2020 Donald G. Davis Award Winner Announcement

Dr. Laura E. Helton, winner of the 2020 Donald G. Davis Award.  Dr. Helton is a professor of history and English at the University of Delaware.
Dr. Laura E. Helton, winner of the 2020 Donald G. Davis Award. Dr. Helton is a professor of history and English at the University of Delaware.

The Davis Article Award is presented by the Library History Round Table of the American Library Association every even-numbered year to recognize the best article written in English in the field of United States and Canadian library history. The award honors Donald G. Davis, longtime professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas and editor of Libraries & the Cultural Record (formerly Journal of Library History, Philosophy, and Comparative Librarianship). The winner receives a certificate recognizing their work. A list of the past winners is available on the ALA web site.

On June 28, 2020, LHRT announced the winner of the 2020 Donald G. Davis Award at a brief ceremony during its virtual Research Forum. The winning article was:

Laura E. Helton. “On Decimals, Catalogs, and Racial Imaginaries of Reading.” PMLA 134, no. 1 (2019): 99-120. 

Readers can access the full text through the Humanities Commons and see firsthand what a spectacular work of intellectual craftsmanship it is. The Davis Award Committee reviewed a pool of nine excellent articles to select Dr. Helton’s work.

Reprinted below is an excerpt from the Davis Committee’s letter to the LHRT Chair:

In “On Decimals”, Dr. Helton, a professor of history and English at the University of Delaware, focuses on a pioneering librarian, Dorothy Porter, and interprets her work in expanding access to African-American historical collections in the early twentieth century.  A former archivist and Schomburg Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Helton’s research interests include the history of archives as well as race studies. This article brilliantly combines these interests.

We selected “On Decimals” in view of the high standards established by The Davis Award: the criteria states that nominations should be judged on the “quality of scholarships, clarity of style, and depth of research. The round table is particularly interested in articles that place the subject within its broader historical, social, cultural, and political context and make interdisciplinary connections with print culture and information studies.”  

We believe that the article excels in all of these areas.   Dr. Helton’s inspiring story of Porter building the “national infrastructure for black bibliography” places librarianship in the broader context of the civil rights struggle (p. 111).  In prose accessible to those inside and outside of the library field, she leads the reader through an engaging narrative that casts the library catalog as an “epistemological battleground” between institutional racism and African-American cultural consciousness (p. 102). 

The primary sources consist of materials that form the very foundation of library work, such as bibliographies, indexes, and finding aids created by Porter. Through an assiduous analysis of the subject headings, decimal placements, and other details of these materials, Dr. Helton draws valid and interesting insights that illustrate Porter’s daring efforts to challenge the repressive ideologies of her day.  In addition, the article is contextualized within the historiography of both race studies and library science.

Dr. Helton presents a unique and convincing argument by using library classification as evidence in the civil rights struggle.  Her scholarship provides an exemplar for future studies in library history…

The Davis Award Committee consisted of Tanya Finchum at Oklahoma State University, Bradley P. Tolppanen at Eastern Illinois University, Paul Heyde at Case Western Reserve, and Brett Spencer at Penn State Berks.

Special thanks to Dr. Katherine L. Chiles at University of Tennessee for nominating Dr. Helton’s work.

Congratulations Dr. Helton!!

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