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Black Librarians Project

Welcome to the Black Librarians Project!

Thanks to LHRT News and Notes, the blog of the Library History Round Table of the American Library Association, we are so pleased to bring you companion pieces to the special double issue of Libraries: Culture, History, and Society dedicated to Black Women Librarians (vol. 6, issue 1, 2022). Together, the special issue and blog posts join to tell the stories of dozens of Black women librarians whose contributions to the profession have not always been adequately recognized and celebrated.

Our profession has an extensive, enlightening, and often troubling history related to race and discrimination, and there are so many stories about Black librarians that we still do not know. The astounding and groundbreaking Black women highlighted here represent a range of experiences and library types, and their stories reveal the difficulties Black women librarians had in becoming library professionals, their difficulties dealing with the profession, the difficulties they had serving their communities, and the extra work they had to do to innovate to overcome various barriers and oppressions. But these stories also depict the empathy, strength, ingenuity, patience, and brilliance of all these women. The Black women featured on this site helped to change the face of librarianship and bettered the communities and societies they served.

This storytelling project will continue, so stay tuned for more information and opportunities!

Thank you for taking this journey with us,
Dr. Nicole A. Cooke, project editor

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Andrews, Regina Anderson

By Shaunda Vasudev, Outreach Librarian, Capital University

“As a critical contributor to the Harlem Renaissance and friend of W.E.B. Dubois, librarian Regina Anderson Andrews expanded a cultural movement through community outreach…”

Borders, Florence E.

By Rebecca Hankins, Wendler Endowed Professor, Texas A&M University

“Borders began her career in 1946 at the University of Chicago as a library assistant, the first
African American in such a position… She returned to her home city of New Orleans in 1970
to become the reference archivist for the Amistad Research Center… At Amistad, she
found her calling, and the Center is still replete with the legacy of her tenure…”

Brocks-Shedd, Virgia

By Shawna Sherman, Manager, African American Center, San Francisco Public Library

“After library school, she returned to Jackson, Mississippi, and began work as an assistant
librarian for Tougaloo College’s L. Zenobia Coleman Library, spending most of her career there.
As a librarian and archivist at the Coleman Library, Brocks-Shedd would create a repository of
southern, especially civil rights, history, act as a mentor for students, and nurturer of life in the
artistic community as a poet and performer. While at the library, she started the Tougaloo Civil
Rights Collection…”

Collins, Mary Rayford

By Rebecca Hankins, Wendler Endowed Professor, Texas A&M University

“When Collins became the librarian for the Carnegie Negro Library of Meridian for five years,
she was Mississippi’s first Black public librarian…The library served the large Black community in Meridian, over a third of the population, and was used as an educational support center and a community meeting place.”

Coppin Alvarado, Adelina

By Carlos Suárez Balseiro, Professor, Graduate School of Information Sciences & Technologies, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus; Javier Almeyda Loucil, Librarian, Puerto Rican Collection, Libraries System, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus; Dinah Wilson Fraites, Librarian, Technical Services, Cataloguing Section, Libraries System, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus

“In November of 2012, just a week before her 83rd birthday, Adelina Coppin Alvarado gladly
agreed to be interviewed for Project Memoro Puerto Rico. The interview took place in Coppin’s birthplace, the city of Ponce, known as the “Pearl of the South.” It was her last formal interview and a testimony of a life dedicated to promoting the values of librarianship in a country marked by centuries of colonial dependence…”

Florence, Virginia Proctor Powell

By Eboni A. Johnson, Outreach & Programming Librarian, Oberlin College

“Virginia Proctor Powell Florence (1897-1991), the first Black woman and second Black person in the United States to earn a professional degree in library science, blazed the trail for scores to follow.”

Hart, Katie

By Marvin Tupper Jones, Director, Chowan Discovery Group

“Katie Marie Askew Hart (1899–1984) has long been remembered by her Hertford County, North Carolina, community for establishing a bookmobile and a library that served primarily people of color from 1938 to 1969.”

Hemmings, Anita

By Gabby Womack, M.S., M.A., Reference/Access Services Associate, McQuade Library, Merrimack College

“Anita Love, née Hemmings, was a mixed-race woman with a passion for learning and inclination for privacy. Like many of her fellow Victorians, her life is somewhat difficult to piece together. Hemmings is known as the first Black graduate of Vassar College, but she was also a cataloger at the Boston Public Library at the turn of the century. Having passed as white for the majority of her life, Hemmings’s descendants were unaware of her race until the 1990s…”

Hunter, Julie

By Makiba J. Foster, MA, MLIS, Manager, African American Research Library & Cultural Center

“Julie Varner Wright Hunter, civil rights activist/organizer, educator, librarian, and builder of Black library collections…her life and work epitomizes the unsung labor and sisterhood networks of Black women who have done so much for the liberation of Black people with very little recognition.”

Jenkins, Latanya

“She was not just a librarian: she was a trailblazer, a mentor, an explorer, and a model for the next generation of librarians and library workers...We can only hope to live up to the incredible legacy she left behind. We have written all of these words, but they will never be enough to capture the amazing light that was her essence and spirit. We love you, Latanya Jenkins, and hope that the little we’ve written can honor you.

Mickelbury, Mexico

By Holly A. Smith, College Archivist, Women’s Research & Resource Center, Spelman College

Mexico Hembree Mickelbury was a force on Spelman’s campus. Serving as the college librarian for nearly forty years, she helped craft library collections amplifying Black history and culture and educated students at the largest consortia of historically Black colleges and universities. Mickelbury stands in the tradition of a generation of Black women librarians dedicated to fostering literacy, learning, and growth primarily in Black communities.

