The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program
From the publisher:
The African American Struggle for Library Equality: The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program unveils the almost forgotten philanthropic efforts of Julius Rosenwald, former president of Sears, Roebuck, Co. and an elite business man. Rosenwald simply desired to improve, “the well-being of mankind” through access to education.
Many people are familiar with Mr. Rosenwald as the founder of the Julius Rosenwald Fund that established more than 5,300 rural schools in 15 Southern states during the period 1917-1938. However, there is another major piece of the puzzle, the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program. That program established more than 10,000 school, college, and public libraries, funded library science programs that trained African American librarians, and made evident the need for libraries to be supported by local governments.
The African American Struggle for Library Equality is the first comprehensive history of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program to be published. The book reveals a new understanding of library practices of the early 20th century. Through original research and use of existing literature, Aisha Johnson Jones exposes historic library practices that discriminated against blacks, and the necessary remedies the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program implemented to cure this injustice, which ultimately influenced other philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates (the Gates Foundation has a library program) as well as organizations like the American Library Association.
I am stepping out of my usual review mode here. This book is obviously not a romance, nor women’s fiction, nor a thriller, nor cookbook. I probably should read more library texts, it is my profession after all, but I rarely do since I graduated with my masters in library and information science. That said, I am very glad I read this book, and think anyone who cares about libraries should read it as well.
When I went to library school, one of the required courses was on the history of libraries. At the time, I thought it was a silly class that should have been reduced to a single lecture, instead of an entire semester long course. In fact, much of the curriculum was based in ideology rather than practical matters. I had worked in libraries for about a dozen years by the time I went to library school, so I definitely had some inside knowledge, at least of how public libraries worked and the work that librarians did. I did learn some important skills to be sure, but I thought then, and I don’t know how much it has changed since, that there were big gaps in what they taught and what we actually needed to know. The merest hint of budgeting was mentioned, and literally nothing about designing libraries or equipping one, skills that I saw librarians struggle with regularly. I graduated in 2011, and did not take one class on web design or coding or anything remotely techie, and trust me, technology is an unavoidable and important part of the daily work-life of librarians.
But through all the classes I took, required and elective, I never heard of Julius Rosenwald or his program, and that is a disgrace. Carnegie is seen as the patron saint of libraries, and apparently we (the library community) have been shamefully remiss in not anointing Rosenwald as well. The fund financed all sorts of libraries, and even health care, for African American communities. It also funded fellowships and scholarships for African Americans. The fact that this wealthy white man took umbrage with how African Americans were educated and treated, is inspiring. Rosenwald’s influence should not, and cannot, be left unrecognized any longer.
This is an exhaustively researched story that should be included in the curriculum for “History of Libraries” at library schools everywhere. It is a compelling story, and the pictures are enlightening. It is a short book, and one well worth reading, especially for librarians. Julius Rosenwald deserves to be celebrated, and I am very glad Ms. Johnson-Jones has given his story to us.
10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
THE AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR LIBRARY EQUALITY by Aisha M. Johnson-Jones. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (September 17, 2019). ISBN 978-1538103081. 120p.