May 16, 2022

University of North Carolina: A $400,000 Mellon Foundation Grant Will Expand University Libraries’ Use of Machine Learning to Identify Historically Racist Laws

From a UNC Libraries Blog Post:

Since 2019, experts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s University Libraries have investigated the use of machine learning to identify racist laws from North Carolina’s past. Now a grant of $400,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow them to extend that work to two more states. The grant will also fund research and teaching fellowships for scholars interested in using the project’s outputs and techniques.

On the Books: Jim Crow and Algorithms of Resistance began with a question from a North Carolina social studies teacher: Was there a comprehensive list of all the Jim Crow laws that had ever been passed in the state?

We identified so many laws,” said Amanda Henley, principal investigator for On the Books and head of digital research services at the University Libraries. “There are laws that initiated segregation, which led to the creation of additional laws to maintain and administer the segregation. Many of the laws were about school segregation.” Other topics included indigenous populations, taxes, health care and elections, Henley said. The model eventually uncovered nearly 2,000 North Carolina laws that could be classified as Jim Crow.

Henley said that On the Books is an example of “collections as data”—digitized library collections formatted specifically for computational research. In this way, they serve as rich sources of data for innovative research.

Learn More, Read the Complete Post

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.