A black-and-white photo of a woman in early 20th century fashion.
“A portrait of Caroline M. Hewins, a librarian at the Hartford Public Library in Connecticut and advocate for children’s services in libraries.”  Photo and caption from ALA Archives.

Librarians have been keepers of the books through the ages, but their work has also encompassed many versatile information formats and roles.

They have championed intellectual freedom.

They have contributed to the political and social movements of their times.

They have developed theories of information science.

Here you will find notes about librarians, famous and lesser- known, who helped create the philosophy and practice of librarianship as we know it today.

Note (November 27, 2017) Changing Minds, Making a Difference: Eliza Atkins Gleason

We have a special treat on LHRT News and Notes.  Cheryl Knott, a professor in the School of Information at the University of Arizona, has composed a beautifully-written essay about Eliza Atkins Gleason.  It was originally published as Changing Minds, Making a Difference: Eliza Atkins Gleason by the UC Berkeley School of Information, Many thanks to them for permission to reprint in LHRT News and Notes.

Changing Minds, Making a Difference

Pioneering Berkeley alumna Eliza Atkins Gleason (M.A. ’36) was the first African American to earn a doctorate in library science
By Cheryl Knott

a b-and-w picture of Eliza Atkins Gleason
Eliza Atkins Gleason. (Credit: University of Louisville Photo Archives)

At the height of the Great Depression, in 1936, a young black woman named Eliza Valeria Atkins completed her M.A. in Library Science at the University of California, Berkeley. She had already demonstrated her commitment to learning and to the library profession by earning two bachelor’s degrees, one at Fisk University and the other, in library science, at the University of Illinois. Additionally, she had held positions as an assistant librarian and as head of the library at the Municipal College for Negroes in Louisville, Kentucky. As she readied herself to return to the profession with her master’s degree, she could not have foreseen that her work would be widely influential and that her career would be the subject of entries published in the World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services, Notable Black American Women, the Historical Dictionary of Librarianship, and others, including, of course, Wikipedia.

In the late 1930s, she worked on her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, where in 1940 she became the first African American to earn a doctorate in library science. One of her mentors there, Carleton B. Joeckel, had worked from 1914 to 1927 as director of the Berkeley Public Library, overseeing a significant increase in book circulation and the creation of new branches. Joeckel also taught the public library administration course offered by UC Berkeley’s Department of Library Science. His dissertation, completed at Chicago in 1934, was published by the University of Chicago Press as The Government of the American Public Library in 1935, the year he joined the University of Chicago Graduate Library School faculty. Although Joeckel’s and Atkins’s time in Berkeley did not overlap, their familiarity with the city and the university gave them something in common beyond their research interests. Under his guidance, Eliza Atkins completed her dissertation, “The Government and Administration of Public Library Service to Negroes in the South,” in 1940.

In 1940, Gleason boldly suggested that segregated Southern towns should fund a single library serving all equally. The next year, the University of Chicago Press published her dissertation as a book, titled The Southern Negro and the Public Library, under her married name, Eliza Atkins Gleason. Her research documented the existence of many racially segregated southern public libraries. Gleason noted pointedly that cities and towns in the South did not have the financial means to create two separate systems that were equal in terms of facilities, staff, and collections. She suggested that the better alternative was to fund a single library serving all equally. Joeckel endorsed the work with a blurb on the inside front flap of the book jacket: “Accurate and detailed in its factual basis, and carefully objective in its method of treatment, the study breaks new ground with extensive information concerning the dual system of service . . . .” The book was widely and positively reviewed and, two decades before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, marked an early turning point in how some whites thought about public libraries and the people they served.

a red & yellow book cover with a map of the U.S. South
The Southern Negro and the Public Library, by Eliza Atkins Gleason (1941)

From Chicago, Gleason went to Atlanta University where she served as Dean of the newly established School of Library Service, designed to graduate African American students who would serve in the public libraries Gleason had studied as well as in academic libraries at southern black colleges and universities and elsewhere. After World War II ended, Gleason left Atlanta to join her husband, a physician, in Chicago. There she raised a daughter — who went on to become a college professor — and continued to work in the library field, eventually becoming the first African American to serve on the Council of the American Library Association. In recognition of Gleason’s profound effect on library science education and on libraries, the Library History Round Table of the American Library Association named its periodic award for the best book in library history after her.

