Debra Gold Hansen's article 'Depoliticizing the California State Library' receives Davis Award from LHRT

For Immediate Release
Tue, 06/03/2014


Norman Rose

Program Officer



CHICAGO The winner of the 2014 Donald G. Davis Article Award, presented by the American Library Association (ALA) Library History Round Table (LHRT), is Debra Gold Hansen for the article, "Depoliticizing the California State Library: The Political and Professional Transformation of James Gillis, 1899-1917.”

Hansen’s article was published in Information & Culture: A Journal of History v. 48, no. 1 (2013), 68-90.

This award is given every second year to recognize the best article written in English in the field of United States and Canadian library history, including the history of libraries, librarianship and book culture in the previous two calendar years.

In her award winning essay, Hansen transports readers to the wide-open and often corrupt world of California politics at the turn of the Twentieth Century. At a time when most library appointments were doled out by politicians as favors to well-connected cronies, Hansen tells the unlikely story of James Gillis, a railroad executive who, despite lacking professional training or library experience, helped professionalize California’s libraries. Gillis has been lauded in library literature for many years, but Hansen has illuminated his complex origins as a political appointee who nonetheless phased out the spoils system in favor of appointments made on the basis of merit.  

The committee praised Hansen’s wide-ranging use of sources and the placement of Gillis’ accomplishments within the historical context of the Progressive Era. Particular emphasis is placed on Gillis’ work with the California Library Association and an interesting connection is made between Gillis’ success in the (politically-involved and perhaps corrupt) railroad business and his ability to find compromises between political necessity and de-politicization in the library world.  

Well-researched and eloquently written, Hansen’s essay enriches our understanding of librarianship during the Progressive era and reveals that important reforms can come from the unlikeliest of sources.

The article award honors Donald G. Davis, emeritus professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas and editor of Libraries & the Cultural Record and its forerunner. A major contributor to the field, Dr. Davis has authored numerous historical articles, advised many notable Ph.D. dissertations, compiled important bibliographies, and edited both the "Encyclopedia of Library History" (with Wayne Wiegand) and the "Dictionary of American Library Biography Second Supplement."

The Davis Article Award Committee for 2014 consisted of David Hovde, Research and Instruction Librarian - Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries; Andy Huse, Special Collections Librarian, University of South Florida; Juli McLone, Rare Books Librarian at University of Texas at San Antonio; and Eric Novotny, Humanities Librarian, Pennsylvania State University (Committee Chair).

More information on the Library History Round Table is available online at