Penn State acquires important Blockson Collection

Armen Hareyan's picture

Penn State's University Libraries have recently acquired the Charles L. Blockson Collection of African-Americana and the African Diaspora, an important assemblage of some 10,000 volumes relating to African-American, African, Latin American and Caribbean history and culture. The collection is housed in the new Charles L. Blockson Room, on the third floor of Pattee Library, west, and will be opened at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 18.

The ceremony is open to the public, and will be followed by a reception in the Mann Assembly Room, 103 Paterno Library. The reception also is being held to celebrate Penn State's Black Alumni Reunion, and will offer an opportunity for alumni to reconnect, enjoy programs and discover the African-American legacy at Penn State.

Charles Blockson, a 2007 Penn State Distinguished Alumnus, began collecting historical items related to African-Americans as a fourth-grader, at first searching through Salvation Army and Goodwill shelves before graduating to more serious collecting venues like antiquarian bookstores. Blockson has devoted his life to research, scholarship and collecting and preserving significant materials related to African-American history, following in the footsteps of some great African-American collectors, including David Ruggles, James W. C. Pennington, his ancestor William Still, Dorothy Porter Wesley and Arthur A. Schomburg.

Over the decades, Blockson has traveled extensively to acquire rare African, African-American and African Caribbean publications -- some dating back to the 16th century -- forming not one but two great collections in the process.

In 1984, he donated to Temple University the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American History Collection. More recently, but no less actively, Blockson has formed a second collection on black history, which now forms part of Penn State’s Special Collections Library. The Penn State collection focuses not only on African-Americana, but more broadly documents the African Diaspora, the pattern of human migration that reaches back hundreds of years and traces the movement of blacks from their African homelands to areas around the world, most notably in South America (Brazil and Guyana, for example), the Caribbean and the United States. Both the Temple and Penn State collections are considered among the best African-American historical collections in the country.

Cataloging of the Blockson Collection began in the fall of 2007. The Charles L. Blockson Room is open from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursdays or by appointment. It also will be open from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 19, In the fall, the University Libraries will initiate more active service in support of this valuable resource. Inquiries and requests for materials may be directed to the Special Collections Library, 104 Paterno Library, at (814) 865-1793 or at online. Researchers may search the growing holdings of the collection by choosing the Advanced Search in the CAT, selecting Special Collections in the "In Library" box and then choosing "Rare Books & Mss," "Blockson Collection" and "Blockson Collection Vault" in the location box.

Also running through April is a display in the Social Sciences Library, second floor, Paterno Library, "Charles L. Blockson's Quest to Document Black History." The exhibit will highlight selected items from the collection and provide information to patrons who may be interested to visit the Blockson Room. For reference help, to make an appointment or more information, contact Sylvia Nyana at (814) 865-8864 or

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