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Photo by Robert DeSanto.

This book changed the way I live my life at Yale. The book explores friendship and love in such profound depth.

“This quote is from a Yale student who is recommending ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara as part of the library’s Reading Resilience Project,” said Bass Librarian Emily Horning. “What’s wonderful to me is that the student is telling us how the book affected them.”

A student said, “This book changed the way I live my life at Yale. The book explores friendship and love in such profound depth.”

The Reading Resilience Project began in 2015 during campus protests centered on renaming what was then called Calhoun College. A group of undergraduates approached Horning to find ways that the library could support, recognize, and acknowledge students of color. Katherine Wyatt ’16 and Peter Huang ’16 initiated the project, and Kimberly Mejia-Cuellar ’16 and Alina Sidorova ’16 did important early advocacy work to get student participation.

“We brainstormed a few ideas, but it was the student group who suggested creating reading lists,” said Horning, who is also director of undergraduate programming. “True to the library’s dedication to fostering student success, we wholeheartedly agreed and became partners in the effort.”

Begun as an initiative to amplify underrepresented voices in library collections, the Reading Resilience Project encouraged the Yale community to recommend books that highlighted these voices by filling in a simple online form and note why they were suggesting a particular read. Recommenders could add hashtags that they might associate with the book, which encouraged personal cataloging and metadata creation.

A student notes, “This book was the first time I read about Black girls in fiction, and the stories have a way of getting into your head.”

Today the crowd-sourced list of recommended books numbers 300, with 200 unique authors. Kelly Blanchat, an undergraduate teaching and outreach librarian, runs and manages the project. “Another important aspect of the program is that the library has made a commitment to purchase the recommended books that we do not own,” said Blanchat. “This makes my acquisition responsibilities especially rewarding because I know that members of the Yale community are requesting the titles themselves. We purchase either a print or e-book version.”

The Belonging at Yale initiative featured the project in 2023 as one of several self-directed summer activities in its “Be Open, Discover” program, inviting all members of the Yale community to recommend creative works that reflect the university’s mission to “enhance diversity, support equity, and promote an environment of welcome, inclusion, and respect.”

Librarians Keep Recommendations Front and Center

“This book opened my eyes to the whole issue of discrimination and maltreatment 50 years ago,” said a student in their recommendation.

A Bass Library tradition begun by Horning and carried on by Blanchat is the celebration of Black History Month and Women’s History Month through a focus on the Reading Resilience Project. Blanchat displays a dry-erase board that asks for recommendations from the students. “In no time the board is full to bursting, so I take photos of it and start afresh,” said Blanchat. “I am proud to facilitate the project, but as a cis white woman I want the community recommendations to be front and center, not my own.”

In tandem with the invitation to share book titles is a table display of recommended books that the library owns. “I’ve heard from staff here at Bass about how nice it is to see more representation in our book displays,” said Blanchat. “This means that all kinds of people who are coming through our spaces are feeling seen.”

The Power of Recommenders’ Voices

A student added this book to the list because it is “the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read and perfectly captures the intellectual argument against institutional racism in the United States.”

Horning found that many in the Yale community recommended books they read as young people – books that were meaningful to them. She also noticed in the written reasons for recommendations that reading a particular book was often a first-time learning experience.

She, too, continuously learns something new. “Every year I see some new book,” said Horning, “and say, ‘Wow, I’ve never heard of that before.’ And then there is an impassioned note from a student. Some of them are quite moving.”

As the project moves toward its ninth year, there is no end in sight. “It is just magical that every year we get a new crop of students who are so eager to recommend books that lift up the voices of underrepresented peoples in the library’s collections,” said Horning.

Browse the complete booklist to find your next read.

Submit a title to the Reading Resilience Project.