Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Sylviane A. Diouf

Director, Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic History

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

515 Malcolm X Boulevard New York, NY 10037-1801 United States

New York, United States
National Medal for Museum and Library Service 2015 laureate


The Black Experience: From Harlem To The World

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem, New York, is a research unit of The New York Public Library system. It is recognized as the world’s leading repository focusing on materials related to the global black experience. We serve an array of functions—from international research institute to cultural center, museum, and performing arts venue. Our dedication to the collection, preservation, and interpretation of black life, history, and culture stems from the tradition set forth by our namesake, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a black Puerto-Rican who immigrated to New York in 1891.

shomb1Determined to prove to the world that black people had a history, Arturo Schomburg collected black-related books, manuscripts, prints, pamphlets, newspapers, and ephemera. He developed relationships with book dealers from around the world. In May 1926, The New York Public Library purchased Schomburg’s collection, which attracted the attention of scholars, artists, politicians, intellectuals, and the general public and was instrumental in the development of the Harlem Renaissance. Today, the Center contains over 10 million items. We know that there is limited knowledge on the great contributions of black culture and we strive to provide free services and programs for a variety of constituents from the United States and abroad.

The Schomburg, a well-respected institution, serves as a cutting-edge cultural arts and research center that provides intellectual discovery through research, innovative programming, research fellowships for college students and faculty, educational programs for teenagers and teachers, cultural performances, and free exhibitions. Recently, the exhibition “Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers” has been traveling to over 20 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean and has also been displayed at the United Nations in New York. Digital exhibitions on diverse topics, such as black migrations, the African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World, or the Black Power movement have been seen in over 170 countries, offering international viewers the latest scholarship on the global black experience.

The year 2015 marked the Schomburg Center’s 90th anniversary and over the course of our history we have contributed profoundly to the intellectual understanding of race and the global black experience. As a public institution dedicated to fostering literacy, arts appreciation and awareness of the contributions of black people the world over, the Schomburg Center provides access to and professional reference assistance in the use of its collections through five divisions, each managing materials in specific formats but with broad subject focus: the Art and Artifacts Division; the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division; the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division; the Photographs and Prints Division; and the Research and Reference Division.

The Schomburg Center connects the dynamic worlds of scholarship, art, community learning and public programming unlike any other institution. Our research facilities and multi-purposed building provide a supportive environment for community groups with limited resources. We attract a broad range of constituencies that are multi-racial, multi-generational and represent the diverse communities of New York City. Our deep history and connections with the African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and African immigrants speak to and demonstrate our commitment as an inclusive organization.

Unlike other research institutions, the Schomburg is the only one that combines intellectual research, cultural arts, and public programming focused exclusively on the black experience. One of our unique features is our public programming series that attracts and engages with diverse audiences and community partners. The Schomburg hosts free public programs that showcase films, theater productions, performances, speaker panels, and authors’ conversations. Events are live streamed and are available to viewers throughout the world.

The Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery is another unique initiative, the only one of its kind in a public library. The Center's mission is to generate and disseminate scholarly knowledge on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery pertaining to the Atlantic World. The Center supports the work of researchers with fellowships. Given the centrality of Atlantic slavery to the making of the modern world, the Lapidus fellowships provide a counterbalance to the contemporary direction of scholarship in African-American and African Diaspora studies. To raise awareness and historical literacy, the Lapidus Center engages the public with live-streamed programs, an annual nonfiction prize, and a biennial conference.

scho 2The National Medal For Museum and Library Service

The Schomburg Center was proud to receive the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2015 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The mission of IMLS is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Each year, IMLS selects ten recipients to receive the prestigious National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community. For 22 years, the award has celebrated institutions that respond to societal needs in innovative ways, making a difference for individuals, families, and their communities. The award is a based on a nomination process and the Schomburg Center was nominated by United States Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York. The award includes a presentation at the White House, a plaque and a modest grant award to acknowledge the achievement.

The Schomburg Center’s nomination process was led by our administrative offices and the proposal was developed by our Strategic Initiatives Department. It required strategic oversight and planning. The successful process was managed by a single staff member (Director of Strategic Initiatives) that allowed for the proposal to have focused attention.

We used the award to elevate our profile during our 90th anniversary season. This was a strategic approach to leverage funding, new media and other opportunities. Strategically, we were able to gain access to the First Lady of the United States and she graciously agreed to provide a video presentation at our 90th anniversary gala. We also leveraged earned media from various outlets that learned about the Schomburg Center from the National Medal and we were able to highlight our achievement with individual donors and supporters.

The National Medal is the highest award bestowed upon libraries and museums in the United States. We are recognized as a leader in our field and define excellence as the ability to provide intellectual and cultural enrichment focused on the black experience.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is where history comes alive. Our work helps to celebrate the American narrative of diversity, ingenuity, hope and social progress and offers enriching insight on the global black experience for everyone to share and learn.



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