Bridging the Gap in Early Library Education History for African Americans: The Negro Teacher-Librarian Training Program (1936-1939)

Article excerpt

The development of a little-known library education program during the pre-Brown v. Board and pre-civil rights era is explored in detail. Scarcely noted in the literature, the program was hosted on four historically Black colleges and university (HBCU) campuses and is credited with training more than 200 African American teacher-librarians from 16 southern states during the Jim Crow period. Provided is an account of significant historical precursors, including the first-ever accreditation of southern Negro public high schools, details of the involvement of the American Library Association (ALA) through its Board of Education for Librarianship, the role of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), other national and regional education organizations, and philanthropic foundations. It is noted that the efforts put forth in expediting this initiative and the success of the program are wedged between the end of the Hampton Library School program and the founding and existence of the Clark Atlanta University (CAU) School of Library Service, which currently faces closure. The author contextualizes the program s importance to the evolvement of secondary education of the largely undereducated and disenfranchised people of the southern region and the quiet impact on social change. Suggested also are the implications the geographic structure of this 1930s program has for recruitment of African Americans to library education programs today.

The author wishes to thank the University of Illinois Library Research and Publication Committee for the generous funding provided for this research project. The author also thanks her UIUC Peer Review Committee, the librarians and staff of the University of Illinois Archives, and other colleagues for their unwavering support of this research project.


Major contributions in librarianship are important and known, but lesser known contributions deserve recognition and should be given a place in the historical record. As Goedeken (2002) previously noted, "there is too much unknown about our American library past" (p. 138). Library education is no exception. Small segments of library education history, like the Negro Teacher-Librarian Training Program (NTLTP), began as mere notions. The program was an idea that blossomed into a shortterm project and can be seen as a seedling that germinated, transforming into a much larger, longterm, well-known library education program. When reviewed closely, NTLTP provides perspective regarding the development of high school library services in the early twentieth-century South and in conjunction with crucial developments in secondary education for African Americans. Furthermore, the geographic structure of the NTLTP, a sort of early distance education program, has implications for recruitment and diversification of the library and information science profession.

Chronicling the events leading to the development of the NTLTP and those associated with the program will add context to a key part of the history of librarianship and education in the South, and hopefully, encourage reflection and consideration when developing future strategies. According to a report titled, Negroes in the United States 1920-1932, in 1930, there were a total of 210 professional Negro librarians and 15 Negro librarian assistants (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1935). The Hampton Institute Library School, from 1925 to 1939, trained and degreed 183 Negro librarians (Gunn, 1986). It was the only library school program whose mission was to educate African American librarians at that time. From 1930-1936, Tommie Dora Barker, a pioneering leader in southern librarianship, served as the Regional Field Agent for the South for the ALA and then Dean of the Emory University library school, 1936-1948 (Carmichael, 1988). Barker (1939), in her popular study Memorandum on the need in the South for a library school or schools for Negroes, included enrollment tables indicating that the NTLTP program is credited for training 279 African American teacher-librarians at HBCUs in the Deep South from 1936 to 1939. …


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