African American Reference Works at OPL

The Oakland Public Library offers two large African American reference collections to its users.

The Oakland Public Library has a very large and diverse collection of African American reference materials. While many of these works are scattered throughout our Oakland Public Library system, there are two specialized collections in the system:  the African American Reference Collection at the Main Library and the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO).

The African American Reference Collection at the Main Library has been a core part of the library’s reference works for many years. Located in the Adult Reference Department, it includes encyclopedia on historic figures, important eras, social movements, and the arts; biographical dictionaries; historical atlases; pictorial works; directories; first editions of seminal African American works; literary criticism; and statistical reports. This extensive collection is routinely used by students, teachers, researchers, artists and casual browsers. Some choice items in the collection include:

The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. (6-volume set)
The Routledge Atlas of African American history
The Image of the Black in Western Art

Black Stats: African Americans by the numbers in the twenty-first century

A Stranger in the Village: two centuries of African-American travel writing

The Negro Trail Blazers of California

The Black Tradition in American Dance

The Toni Morrison encyclopedia


Started as a small collection of historical resources in 1946 by Ruth and Eugene Lasartemay, AAMLO’s collection specializes in works that tell the history of African Americans in Northern California. Since 2002, the collection has been housed in the Charles S. Greene Library (Oakland’s former Main Library) where patrons will find a library, an archive, and a museum. The archive contains family histories, photographic works, correspondences, and a variety of ephemera on such subjects as women’s clubs, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union, civil rights leaders, and the performing arts. AAMLO’s library, formed in part by contributions from the African American Reference Collection at Main, includes reference works covering the scope of African American history and culture.

Both of these valuable resources are “reference use only” so they do not circulate, but many are available from other libraries through our Link+ service. Drop in and find out more about these important collections when you can!


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