A Virtual Exploration of Race and Representation in JMRL’s Collection

Join JMRL for the timely and important virtual program “Race and Representation in JMRL’s Collection” on Wednesday, August 5 at 7pm.

This panel discussion on racial diversity and representation in library collections, namely the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system will be moderated by Siri Russell, Albemarle County Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion. Panelists will include four representatives from JMRL:

David Plunkett: Library Director
Angela Critics: Children’s Services Manager
Hayley Tompkins: Crozet Branch Manager
Meredith Dickens: Collection Manager

“JMRL looks forward to this opportunity to discuss the issues that must be confronted when reconciling the past practices of public library collections in America with the very real and diverse needs of the people of Charlottesville, Albemarle, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson,” said David Plunkett, JMRL Library Director.

This virtual discussion will explore current trends in collection development and Race & Representation (August 5, 2020)-page-001materials selection, how JMRL is endeavoring to break with the traditional white perspective/narrative to broaden its collection to ensure an inclusive body of own-voice materials that fairly reflect the opinions and stories of marginalized communities.

Discussion will also examine how literature and media can perpetuate racial stereotypes and the challenges libraries face in establishing a fluid and evolving collection of materials that meet the needs of ever-diverse communities seeking to speak on their own behalf.

Registration is required via http://www.jmrl.org or by calling 434.973.7893 x3. The program will be accessible on Zoom (online) or by a toll-free phone number.

This event will also be recorded and published on JMRL’s YouTube channel.

“What kind of idiot goes on a picnic and ends up buying a house?”

The Central Library Brown Baggers met virtually on July 16th to discuss Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant.  

Grant, a British travel writer, and his partner Mariah (a library science  graduate student) move from NYC to Pluto, Mississippi on a whim.  They buy an old house with land in the Mississippi Delta, which comes with inherent home, garden and nature challenges. From the outset it seems like this will be a short adventure, as Grant admits to a nomadic existence. Grant purposefully sets out to get a feel for his new home, meeting his neighbors and learning their stories. Published in 2015, part memoir/part travel/nature writing, the book touches on the impact of the area’s history, poverty, limited employment opportunities and the complexity of race relations in the Delta. Grant also throws in chapters about Parchman penitentiary, local politics, area traditions and limitations of the public school system.

As an outsider, Grant’s British accent seemed to make him novelty and grant him entry into various environments where he inevitably meets a cast of unique characters.  

Some Brown Baggers found the book contrived, as if the author moved to Pluto and set up introductions with people in order to write a book.  However, most enjoyed reading and learning about a place that few will likely visit. There was much discussion of poverty and systemic racism, and the ways it appears throughout the United States, as well as what being an ‘outsider’ really means, and what privileges and disadvantages this offers one.


“Richard Grant Returns to Pluto”

Other books mentioned:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East

The Red Address Book


Dear Committee Members

Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time

Flannery O’Connor

The Yellow House

Travels with Charley; In Search of America

In America

Democracy in America

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on August 20th to discuss Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone

“Why did people ask ‘What is it about?’ as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

Books on Tap met virtually to discuss Americanah  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  We chose this book because it’s exploration of race and racism in America, originally published in 2013, remains piercingly relevant this summer. The novel follows Ifemelu from her childhood in Nigeria to her education in America and her return to Nigeria as an adult Americanah, a Nigerian who has been Americanized. Through her popular blog, Ifemelu explores what it means to be Black and African in America, the politicization of the Black body and the precariousness of womanhood  worldwide. 

The length of the book prevented many of the members from finishing it before we met. However, even though we found the first two thirds more compelling than the end, we couldn’t point to sections that could have been omitted outright. We delved into the framing story of Ifemelu in an American hair salon shortly before she returns to Nigeria. It was both a clever way to organize the sweeping story and a way to focus on how Ifemelu remains distant from African Americans but exposed to the worst of racism in America. Indeed, her blog becomes popular after she writes about wearing her hair naturally. Comments and criticisms flood in, proving that even innocuous choices are politized in a Black body. By remaining anonymous in the blog, she can tightly focus on her personal story as a African in America and  refuses her African American boyfriend’s request to use it for his social justice goals. 

Ifemelu cannot get legal work in America due to immgiration law, even though she enters the country legally. She must use someone else’s identity to take low paying jobs, including sex work. Her child care job reminded some book club members of Such a Fun Age. Her high school boyfriend, Obinze, loves American culture but due to personal connections, migrates to the United Kingdom for work. Britons claim that migrants there don’t experience racism as they do in America, but Obinze’s experience proves otherwise. Both Ifemelu and Obinze are embarrassed by things they are forced to do as migrants, which exacerbates their separation over 15 years. This called to mind Normal People for some readers. 

Both the author and narrator are dedicated to honesty. It’s this truth telling that attracts Ifemelu and Obinze to each other and keeps them apart when they cannot share the full breadth of their lives outside of Nigeria. Their reunion as adults ends the novel on a hopeful note without distracting the reader from the uncomfortable truths of racism in America.  

Books on Tap will meet again on August 6  via Zoom. For information, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org).  We’ll be reading  The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth. JMRL owns this book in print and as a downloadable book from Freading. Please contact Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download. 

More Information:

About the author 

Other works by the author

Interview with the author 


Interview with the author


We Should All Be Feminists TED Talk 


Onyeka Onwenu music


Fela music


More Nigerian Fiction 

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham 

Blackass by Adrian Igonibo Barrett

Everyday is for the Thief by  Teju Cole

Open City by Teju Cole

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Measuring Time by Helon Habila 

The Travelers by Helon Habila

Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya 

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma 

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi 

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Titilola Alexandrah Shoneyin

The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson


Multiple titles by  Chinua Achebe 

Multiple titles by  Nnedi Okorafor


Next Meeting:

August 6th The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth