When Cathy Chukwulebe (MBA 2021) set up a plastic bin with books about antiracism and the Black experience in the Harvard Business School Schwartz Pavilion in the summer of 2020, she never imagined that the collection would grow to sites across the country, much less to HBS’s own Baker Library.

Chukwulebe’s Little Black Library is Baker Library’s first non-business or economic collection and its first placement in an academic library. Two versions of the collection—one for the Stamps Reading Room, which is available to all Harvard affiliates via Hollis, and another for the first floor’s little free library—were installed in July.

“Seeing classmates take books out of that bin a year ago was very exciting to me. Now, having it in Baker—knowing that they'll take care of it and communicate about it to the students—shows that the community really is committed to continuing the learning process,” said Chukwulebe.

In the spring of 2021, Mallory Stark, Knowledge and Library Service’s curriculum services specialist, read about Chukwulebe’s collection, and immediately saw it as a solution to her team’s quest for deeper engagement with diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts across the School.

The Curriculum and Learning Services team had created research guides and newsletter collections and met with various groups at HBS and the University about creating additional resources, but felt that something was missing. “I wanted something that was more connective and interactive. The Little Black Library was perfect,” said Stark. “This is not Baker Library saying, ‘These are the books you should read,’ this is Cathy’s work. We’re not collaborating, we’re supporting a student-led initiative. It gives our students agency over this topic.”

Though budgets were stretched thin over the pandemic, Stark says there was no question about funding, and she and her team researched local bookstores for sourcing the 177 volumes in the collection, which also includes Shekeyla Sandore Caldwell’s (MBA 2021) new children’s book, A Name Like Mine. They quickly found Roxbury’s Frugal Bookstore, Boston’s only Black-owned bookshop, and placed the substantial order. The bookshop is now a Harvard vendor, and will continue to supply titles as the library grows.

Much as her own exposure to literature and dialogues led her personal journey of antiracism, Chukwulebe hopes that Baker’s Little Black Library will inspire others to engage in conversation and better understand different perspectives.

“In the summer of 2020 I made a conscious decision to engage in active conversations about these topics with my classmates, and to learn about perspectives outside of my own as a biracial Nigerian immigrant,” said Chukwulebe. “The piece that we can all do on an individual level is continue to grow and educate ourselves. To have a place to do that within a community is important. The MBA experience is already transformational, and this adds an extra layer—it’s a way to signal that as a future leader, you value this work and want to be part of this community effort.”

Stark has the same goal for the collection. “We see this as a jumping off point for more interaction around the topic,” she said. “We're envisioning book talks or discussions and book clubs to make it not just a collection of books but also a platform for education and awareness.”

This story was originally published by the HBS Newsroom.

Related Content:

Video: The Little Black Library at Baker Library

Little Black Library: Q+A with Founder Cathy Chukwulebe (MBA 2021)

Shekeyla Caldwell Sandore: Why 'A Name Like Mine' Matters