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An open letter to the CLRC community

By May 10, 2019September 16th, 2023No Comments


As many of you know, The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter is an exhibit at the University of Minnesota Libraries, which runs through May 31. It’s an adaptation of the 2013-2014 exhibit at the New York Public Library, curated by children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus.

The University of Minnesota exhibit uses Marcus’ text, but replaces the objects from The NYPL with materials held in the University’s Children’s Literature Research Collections (CLRC). The exhibit also includes a bibliography and suggested readings.

Community concerns and our response

Around the time the exhibit opened in February, we heard concerns that the works of some authors on display had racist overtones and that the exhibit did not adequately reflect these concerns, and we took steps to bring more context to these materials.

Specifically, we:

  • Added signs sharing contemporary academic thought and criticism in context with the materials of concern.
  • Provided additional reading materials within the exhibit so visitors can reflect on the issues in children’s literature, past and present.
  • Scheduled a public event, The ABC of It: Whose Story is Being Told, and invited academics to be part of an open discussion on racism in children’s literature. That event was scheduled for today (May 10) but, unfortunately, two of the panelists withdrew their commitments and a third panelist recently canceled due to a family matter. As a result, we have postponed the event. We welcome discourse and debate on these issues and plan to reschedule the discussion in the 2019-2020 academic year.

Moving forward

We plan to launch a digital exhibit based on the materials of The ABC of It this fall. It will include content and educational context on racist images and text in children’s books, with links to further reading and resources. This additional material will be added to the digital version of The ABC of It book.

After The ABC of It closes on May 31, the next exhibit planned from the University’s Children’s Literature Research Collections is on Children’s Literature created by Indigenous people. We are in the process of reaching out for input from the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color literary and educational community.

We invite all who are interested in research at the Children’s Literature Research Collections to read, reflect, teach, and learn at the University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections.

— Mark Engebretson
Director of Communications
University of Minnesota Libraries

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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