The blog would like to share this letter that Dr. Wiegand recently sent to the ALA and AASL presidents and presidents-elect as well as editors of LJ, SLJ, AL, and Knowledge Quest.
(Please note that you can find an article based on an adaptation of one of the chapters of his forthcoming book in the January issue of American Libraries.)
In September, 2024, the University Press of Mississippi (UPM) will be releasing my next book, “In Silence or Indifference: Racism and Jim Crow Segregated Public School Libraries.” The book will show that between 1954 and 1974–all the while white library leaders and the ALA were honing their national image as proponents of the freedom to read, defenders of intellectual freedom, and opponents of censorship–they were silent or indifferent about the humiliations and racist practices Black public school librarians and Black public school students were suffering at the hands of the Deep South white educational establishment. This is a story never before told, and because during these years the library profession’s rhetoric was such a striking contrast to the reality of its practice in the Jim Crow South, next summer we will be pitching this angle to major media columnists in hopes they will review the book during Banned Books Week.
The purpose of this message is twofold. First, I bring all this to your attention so that the profession I have grown to love will not be blindsided if the book does get substantial media attention.
Second, however, I am also appealing to each of you to consider giving it significant attention in the journals you edit and the conference programs you are planning. Because you all have powerful positions of influence in the library profession, you have the ability to help shine a light on one of our profession’s darkest places. It is imperative that this sad chapter in American library history becomes part of the profession’s collective memory, or we will end up at forthcoming celebratory moments (e.g., AASL’s 75th anniversary in 2025; ALA’s 150th anniversary in 2026) making historically ill-informed statements like the ALA’s Executive Board did on August 18, 2021, when it reacted to the controversy over critical race theory and concluded with the following: “For more than 140 years, ALA has been the trusted voice of libraries, advocating for the profession and the library’s role in enhancing learning and ensuring access to information for all.” “In Silence or Indifference” proves that is simply not true.
Because I am much more interested in getting the book read and discussed by large numbers of our colleagues than I am in writing yet more articles about the subject, I stand ready to help with that goal in any way I can. If you have ideas for facilitating discussions among librarians, I am happy to respond. I also invite you to share this message with any colleagues you think might be interested in setting up forums in which this book can be discussed.
Below please find the UPM description of the book. Thank you for your time and consideration.
In Silence or Indifference:
Racism and Jim Crow Segregated Public School Libraries
Wayne A. Wiegand
An unflinching history critiquing librarianship during the Jim Crow era
Librarians around the country are currently on a battleground, defending their right to purchase and circulate books dealing with issues of race and systemic racism. Despite this work, the library community has often overlooked—even ignored—its own history of white supremacy and deliberate inaction on the part of white librarians and library leadership. Author Wayne A. Wiegand takes a crucial step to amend this historical record. In Silence or Indifference: Racism and Jim Crow Segregated Public School Libraries analyzes and critiques the world of professional librarianship between 1954 and 1974.
Wiegand begins by identifying racism in the practice and customs of public school libraries in the years leading up to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. This culture permeated the next two decades, as subsequent Supreme Court decisions led to feeble and mostly unsuccessful attempts to integrate Jim Crow public schools and their libraries. During this same period, the profession was honing its national image as a defender of intellectual freedom, a proponent of the freedom to read, and an opponent of censorship. Still, the community did not take any unified action to support Brown or to visibly oppose racial segregation. As Black school librarians and their Black patrons suffered through the humiliations and hostility of the Jim Crow educational establishment, the American library community remained largely ambivalent and silent.
The book brings to light a distressing history that continues to impact the library community, its students, and its patrons. Currently available school library literature skews the historical perspective that informs the present. In Silence or Indifference is the first attempt to establish historical accountability for the systemic racism contemporary school librarianship inherited in the twenty-first century.
Wayne A. Wiegand is F. William Summers Professor of Library and Information Studies Emeritus at Florida State University. Often referred to as “the Dean of American library historians,” he is author of many scholarly articles and books, including Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey, Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library, and American Public School Librarianship: A History.