Born in North Carolina, educated in Nashville, Urbana-Champaign, Berkeley, and Chicago, and employed in racially segregated institutions, Gleason navigated geographic, educational, and professional boundaries even as they shifted with the times. Her thinking and her doing neither started nor ended at the University of California, but Berkeley provided a West Coast experience that likely broadened her southern and midwestern perspectives even as she no doubt brought a unique perspective to the school. Gleason was one of the few librarians and library-science educators of her generation who understood the complexities of race hidden in the popular and professional rhetoric touting equal access to information and reading material. An influential figure in librarianship’s history, Gleason remains relevant as libraries and information schools identify and address continuing information injustices.

Selected Sources

Cheryl Knott, “The Publication and Reception of The Southern Negro and the Public Library.” in Race, Ethnicity and Publishing in America. Editor Cécile Cottenet. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Cheryl Knott, Not Free, Not for All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow, University of Massachusetts Press, 2015.

University of Louisville Women’s Center, “Obituary – Dr. Eliza Atkins Gleason.”

Note (November 27, 2017)  E. J. Josey: The Librarian Who Asked “Why Not”

By Catherine James, Graduate Student, University of Alabama

Author Bio: Catherine James is currently pursuing a MLIS degree at the University of Alabama, and previously earned a MA in History from the University of North Alabama. Her interests include academic libraries, ethics in library and information science, and history of libraries in the U.S. She recently had a Future Voices column about trigger warnings published in Public Services Quarterly. In addition, she is an avid reader and enjoys living in Tennessee.

Introduction from the Editor: The United States should commemorate its civil rights stars today more than ever.  Fortunately, Ms. James has written a wonderful tribute to a civil rights star of the library field that captures his boldness and righteous indignation about the injustices of his time.  Elonnie Junius Josey championed the resolution at the 1964 ALA Conference to end the segregation of library associations in the Southern states, founded the Black Caucus of the ALA, and rose to the Presidency of ALA in 1984-1985.  Her paper features many of Josey’s most powerful quotations, and she highlights his many accomplishments.  As Ms. James notes, “Josey’s contributions should inspire each succeeding generation of librarians to follow their conscience as a professional.”  Be inspired by reading her full essay here.

E.J. Josey Images and Captions from the ALA Archives

Bonus Material: Check out more images and discussion of Josey’s influence in Ebony’s 1985 article.

Note (May 5, 2017)  The Era of Herbert Putnam and the Library of Congress: 1899-1939

By Amy Nykamp, Graduate Student, San Jose State University

Introduction from the Editor:  This well-written, well-organized paper opened my eyes to the full impact of Herbert Putnam, eighth Librarian of Congress, on libraries throughout the world.  Ms. Nykamp notes that many previous Librarians of Congress lacked the qualifications and connections with the American Library Association, having received the post as a political spoil.  Far from another political appointee, Putnam had the right skills and professionalism to serve as LC’s leader:  “here was in the greatest library in the land someone who could identify with the visions the ALA had about librarianship and who could shape the future of it through his leadership (p.5).”  In his new role, Putnam helped pioneer the LC classification system, interlibrary loan, and the Association of Research Libraries, among other programs.  I like how this story includes funny highlights, such as Putnam collecting so many new books for LC on his trips abroad that he outran the LC catalogers!  In addition, I liked how the paper sensitizes the reader to the racial and gender biases in LC’s history as well as the effects of external politics on Putnam’s tenure.  Thanks to the author for also including a section on the LC’s services to help readers dealing with disabilities.  Congratulations to Ms. Nykamp on an outstanding paper!  Enjoy Ms. Nykamp’s full paper here: The Era of Herbert Putnam and the Library of Congress: 1899-1939.

A colorful drawing of a white building with two American flags on top. Grass and trees in the foreground and a city behind the building. Text on the image says "Congressional Library Washington D.C."
Postcard of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. circa 1915. Image and caption from the ALA Archives.
A profile picture of man with a moustache and suit.
Herbert Putnam circa 1918. Caption on the back reads: Herbert Putnam, ALA President 1898 and from 1903-04. During his first term he was Librarian of the Boston Public Library; during his second term he was head of the Library of Congress. (Since 1899). Image and caption from the ALA Archives.