.K. libraries included in our sample. Only 16 to 32 percent of the libraries used in our analysis offer these titles, making them treasures that can be discovered by your community.
Titles you may want to share with your patrons include:
- Callum: A Noughts and Crosses Short Story by Malorie Blackman, OBE.
Two star-crossed lovers fight for a more just world in this searing novel with a critically acclaimed BBC series adaptation. Sephy is a Cross: dark-skinned and beautiful, she lives a life of privilege and power. But she’s lonely, and she burns with injustice at the world she sees around her. Callum is a nought: pale-skinned and poor, he’s considered to be less than nothing, there to serve Crosses, but he dreams of a better life.
- Don’t Touch My Hair! By Sharee Miller.
An entertaining picture book that teaches the importance of asking for permission first as a young girl attempts to escape the curious hands that want to touch her hair. Author-illustrator Sharee Miller takes the tradition of appreciation of black hair to a new, fresh, level as she doesn’t seek to convince or remind young readers that their curls are beautiful – she simply acknowledges black beauty while telling a fun, imaginative story.
- The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa.
This book has been described as “A romantic comedy that’s fun and flirty, young and fresh” by PopSugar and named one of the Best Romances of 2020 by EW,Cosmo, OprahMag, Buzzfeed, Insider, and NPR. Mia Sosa delivers a sassy, steamy #ownvoices enemies-to-lovers novel, perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory, Helen Hoang, and Sally Thorne.
- Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi.
From The New York Times: “Riot Baby, Onyebuchi’s first novel for adults, is as much the story of Ella and her brother, Kevin, as it is the story of black pain in America, of the extent and lineage of police brutality, racism and injustice in this country, written in prose as searing and precise as hot Diamonds.” Riot Baby also has received numerous awards, including the 2021 World Fantasy Award; a 2021 ALA Alex Award; the 2020 New England Book Award for Fiction; the 2021 Ignyte Award; and the 2021 AABMC Literary Award.
- Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen.
The first novel in a captivating three-book series about modern womanhood, in which a young Black woman must rely on courage, laughter, and love—and the support of her two long-time friends—to overcome an unexpected setback that threatens the most precious thing she’s ever wanted.
- A Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison.
When they’re stuck under one roof, the house may not be big enough for their hate, or their love. Despite having been shot, Tyson Trice has survived the mean streets of Lindenwood, so nothing can faze him, not even being tossed into the affluent coastal community of Pacific Hills. Nandy Smith, the golden girl of Pacific Hills, is not pleased when she hears her parents are taking in a troubled teen boy. Nandy suddenly fears her summer plans, as well as her reputation, will go up in flames.
- Akissi : Even More Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin.
Our favourite troublemaker is back in this graphic novel collection of wild childhood adventures set on the Ivory Coast by award-winning author Marguerite Abouet (Aya of Yop City) and artist Mathieu Sapin. With the first volume selected as a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2018, Akissi is back for round three with more stories of silliness and chaos with her plucky crew of neighbourhood kids – there’s never a dull moment when she’s around!
- Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl.
For one little Ugandan boy, no wish is too big. First, he dreams of reaching the stars and then of riding a supernova straight to Mars. But on a rainy day at his grandfather’s house, he is brought down to earth with a bump. Do adventures only happen in galaxies far away or can he find magic a little closer to home?
- An Earl, the Girl and a Toddler by Vanessa Riley.
This book is an OMag.com and a Bibliolifestyle Most Anticipated Romance of 2021, a PopSugar Best Romance, and a Publishers Weekly Top 10 Romance of Spring 2021. A witty and moving story from the acclaimed author of A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby, it is about the lengths to which a woman will go for the love of her child…and the love of a man who knows her worth. Breaking with traditional Regency rules and customs Vanessa Riley pens an unforgettable story perfect for fans of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton, Evie Dunmore, and Eloisa James who are looking for something fresh and stirring.
Did you notice something that these titles have in common? The majority of authors are female, tying in nicely to this year’s theme: Saluting our Sisters.
Working Towards Increased Recognition and Representation of Black Authors
While October provides an opportunity to celebrate Black contributions to history, arts, literature, and film, it is important to be mindful of the challenges that Black authors and other creatives face. Black authors are making progress in publishing, with more writers of colour being included among the bestselling 1,000 others in the U.K. in 2021, according to The Bookseller, for example. But household names dominate the list, such as Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Will Smith. This means many talented Black writers remain overlooked.
Efforts are being taken to address the underrepresentation of Black authors and Black literature in the U.K.
The Black British Book Festival, Europe’s largest festival promoting Black literature, is a national celebration of Black British authors across all genres. The festival, in its third year, showcases new and emerging talent, in addition to well-known writers.
In September, Manchester Central Library hosted storytelling, workshops and talks to champion emerging talent. Manchester Libraries & Archives also promoted See Myself in Book collections, showcasing racially inclusive books.
And one award-winning author, the Booker prize-winning Bernardine Evaristo, is heading a project to republish books written by Black British writers that “generally disappeared without trace”. The goal is to let the authors receive the recognition they should have for their work.
Libraries can support these efforts year-round through their collection development. There are a range of tools available that librarians can combine with their expertise to ensure collections include works by authors of colour and capture a wide and inclusive range of experiences.
For example, more U.K. libraries are introducing collectionHQ’s DEI Analysis into their collection development workflows to ensure that writers identifying as Black and books about this community are represented in their collections. DEI Analysis assesses a collection’s holdings and can quickly spot gaps or highlight authors or topics that are underrepresented. Ultimately, this tool empowers libraries to ensure fuller representation of Black literature and experiences.
By continuing to diversify collections and stay on top of trends involving new and emerging Black literary talent, libraries will enrich patrons and ensure that all members of the community feel represented throughout the year.