Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Library Service to African Americans in the South

There was a recent discussion on the ALA Library History Round Table (LHRT) listserv about the Alexandria Library in Virginia honoring the 75th anniversary of the 1939 Civil Rights sit-in at the library. I have written a previous post about the sit-in. In the listserv discussion it was noted that the most definitive study about library service to African Americans in the South prior to 1941 was conducted by Eliza Atkins Gleason. Gleason was the first African American to receive a PhD in Library Science and the study was the basis for her dissertation at the University of Chicago. Her study also resulted in the publication of the book The Southern Negro and the Public Library (Univ. of Chicago, 1941). I have a copy of the book in my personal library and Gleason's description of library service to African Americans in the South during this period is appalling to say the least. Gleason found that in 1939 only 99 out of 774 public libraries in the 13 southern states provided library service to African Americans, and that only 21 percent of the total African American population had access to such service. That service was substantially inferior to the service provided to the white population in those states. Eliza Atkins Gleason (1909-2009) was an exceptional librarian and her contributions to the library profession have been documented in the blog Little Known Black Librarian Facts. Two other interesting items came out in the LHRT listserv discussion. The doctoral dissertation of Brenda Mitchell-Powell, a  student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College, will address the 1939 sit-in at the Alexandria Library. Also Wayne Wiegand and his wife Shirl are in the process of finishing research on a book about the desegregation of public libraries in the American South which should get published in 2015. I will look forward to the publication of both of these efforts. 


Uhura3 said...

Thanks so much for sharing your extensive knowledge. In library school Eliza Atkins Gleason was not one of the names that was discussed. I will be sure to share this information with colleagues.

Anonymous said...

This is such important history. I'm so glad it is being documented. May public libraries across America be the best arrow in our national quiver in ending inequality. This post reinforces how important library outreach is if family library habits couldn't be nurtured during those years due to discrimination.