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Reinette F. Jones

Librarian, University of Kentucky Libraries’ Special Collections and Research Center; faculty affiliate, African American and Africana Studies in the UK College of Arts and Sciences.

In a few short minutes of talking to Reinette F. Jones, you quickly understand two things: She is passionate about her work and equally passionate about Kentucky.

Jones is a librarian in the University of Kentucky Libraries’ Special Collections and Research Center (SCRC) and a faculty affiliate with African American and Africana Studies in the UK College of Arts and Sciences.

Since joining UK in 1988, she may be most well-known for her work in creating the Notable Kentucky African Americans (NKAA) Database. It features entries with names, places, events, communities and sources that share the often marginalized stories of African Americans in and from the Commonwealth.

“It’s about Kentucky for me and the African American experience in Kentucky,” said Jones. “My goal is to educate people about this state and the people in this state while sharing the stories that, oftentimes, aren’t told.”

The Bourbon County native started the database 20 years ago with Rob Aken, now an emeritus librarian. Grown from a simple webpage to a robust knowledge base, the site is used by half a million people — mostly Kentuckians — from elementary school students to senior citizens.

“It may seem like a small thing or that all the information could just be found in a history book. But before this database was created, there’s wasn’t a whole lot in the history books about African Americans in Kentucky,” said Jones. “It’s sharing information about the life experiences and contributions of African Americans from Kentucky into the history of Kentucky.”

The database grows organically as Jones explores new avenues of knowledge, either from reference questions, website submissions or from community events.

Last month, Jones visited the Lexington Public Library for the Colored Marriage Index program — an initiative to learn more about the original finding aids used to locate the early marriage bonds of African Americans in Lexington. The Index to Colored Marriage Register is available online in the UK Libraries Explore UK. Jones was a member of the partnership agreement between UK Libraries and the Lexington-Fayette County Clerk’s office to make the records available online.

As the people in the room were talking, sharing stories and adding to history, Jones was taking notes to update various NKAA entries.

“It’s rewarding to find that information, to find out about someone that made something possible for everybody in the state and they’ve been forgotten.

“Libraries are supposed to be that place that documents, houses and preserves the history and the stories of everybody. But so many people have been left out and we’re going back and filling in gaps. We will be doing this forever. I don’t think it ever stops.”

Jones emphasized the NKAA database is a community-driven project and could not have happened without the mentorship from Yvonne Giles, a community researcher, Sharyn Mitchell now retired from Berea College’s Hutchins Library Special Collections and Archives, and community researcher Willa Gentry from Scott County.

When asked what it meant to be a woman leading in her field, Jones said, “I have to be a Black woman to do this. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.”

In her time at UK, Jones also created one of the most used research guides at UK Libraries, “Lesbian Studies.” The guide is one of very few academic research guides dedicated solely to lesbians.

“When I wrote that guide, I wanted to give lesbian history its own place. I thought, ‘We’ve got something stable here, something that continues.’ I never expected the guide to have thousands of people consulting it each year.”

Jones is the author of “Library Service to African Americans in Kentucky” and co-author of “Special Libraries of the Bluegrass.” Her Black History Month Virtual Exhibits are available online in UKnowledge, along with many other free resources through UK Libraries.

For her exemplary work in documenting and making Kentucky’s history accessible, Jones has received multiple honors including the 2022 Paul A. Willis Outstanding Faculty Award, the Lexington Fairness Hall of Fame Award for Lifetime Commitment Towards Achieving Fairness and the University of Kentucky LGBTQ* Alumni of the Year Award, among others.

As she’s grown in her career, learning to lean on her mentors, community groups and other pillars of support, Jones gained a valuable life lesson that she now passes on to others: “Take advantage of every opportunity that comes about in life. Sometimes it may not seem like an opportunity, but it really is one.”

If the Commonwealth’s past is a canvas, Jones is a talented painter who intentionally ensures historically ignored groups of people are included in the artwork of our shared Kentucky heritage. As much as she’s dedicated to this goal, she is equally devoted to giving back.

“There’s nothing that I’ve done on this earth that I did on my own,” said Jones. “I came to UK as a single mother and a lot of people have given me a hand, so I’m trying to give back as much as I can to help others as much as I can.”


Photo by oral history archivist Kopana Terry.

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