100 of the MOST IMPORTANT LEADERS WE HAD in the 20TH CENTURY

By Dewey, Melvil | American Libraries, December 1999 | Go to article overview

100 of the MOST IMPORTANT LEADERS WE HAD in the 20TH CENTURY


Dewey, Melvil, American Libraries


History notes the residue of the biases and his ego, but he was born to organize, to reform, and to lead early recruits into building the foundation of modern librarianship. His imprint is on them all, and he is still watching.

They believed in open access to information. They stood for intellectual freedom and they knew that a literate and educated citizenry is essential to democracy. They struggled for library funding, for international cooperation, and for a society that valued lifelong learning above all else. On many issues they differed among themselves, but they embodied--and in many cases invented--the principles of modern librarianship that we prize so highly today.

In a profession dedicated to preserving the record of the past, we too seldom take time to honor the giants who paved the way for the amazing network of libraries that now exists in the United States and throughout the world. American librarians have a great many professional predecessors to be proud of. With that in mind, American Libraries put together this list of 100 of the most important people in 20th-century librarianship.

AL Editor Leonard Kniffel, Contributing Editor Peggy Sullivan, and recently retired Senior Editor Edith McCormick compiled the list, drawing from the World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services, Who's Who in Library and Information Services, A Biographical Directory of Librarians in the United States and Canada, Dictionary of American Library Biography, A Dictionary of Eminent Librarians, and other sources. We decided to list only people who lived and died in this century. In some cases we had to determine whether a particular person's contribution came primarily in this century or the last. We also concluded that the list of best leaders also had to include not only librarians but library advocates. The leaders were selected for the lasting and widespread impact they had on libraries, library service, and the nation.

No doubt a list of 200 or 500 would have been as easy to compile, but 100 it is, and in alphabetical order. It's a start. To it you may wish to add your own selections, as we take the time to look back on the dedication and vision that brought us to the new millennium.

1 Mary Eileen Ahern (1860-1938): Known for her missionary zeal for the teaching function of the public librarian, she also championed library training and the cause of small public libraries.

2 Alexander P. Allain (1920-1994): A true visionary, he spearheaded the formation of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom in 1967, and his tireless efforts included cofounding the Freedom to Read Foundation.

3 May Hill Arbuthnot (1884-1969): Although she was not a librarian, children's librarianship in this country has been enriched by her contributions to education as a popular teacher of children's literature and extensive writings about children's books. Her exhaustive textbook Children and Books (1947) reached six editions. Arbuthnot also authored several anthologies, some of which are still used in classrooms today. ALA's Association for Library Service to Children sponsors an annual honor lecture in her name.

4 Lester E. Asheim (1914-1997): Elegance of manner and expression characterized his contributions to international librarianship, intellectual freedom, and library education.

5 Hugh Atkinson (1933-1986): Among the first academic library administrators to see the potential for networking and cooperative collection development and their relationship to automation of library records, he demonstrated drive and commitment to introduce new systems for organizing and recording collections while serving as library director at Ohio State University and at the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign.

6 Augusta Baker (1911-1998): Often considered "America's first lady of traditional storytelling," she served as storyteller-in-residence at the University of South Carolina from 1980 until her retirement in 1994, after serving some 20 years as coordinator of children's services and storytelling specialist at New York Public Library. …

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