A black-and-white photo of a woman in early 20th century fashion.
“A portrait of Caroline M. Hewins, a librarian at the Hartford Public Library in Connecticut and advocate for children’s services in libraries.”  Photo and caption from ALA Archives.

Librarians have been keepers of the books through the ages, but their work has also encompassed many versatile information formats and roles.

They have championed intellectual freedom.

They have contributed to the political and social movements of their times.

They have developed theories of information science.

Here you will find notes about librarians, famous and lesser known, who helped create the philosophy and practice of librarianship as we know it today.


Note (November 27, 2017)  E. J. Josey: The Librarian Who Asked “Why Not”

By Catherine James, Graduate Student, University of Alabama

Author Bio: Catherine James is currently pursuing a MLIS degree at the University of Alabama, and previously earned a MA in History from the University of North Alabama. Her interests include academic libraries, ethics in library and information science, and history of libraries in the U.S. She recently had a Future Voices column about trigger warnings published in Public Services Quarterly. In addition, she is an avid reader and enjoys living in Tennessee.

Introduction from the Editor: The United States should commemorate its civil rights stars today more than ever.  Fortunately, Ms. James has written a wonderful tribute to a civil rights star of the library field that captures his boldness and righteous indignation about the injustices of his time.  Elonnie Junius Josey championed the resolution at the 1964 ALA Conference to end the segregation of library associations in the Southern states, founded the Black Caucus of the ALA, and rose to the Presidency of ALA in 1984-1985.  Her paper features many of Josey’s most powerful quotations, and she highlights his many accomplishments.  As Ms. James notes, “Josey’s contributions should inspire each succeeding generation of librarians to follow their conscience as a professional.”  Be inspired by reading her full essay here.

E.J. Josey Images and Captions from the ALA Archives


Bonus Material: Check out more images and discussion of Josey’s influence in Ebony’s 1985 article.

Note (May 5, 2017)  The Era of Herbert Putnam and the Library of Congress: 1899-1939

By Amy Nykamp, Graduate Student, San Jose State University

Introduction from the Editor:  This well-written, well-organized paper opened my eyes to the full impact of Herbert Putnam, eighth Librarian of Congress, on libraries throughout the world.  Ms. Nykamp notes that many previous Librarians of Congress lacked the qualifications and connections with the American Library Association, having received the post as a political spoil.  Far from another political appointee, Putnam had the right skills and professionalism to serve as LC’s leader:  “here was in the greatest library in the land someone who could identify with the visions the ALA had about librarianship and who could shape the future of it through his leadership (p.5).”  In his new role, Putnam helped pioneer the LC classification system, interlibrary loan, and the Association of Research Libraries, among other programs.  I like how this story includes funny highlights, such as Putnam collecting so many new books for LC on his trips abroad that he outran the LC catalogers!  In addition, I liked how the paper sensitizes the reader to the racial and gender biases in LC’s history as well as the effects of external politics on Putnam’s tenure.  Thanks to the author for also including a section on the LC’s services to help readers dealing with disabilities.  Congratulations to Ms. Nykamp on an outstanding paper!  Enjoy Ms. Nykamp’s full paper here: The Era of Herbert Putnam and the Library of Congress: 1899-1939.

A colorful drawing of a white building with two American flags on top. Grass and trees in the foreground and a city behind the building. Text on the image says "Congressional Library Washington D.C."
Postcard of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. circa 1915. Image and caption from the ALA Archives.
A profile picture of man with a moustache and suit.
Herbert Putnam circa 1918. Caption on the back reads: Herbert Putnam, ALA President 1898 and from 1903-04. During his first term he was Librarian of the Boston Public Library; during his second term he was head of the Library of Congress. (Since 1899). Image and caption from the ALA Archives.