In celebration of Black History Month, we would like to highlight trailblazing Black American librarians.
“Throughout their history, African-American librarians have been pioneers, visionaries, risk-takers, hard-workers, innovators, organizers, and achievers. Through dedication and persistence, they have developed library collections and archives in spite of limited resources. They have provided reference and information services, and their libraries have served as cultural centers for many blacks in all types of communities.” -Alma Dawson
Edward Christopher Williams – First Black-American Librarian
Williams is known as the first professionally trained black librarian in the United States and was widely regarded as an expert on both library organization and bibliography. Williams began his library career in 1892 as an assistant librarian in Hatch Library of Western Reserve University (WRU). After two years, he was promoted to library director. In 1898, Williams took a sabbatical leave to pursue a master’s degree in librarianship at New York State Library, where he completed the two years program in one year and went back to resume his responsibilities at WRU as Librarian and Instructor until 1909. In 1916, Williams was elected head librarian of Howard University, where he spent 13 years serving the University Library and developing its collection.
Clara Stantin Jones – First Black-American President of the American Library Association
After receiving a degree in Library Science from the University of Michigan, Jones accepted the position as director of the Detroit Public Library and became the first black director of a major city public library. Soon after becoming director of the Detroit Public Library, Jones was elected the first black president of the American Library Association. During her tenure as director and president, Jones worked to desegregate libraries and their services as well as improve library culture by encouraging the ALA to pass the “Resolution on Racism and Sexism Awareness.”
Thomas Fountain Blue – First Black-American to Head a Public Library
Blue was the first African-American to head a public library: The Western Colored Branch in Louisville, Kentucky. The WCB was the first public library in the nation to serve African-American patrons with an exclusively African-American staff. Blue founded the first apprenticeship program (1912-1926) for African American library workers. Blue was also the first African-American to deliver a speech before the ALA.
Jean Ellen Coleman – Founding director of ALA’s Office for Outreach Services Outreach (now known as the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services)
Coleman guided the activities of the Office for Outreach Services from 19’73 to 1986. She wrote often in the library literature about ALA’s role in providing adult and literacy services in libraries. She also encouraged librarians to accept responsibility for literacy education. At the 1996 ALA conference, Coleman was honored for her work in libraries at the twenty- fifth anniversary of the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS).
Elonnie Junius Josey – Second Black American President of the American Library Association.
Elonnie Junius Josey, better known as E. J. Josey was the second (first male) Black-American president of the American Library Association. Josey was the founder of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. He was also Professor Emeritus, Department of Library and Information Science, School of Library and Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh. In 1970, he edited the pioneering book The Black Librarian in America. He was head of the library at Savannah State, and he directed the library of Delaware State College, Dover.
Eliza Atkins Gleason - First African American to earn a Library Sciences Ph.D.
Gleason was the first Black American to receive a doctorate in Library Science. Her dissertation entitled, The Government and Administration of Public Library Service to Negroes in the South, was the first complete history of library access in the South with a focus on African American libraries. In 1941, she established and became the first Dean of the School of Library Service at Atlanta University and created a library education program that trained 90 percent of all African American librarians by 1986.
Virginia Procter Powell Florence – First Black American Woman to earn a Library Science Degree
The first of Florence’s many achievements was when she made history by being the first black American to pass the New York State High School Librarian Exam. Following that, in 1923 Florence became the first black American woman in the United States to earn a degree in library science, and only the second Black American to formally train in librarianship in the United States.
For a more in-depth look at Black American Librarianship, you can visit: