Note: I missed the deadline for this to make it into West Des Moines Living magazine for February, so I put it here for your reading pleasure.

February is both Black History and National Library Lover’s Month. Two years ago this month, this column focused on the way Black History and the history of public libraries have dovetailed at certain times in the United States, especially as it relates to efforts to desegregate public libraries in the Jim Crow South. I thought about just re-submitting the text of that article this month, but my conscience wouldn’t let me; after all, nobody liked that kid who just re-submitted the same research paper more than once in his academic career because he was too lazy to do the work on a new one. Before I go on, though, I’ll say that, in my opinion, the historical facts in that 2016 column were interesting; it seems some library boards in the South were actually more progressive and pragmatic than they might be given credit for. Email me at to let me know if you want an email copy of the text. I’ll be glad to share.

Since I wrote that column, however, there have been some longer, better articles written about the subject—and some books I want to mention, too– that you may find worth reading. I’ll offer a few suggestions here.


American Libraries Magazine, June 2017: “Desegregating Libraries in the American South” by Wayne Wiegand—Professor Wiegand recounts some of the higher-profile library desegregation efforts in the Civil Rights-era South. Wiegand is also the co-author of a book on the subject due out from Louisiana State University Press this spring. The book will be titled The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism, and will be available at the West Des Moines Public Library.


Lithub, July 2016: “On the Battle to Desegregate the Nation’s Libraries” by Cynthia Greenlee—An article with a more universal scope that makes clear that the South wasn’t the only home to library access inequality.

A quote: “Segregated libraries, many but not all in the South, had developed both obvious and subtle mechanisms to keep their spaces white. If their towns were big enough, they sometimes built separate reading rooms or black libraries…Bookmobiles circulated to reach readers throughout their communities, but bookmobiles also helped to divert Black readers from browsing among the stacks. As in Navesink [New Jersey], some libraries offered special days and hours for black patrons.”



Not Free, Not For All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow by Cheryl Knott (UMass Press, Dec. 2015)—University of Arizona professor Cheryl Knott uses the historical record to show that the often self-congratulatory “open to everyone” historical myth that public librarians embrace is just that: a myth.

A Right to Read: Segregation and Civil Rights in Alabama’s Public Libraries 1900-1965 by Patterson Toby Graham (Univ. of Alabama Press, 2002)—A short book and a quick read, this gives an overview of the connection between Alabama’s public libraries and the Civil Rights Movement. The section on the “Read-In” library desegregation movement in 1960s Alabama is excellent.