Forgotten Negro Books, Remembered Online

This advertisement appeared in the November 1968 issue of School Library Journal; I’d wager that “forgot” is in shock quotes because they weren’t truly forgotten (Sojourner Truth, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, etc), but for the most part the books in this collection were somewhat obscure, given the subject matter and the educational system at the time. Negros were barely considered second-class citizens even in 1968 (just a couple years before I was born), so “forgot” can also apply to schools who neglected to include Negro history on their bookshelves among the Anglo-centric histories that are our libraries are still overly heavy with. This expansive collection would definitely prove to be an encompassing addition to a library, giving the probably Negro-lax knowledge of the librarians a break, removing their need to research and compile a list. Here it was, all lumped together, ready to be purchased as a $485 chunk. It’d probably look good on the budget request; to the probably overly-white adminstrative groups overseeing library acquisitions at the time, one $485 one-time purchase would look better than 45 individual purchases spread out over months as the books are discovered.

Here’s why Google Books, Project Gutenberg, Print-On-Demand, and other electronic publishing services are instrumental in modern education: The list of “forgotten” books are hardly forgotten today. Where, forty years ago, a library had to find nearly $500 — probably a months’ salary for one good librarian, or a half-dozen part-timer circulation desk workers — nearly all of the books are available online today, most free to anyone with an internet connection…which, incidentally, is free in most libraries today.

Why did I mention Print-On-Demand? The 1968 editions advertised here from Arno Press, particularly the non-public-domain-editions, are still shown as available according to Amazon via Ayer Publishing with a 1-3 week wait. That sort of wait time, the type of business Ayer runs, and the existing 1968 publishing date means that this book, when ordered from Amazon, is printed in an instant on high-speed printers, bound and jacketed, and then shipped out in one constant motion. These modern technologies make available books that were once obscure and elusive. Once upon a time, you had to be a librarian with a big budget. Today, these books are available to anybody, in a comparative (or literal) instant, thanks to computers and publishing revolutions.

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