The 21st-Century Black Librarian in America: Issues and Challenges

Edited by Andrew P. Jackson, Julius Jefferson Jr. and Akilah S. Nosakhere. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2012. 300 pp. $80.00 (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-8108-8245-4.


The third edition of The Black Librarian in America continues the critical work pioneered by Dr. E.J. Josey (1924-2009) by challenging overt and covert forms of discrimination and racism within the library profession. While progress has been made since the first edition was published in 1970, there remain challenges within the profession to achieving equality and promoting racial and ethnic diversity. As noted in the book’s preface, “after major progress has been made, there comes a period of adjustment, growth, and a shift of power, and then complacency, so it is now the time to go back and renew that energy” (Jackson 2012, xix).

The essays that make up this edition are generally short (between 4-8 pages) and discuss personal insights, lessons learned, and provide guidance and advice for the next generation of black librarians (the importance of mentors is a common theme throughout). While not an explicit theme of the book, a number of essays also consider the intersection of other forms of discrimination with race. In the essays on school and public libraries, for example, the issue of economic inequality is openly acknowledged with one author noting that her “major worry about public school libraries in the 21st century concerns the inequality of resources within the same district” (Ndiaye 2012, 19).

The 3rd edition includes a selected bibliography of works by Dr. E.J. Josey, as well as contributions by 47 authors working at different stages of their careers (from Directors to graduate students to retired librarians), in various parts of America and in diverse library and information settings. The book is divided into eight parts, the first six parts provide the reader with an understanding of the varied and overlapping challenges facing black librarians working in the school library, the public library, the academic library, the special library, the state and federal libraries and the library and information school. Part 7, “Library Technology,” addresses the impact of technology on the profession. Part 8, “Issues and Profiles,” includes essays that link racism in librarianship to the history and culture of America.

As the book’s title indicates, the scope of The 21st-Century Black Librarian in America is ambitious. Each part could easily be a book unto itself. Arguably, the theme “issues and challenges” could have been narrowed or more clearly defined since it gives the impression that all of the issues presented in the essays are of equal significance. Also, while at least one essay acknowledges that “race is not a monolithic group...[t]here is no one-size-fits-all approach for us,” this idea was generally understated in the book (Washington-Blair 2012, 24). Nonetheless, this is a valuable text for students of library and information science and for professionals who are looking for ways to nurture and increase diversity in their workplaces. It will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of black librarians.

Goldwynn Lewis

Ottawa, Canada