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Black History Recovered

A conversation with black-librarian scholar E.J. Josey

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Dr. E.J. Josey, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Information Science, wrote the book on black librarians ... literally. His 1970 volume, The Black Librarian in America, was the first to detail their careers and studies across the country. In 1964, Josey had fought to get the American Library Association to pass a resolution preventing ALA officials from associating with segregationist state library associations. This was a revolutionary maneuver at a time when Jim Crow laws were still at their peak. Josey's own state, Georgia, where he was director of Savannah State College's library, refused to integrate its state libraries at the time. This resolution led eventually to the integration of all state library systems. Since then, Josey's authored or edited 11 more books on librarianship -- on the field's history, blacks who helped advanced the profession and on how libraries should expand community services. In 1970, Josey founded the ALA's Black Caucus to help blacks gain leadership in the library field. Once hostile to Josey's proposals, the ALA elected him president in 1984 -- only their second African-American president. Two years later he joined the Pitt faculty. Today he is retired but still recruits for his field and assists grad students. He wears a small gold pin on his lapel that says "Spectrum" -- the name of the group he helped start six years ago that strives for the recruitment of all minorities into library science.

 

How did you stumble upon library science as a career?

I didn't stumble on it; it sought me out. In the '70s all professions were inviting black people to join, and after I got in and saw so few black people I began to recruit them myself. I knew what it meant to black people to be recruited and to be told about the possibilities for employment in a field that otherwise they would not have been introduced to.

 

Literacy and access were still issues then?

Literacy is a problem not only with black people but with all people who haven't been encouraged to read. And don't forget there was time in our life when we were forbidden to read, so it was incredible when we got the opportunity. The first black woman to graduate from library school was in 1900.

 

What do you think of the Patriot Act and U.S. Attorney General calling out librarians for protesting it?

I think it's awful; I'm opposed to it. When we have an attorney general who has nothing else to do than to complain about the librarians, we're in a bad state in this country. Librarians are some of the most patriotic people in America. Librarians stand up for their rights. Most Americans who use libraries know the importance of librarians and what they do to provide information and sources for anybody who wants info on any particular subject. 

 

How do you feel about people like Ward Connerly, who resists sectioning off African-American collections in libraries and bookstores, calling it the "ghetto-izing" of black books?

Ward Connerly is crazy. That's not ghetto-ization at all. That's subject specialization. People who use libraries and understand the importance of subject specialization don't even think like that. Of course there's a need for it if you're doing research in a particular area and you want to go to where the resources are.

 

Are you pleased with how far blacks have come in library science?

We certainly need to recruit more African-Americans to the profession in spite of the fact that since 1970 we've done a pretty good job in our recruitment. But there's still more to be done. Most of our black young people will see white librarians more than they will see blacks. Over the years the numbers increased greatly, but there's still more that should be done.

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