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St. Louis Public Library seeks pieces of history from Black-owned businesses

St. Louis Public Library seeks pieces of history from Black-owned businesses

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Books for Everyone

EyeSeeMe owners Jeffrey and Pamela Blair restock the shelves in 2019 after the bookstore moved to 6951 Olive Boulevard. The St. Louis Public Library is seeking donations of similar photos and other things for a collection about Black business owners.

Annie Malone was one of the nation’s first Black millionaires. But one doesn’t have to be a local hair-care magnate to contribute items of history, or be part of a special collection, at the St. Louis Public Library.

Items connected to St. Louis’ Black-owned businesses have been underrepresented at the library, said Amanda Bahr-Evola, head of special collections.

“We didn’t have anything except regular things like business directories,” she said.

So the library wants to build a special collection of paper items including letterheads, photos, advertisements and records from Black-owned businesses. The businesses may be from the past or present and can include nonprofits or pop-ups.

“We’re trying to do two things: establish a physical collection and a digital collection,” Bahr-Evola said.

WW1-AX

Annie Malone made a fortune manufacturing and selling hair products in early 20th century. She donated $10,000 to help the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home build a new building in the Ville neighborhood in 1922. Malone was president of the home's board of directors from 1918 to 1943, three years before the board renamed the home in her honor. She died in Chicago in 1957.

So if a donor doesn’t want to give the library physical copies of photos, the library may scan them for a digital collection.

The items will help researchers find out more about St. Louis history. “We want to capture all of it,” she says.

Often, residents don’t realize that the library is interested in collecting things like photos or business records.

“We’re not museum people,” Bahr-Evola said, emphasizing that what the collection will contain is mostly paper, not physical objects. Eventually, an exhibition of items might be shown.

The request for donations began in February, Black History Month, but will continue indefinitely. There’s no end date so far.

Bahr-Evola is pleased with the offers the library has received, which include photos from a local dentist, restaurants and gas stations.

Donors need to fill out a form at slpl.org so library researchers know who the donor is and that the person can give legal permission to upload images, for instance. Those who have trouble accessing the online form can call 314-539-0370 or email specialcollections@slpl.org.

The public library system is currently only offering curbside service, but donors can drop items at their local branch. If there is something that requires scanning for the digital archives, it would need to be taken to the Central Library headquarters downtown.

Bahr-Evola also asks patrons if they “have any stories you can share with us. Maybe we can get stuff that way, too.”

There have been many Black businesses throughout the city, she says. “We’re doing our own research on it. Staff throughout the library will work on it.”

In the future, the special collections department may also put out calls for items connected to St. Louis schools, immigration or neighborhoods.

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