ALA names Wedgeworth Honorary Member

For Immediate Release
Mon, 02/01/2021


Cheryl M Malden

Program Officer


American Library Association


CHICAGO – The American Library Association (ALA) Council elected former ALA Executive Director Robert Wedgeworth to honorary membership in the association on Tuesday, Jan. 26, during the Virtual Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits.  Honorary membership, ALA’s highest honor, is conferred in recognition of outstanding contributions of lasting importance to libraries and librarianship.

Wedgeworth was nominated in recognition of significant contributions to the profession at large and the extraordinarily important work he did while leading ALA as its chief executive officer. Dr. Wedgeworth’s many achievements over the course of a distinguished career as a scholar, educator, academic administrator, and international library leader make him eminently worthy of this award, but his accomplishments as ALA’s executive director stand out. ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr. said, “It is an honor to preside over ALA as we recognize a great champion for libraries and library workers and one who has been a dear mentor to me and many other members.”

There were no more challenging years for the association than the early 1970s, when ALA stood on the brink of a financial abyss and called upon an unknown part-time Rutgers University instructor and doctoral student to come to its rescue. He was suddenly thrust into one of the most visible and challenging jobs in our profession. It is amazing he was able to survive the onslaught of problems that day after day hit his desk. He nevertheless was able to bring the association back to solvency and strength and in the process establish the foundations of the strong, vibrant organization it is today.

In the late 1980s, he worked diligently to revive a moribund professional program at Columbia University; distinguished himself as dean at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; was twice elected president of the International Federation of Libraries and Institutions; and then, in the twilight of his career, he forged a merger of two major reading organizations into an institution promoting the global advancement of literacy.

Wedgeworth took the American Library Association from the brink of financial disaster to profitability and stability over the course of his 13-year tenure as executive director.  He grew the association’s membership from some 28,000 to more than 40,000 while he was its chief executive officer.  He negotiated the development of ALA property to realize a new headquarters building along with a profit for the association valued in excess of $10 million. He brought the National Library Week program to ALA, a major revenue source for the association, assisted in the creation of the Friends of Libraries U.S.A., and organized the Coalition on Literacy, leading to the Advertising Council’s first nationwide campaign promoting adult literacy.

During Wedgeworth’s tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he led the largest public university library on the North American continent into new technological achievements and brought to the university a digital library research program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  He expanded the Mortenson Center training program for foreign librarians, established the Kolb Research Archive, and helped to raise more than $18 million for the library’s endowment.

Also, as president and chief executive officer at ProLiteracy Worldwide, Wedgeworth managed the merger of Laubach Literacy International and Literacy Volunteers of America to create the largest non-governmental literacy training organization in the world. 

Wedgeworth is an active member of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and became only the second American to be elected president of IFLA.  His leadership led to the expansion of IFLA membership to some 140 countries. He was Instrumental in the establishment of IFLANET, a global communications system.  IFLA named him Honorary President in 1997. 

Wedgeworth has been recognized with a wide range of professional honors, including the Lippincott, Melvil Dewey and Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Awards of the American Library Association, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Trailblazer’s Award, six honorary doctorates, Most Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Medal of Honor winner from the International Council of Archives and many others.  Wedgeworth was appointed to several advisory boards by Presidents Ford, Reagan and Obama. President Obama appointed him to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2009-2020.  He will receive an honorary membership plaque in June during the Opening General Session of the ALA Virtual Annual Conference.