Mims, Grace Lee

By Gladys Smiley Bell, MLS, Peabody Librarian, Harvey Library, Hampton University; Tiffany A. Duck, Manager of Library Locations, Suffolk Public Library

She had the foresight and tenacity to take action to remember African American roots and work for the interest of the African American students. A source of inspiration and motivation for us, Tiffany Duck and Gladys Bell, Mims serves as a librarian of dedication and sacrifice for a righteous struggle. She sacrificed her time and dedicated her energies to prepare generations that passed through the doors of the Glenville school system for a future. We must not take these sacrifices for granted and we must not forget unsung shero librarians…Librarianship is an art that is included in this remembrance of a passionate, beautiful librarian.

Motley, Reynolda

By Carl Leak, Librarian (Science & Technology Team), George Mason University

“Motley was a librarian—full stop. But librarians like her are often obscured in LIS histories either due to not having formal library training by way of a degree from a library school or to location...LIS professionals like Motley were nearly iconic within their communities. To foreground individuals like Motley is not only informative but also empowering to those who may seek community-first models of librarianship. Motley’s career trajectory and so many others can also empower those who have a talent in one or more areas of LIS but have little-to-no awareness of those who came before them from their respective locales.

Murphy, Beverly

By Jamia Williams, Health Sciences Librarian, SUNY Brockport; Shannon D. Jones, Director of Libraries, Medical University of South Carolina

“The stories and contributions that African Americans have made to health sciences librarianship have largely been omitted from the historical record of the profession. This post features Beverly Murphy, health sciences librarian and the first Black President in the Medical Library Association’s (MLA) 123-year history. The overall aim of this post is to shine a light on these professionals, beginning with documenting Murphy’s journey in health sciences librarianship. Murphy has made many contributions to health sciences librarianship and achieved many firsts throughout her career, culminating in being elected MLA President.

Newsom, Effie Lee

By E. Gale Greenlee, Ph.D.

“Effie Lee Newsome was a renaissance woman—specifically, a Harlem Renaissance woman writer that most contemporary readers never knew. A veritable multi-hyphenate long before such a moniker was common, Newsome toggled between roles as a children’s poet, fiction writer, editor, illustrator, and children’s librarian.

Nilon, Nancy Mildred Harper

By Deborah Hollis, Associate Professor, Rare and Distinctive Collections, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries

“Nancy Mildred Harper Nilon was the first African American librarian hired at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries (CU Boulder). For a quarter of a century, she contributed to the mission of the libraries with a diverse portfolio of expertise that spanned reference and user services, collection development, and cataloging...Because the account of her early life is accessible online, this post examines Nilon’s librarianship through the lens of her curriculum vita (CV), specifically her librarianship and research. Combining historical research and interviews with family, friends, and CU Boulder alumni, this post offers a different view of one Black woman’s contributions to the field of library and information science through her scholarly record.

Price, Charlotte Shuster

By Gladys Smiley Bell, MLS, Peabody Librarian, Harvey Library, Hampton University; Tiffany A. Duck, Manager of Library Locations, Suffolk Public Library

“At the age of fifty-five, with her husband’s encouragement, Price decided to study library & information science (LIS). At the age of fifty-eight, Price transformed herself from activist to archivist by earning a master’s degree in library science from Catholic University, beginning LIS work in the Moorland Room (now the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center) at Howard University. She worked with and was mentored by Dorothy Porter Wesley, an illustrious and pioneering African American librarian at Howard University.

Robinson, Pauline Short

By Stevie Gunter, Archivist Librarian, Denver Public Library’s Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library; Ozy Aloziem, Manager of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Denver Public Library

“The archives of Pauline Short Robinson broaden the scope of Black history in libraries. Robinson’s achievements as a Black woman in librarianship center around her philosophy of community building and the importance of literacy. She is celebrated because of her commitment to access.

Stroud Frazier, Effie

By Tova Johnson, Critical Pedagogy and Research Librarian, Oregon Health & Science University

“Effie Stroud Frazier, whose library career spanned from the 1930s to the 1970s, is one of those pioneering African American librarians who should be more widely known for the contributions she made to librarianship. Stroud Frazier was born into an impoverished Black family, and her journey to librarianship was shaped by the intersecting forces of racism and classism. An examination of her early life growing up in racist Colorado Springs provides a foundation for understanding her career trajectory and activism in librarianship and beyond.

Tate, Thelma Horn

By Janice Leslie Hochstat-Greenberg

“Thelma Horn Tate rose from a childhood spent in rural, segregated Alabama to become an internationally acclaimed librarian. Her many accomplishments included advocating for and publishing about mobile library services worldwide and promoting library instruction, services for the disabled, and technological advancements in libraries.

Williams, Bertha Pleasant

By Jina D. DuVernay, Library Consultant

“In 1948, Bertha Pleasant Williams (1923-2008), a graduate of Atlanta University’s library school, became the first certified African American librarian in Montgomery, Alabama. Williams enjoyed a long career in both public and academic libraries, and her work to acquire acceptable resources and advance library services greatly impacted the Black community. Williams was instrumental in advocating for civil rights and was one of countless other lesser-known activists whose efforts helped secure these rights for the Black community in Montgomery.

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