Philly Free Library Adds Online Archive of 10 Black Newspapers

With most physical archives remaining closed for the foreseeable future, digital databases have become essential resources for researchers. The Free Library of Philadelphia recently added the archives of ten historic Black newspapers to its online databases, allowing users to explore how Black communities understood past events.

In a statement announcing the new addition to its online resources, the Free Library explained that the historic Black newspapers provide a more complete picture of US history. The newspapers “cover news and issues that impact Black people, that would not be told elsewhere, and would certainly not be told from a Black perspective.” Users can access articles, obituaries, photos, advertisements, and more that provide insight into the history of Black communities. A full list of newspapers included in the database can be seen in the statement.

Anyone who holds a library card can access the new database. Users can sign up for a library card online and will be sent a number which they can use for almost immediate access.

This addition comes at a time when the Free Library of Philadelphia is reckoning with racism within its administration. At the end of June, Black library workers organized the Concerned Black Workers of the Free Library of Philadelphia and wrote an open letter calling for an equitable reopening plan that addresses the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black people. The group also called for the resignation of Free Library director Siobhan Reardon as the only way to move forward with creating an anti-racist culture within the library. Reardon resigned in late July. More recently, library workers have also petitioned for the resignation of Pamela Dembe, Chair of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Board of Trustees, who organizers say has used racist language and exhibited racist behaviors.