Dr. Donal Harris, professor of English and director of the Marcus Orr Center for the Humanities, has received a prestigious fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Mellon Foundation for the "Citizens of Cossitt" project. This project is a collaboration between the University of Memphis (UofM) and the Memphis Public library (MPL) to research the history and reimagine the future of MPL's first library, Cossitt Library. Guided by librarians at both institutions, the UofM research team will use MPL archives and special collections to create public exhibitions and digital learning tools about the role of Cossitt Library in the city's long civil rights history. Then, using public outreach surveys conducted by Cossitt staff, and in consultation with the UofM Benjamin Hooks Institute for Social Change, the project will develop training
workshops and exhibition space for library patrons to produce their own physical and digital exhibitions about the library's place in civic life. "Citizens of Cossitt" provides the first systematic history of public libraries in Memphis, Tenn. Memphis is unique among large metropolitan areas, even in the South, because it did not have a true public library until 1955. Until then, it had Cossitt Library, which was founded in 1893 as a private philanthropic institution, beholden to its board of trustees rather than to the city government or citizens. When the city finally established MPL in 1955, it simply took over control of the Cossitt branches and kept "Cossitt" as the name of its downtown branch. This history complicates the ideal of the public library in Memphis.