For immediate release | March 21, 2024

Felton Thomas, Jr. Receives 2024 ALA Equality Award

CHICAGO - Cleveland Public Library (CPL) Executive Director and CEO Felton Thomas, Jr. was selected to receive the 2024 American Library Association (ALA) Equality Award. The award, honoring an individual’s outstanding contribution toward promoting equality in the library profession, consists of $1,000 and a framed citation to be presented on Sunday, June 30, 2024, at the ALA Annual Conference in San Diego, CA.

Throughout his 40-year career in libraries, Thomas has been committed to addressing community needs. As President of the Public Library Association (PLA), he created the Task Force on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice (EDISJ) focused on dismantling structural racism in libraries and librarianship and ensuring pathways for advancement among library workers of color. That task force transitioned to a permanent, standing committee of PLA in 2020. Additionally, during his leadership of PLA, Thomas championed the Inclusive Internship Initiative, designed to provide high-school-aged students from diverse backgrounds with paid, mentored internships in local public libraries. In its first five years, 198 students from 119 libraries in 44 states participated in this program.

Once his term with PLA concluded, Thomas continued his EDISJ work as Chair of the Board of Directors for the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), overseeing the implementation of a program that connects the nation’s cultural heritage to Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia.

Thomas' contributions to libraries, the library profession and the Cleveland community are well-recognized. In 2023, The Cleveland Foundation, one of the nation's oldest community foundations, presented Thomas with its prestigious Homer C. Wadsworth Award for exceptional community leadership. This annual award is given to a Cleveland leader who demonstrates creativity, ingenuity, risk-taking and good humor in service of the community.

Thomas has given dozens of presentations and interviews on the importance of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice in libraries, including being interviewed by Rodney Freeman for Are you a Librarian: The Untold Story of Black Librarians. This documentary film, scheduled for release in 2025, traces the history of Black librarianship and highlights Black librarians who experienced discrimination but continued their efforts to keep diverse books accessible to everyone.

“To say I am honored to be the 2024 ALA Equality Award recipient would be an understatement,” says Felton Thomas, Jr. “I’ve always believed that the library remains one of the great equalizers for the community. However, our responsibility is internal too; equality must reverberate within our own walls and among our staff. I am gratified that my leadership positions have allowed me to make significant and meaningful contributions to the ongoing work of equality, inclusion, diversity, and social justice. I appreciate the recognition and am grateful to my peers who put forward my nomination.”

The Equality Award, sponsored by Rowman & Littlefield, is awarded annually, in recognition of achievement for outstanding contribution toward promoting equality in the library profession, either by a sustained contribution or a single outstanding accomplishment. The award may be given for an activist or scholarly contribution in such areas as pay equity, affirmative action, legislative work and non-sexist education.

In addition to Chair, Ann K. Symons, ALA Past President, members of the jury included Jihye Lee, Electronic Cataloging Librarian, Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Eva Davis, Director, Canton Public Library, Canton MI; Michelle Robertson, Assistant Professor /Chair, University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, OK; Christopher Proctor, Associate Librarian, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN.

About the American Library Association
The American Library Association (ALA) is the foremost national organization providing resources to inspire library and information professionals to transform their communities through essential programs and services. For more than 140 years, the ALA has been the trusted voice for academic, public, school, government and special libraries, advocating for the profession and the library’s role in enhancing learning and ensuring access to information for all. For more information, visit www.ala.org.

Contact:

Sheryl Reyes

Director

Governance Office

governance@ala.org