Intersections Special Edition | Black History Month



By Samantha Yanity (

As we mark Black History Month, we in ODLOS would like to reflect on and honor the invaluable contributions that African Americans have made to the library profession and library services in the United States and beyond.

This post features some of the women and men in our Association's who blazed trails, forged change, and worked tirelessly to make ALA a more equitable and inclusive home for all librarians. While the work is still ongoing, we stand on the shoulder of these - and many more - giants who brought their passion and energy to make our profession match its cherished ideals.

Eliza Atkins Gleason

In 1931, Eliza Atkins Gleason Gleason earned a B.S. in Library Science from the University of Illinois. Upon graduation, Gleason took a position in Louisville Municipal College (now University of Louisville) as the head librarian also forming a library science program. After completing a Master’s degree in Library Science at the University of California at Berkeley in 1936, she became the Assistant Professor and Head of the Reference Department at Fisk Library.

Eliza Atkins Gleason

In 1940 she earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and became the first African-American to receive a doctorate in Library Sciences. The Southern Negro and the Public Library A Study of the Government and Administration of Public Library Service to Negroes in the South, her dissertation, became a crucial piece in library studies as the first complete history of access to African Americans in the South.

After receiving her doctorate at the University of Chicago, Gleason became the first Dean of the School of Library Service at Atlanta University in 1941. Soon after, in 1942, Gleason became the first African American to serve on the board of the American Library Association where she served until 1946. In 1978, Gleason was appointed to Chicago Public Library board becoming the executive director of the Chicago Black United Fund.

Reference: "Eliza Atkins Gleason (1909-2009)." Eliza Atkins Gleason (1909-2009) - The College of Arts and Sciences. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

Louise Jones Giles

Louise Jones GilesIn 1975, Louise Giles became the first black president of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). Giles was a graduate of Drexel University’s library school and Dean of the Learning Resources at Macomb County Community College. She was outstanding in the field of community college learning resource centers and a leader in the American Library Association and Michigan Library Association.

At 46, Louise Jones Giles passed away with her husband of 23 years in a house fire on December 31, 1976. On February 1, 1977 ALA Council approved a resolution unanimously endorsed by the ACRL Board of Directors and the ALA Awards Committee that honored Louise Giles and renamed the ALA Minority Scholarship as the Louise Giles Minority Scholarship. In 1977, Clara Stanton Jones, the first African American President of the American Library Association (ALA) awarded the first Louise Giles Minority Scholarship and scholarships were awarded annually thereafter.

At its 2002 Spring Meeting, the ALA Executive Board voted to permanently incorporate the Louise Giles Scholarship into the Spectrum Scholarship Family of funds and to retain its name as the Louise Giles Spectrum Scholarship and a scholarship has been named annually in her honor since 2003.

Remembrances of Louise Giles can be found in Volume 38, no. 2 of College & Research Libraries News and in the Spring 1977 newsletter of the Michigan Library Association. A photo of Giles as ACRL President can be viewed in the ALA Archives at

Clara Stanton Jones

Clara Stanton JonesClara Stanton Jones earned a B.A. from Spelman in 1934 and a degree in Library Science in 1938 from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Originally pursuing a career as a teacher, she was encouraged to enter librarianship when Florence Reed (the then president of Atlanta University) noticed her impeccable typing skills and offered her a job at as typist at the New Atlantic University Library. Working the at the library changed the course of her career and library science history.

In 1970, Jones became the first African American appointed as head of a major public library in the United States serving at Detroit Public Library from 1970 to 1978. Jones served as the first African American president of the American Library Association from 1976 to 1977. She, through the adoption of ALA’s “Resolution on Racism and Sexism,” encouraged librarians to raise awareness of racism and sexism within the library community.

In 1978 Jones, by the appointment of former President Jimmy Carter, served (from 1978 to 1982) as the Commissioner to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. In 1990 the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) awarded Jones the Trailblazer Award for her pioneering and outstanding work in the librarian profession.


"Jones, Clara Stanton (1913- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed." Jones, Clara Stanton (1913- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

E. J. Josey

E.J. JoseyDistinguished author of over 400 articles and academic publications, E.J. Josey was an activist for civil rights and a librarian. Josey earned a bachelor’s from Howard University in 1949, master's in History from Columbia University in 1950, and a master's in librarianship from the University at Albany, SUNY in 1953. His career led him to serve at Columbia University Library, Free Library of Philadelphia, the New York Public Library, and Delaware State College.

At the 1964 annual conference of the American Library Association, Josey wrote a resolution that forbid Association offers and staff from participating in state associations that denied membership to African-American librarians. His actions led to the integration of the library association of several Southern states. In 1970, E.J. Josey was elected chairman of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association ( BCALA) and in 2002 he was awarded Honorary Membership in ALA.

Josey served on the ALA council for 29 years and four years on the ALA Executive Board. From 1980 to 1982, Josey served as Chair of the Cultural Minorities Task Force of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Josey also served on several ALA committees: the ALA Committee on Pay Equity, the ALA Committee on Legislation, and the ALA International Relations Committee. From 1984 to 1985, Josey served as ALA’s president and ALA’s second African-American president.


"Civil Rights Pioneer, Librarian E. J. Josey Dies at 85." American Libraries Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

Samantha Yanity is Continuing Education Assistant in ODLOS.