Work With Negroes Round Table, American Library Association
The Work With Negroes Round Table was approved as a temporary section of the American Library Association (ALA) during the 1921 Conference in Swampscott, MA. There were no Negro members. Ernestine Rose, a white librarian at the Harlem Branch Library in New York, ran the initial round table meeting. In preparation for the 1922 meeting, Rose distributed a survey throughout the United States inquiring about library services provided to Negroes. The results were presented at the next meeting of the Work With Negroes Round Table held during the 1922 ALA Conference in Detroit, MI. George T. Settle, head of the Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky, was present during the meeting.
Ernestine Rose reported from her survey that library services for Negroes was progressing slowly, and overall, the idea was still an unreached goal. It was insinuated that this was particularly true in the South. The meeting continued with several papers being presented and discussed, including a paper by Thomas Fountain Blue from the Negro Department of the Louisville Free Public Library [Western Colored Branch Library]. It was the first time that an African American had been placed on a program of the ALA Conference. The Louisville Free Public Library was recognized by ALA as the prime example of how segregated libraries and services should be provided for Negroes. The final speaker at the conference was William F. Yust, a librarian at the Rochester Public Library in New York, and the previous director of the Louisville Free Public Library who had established the Negro Department and the library training program for Negroes. During his talk, Yust reported that there was no race problems in Rochester, NY.
At the conclusion of the meeting, there was not a clear consensus as to whether there should be another Work With Negroes Round Table meeting or if the section should be continued; a split had occurred between librarians from the North and those from the South. George Settle concluded that there was still enough interest in the group, so he requested that ALA permit the round table to meet at the next conference in Hot Springs, AK.
In 1923, George T. Settle presided over the Work With Negroes Round Table meeting held in the Hot Springs Central Methodist Church. Ernestine Rose was absent, but her survey results were read by her colleague Harry M. Lydenberg. A counter survey had been completed by Julia Ideson of the Houston Public Library in Texas. Ideson's survey was titled "Progress South" and the results did not jive with the Rose survey findings that the South did not know the Negro or that there was no Negro problem in the North. During the meeting, tempers flared and the meeting turned into a heated discussion about the way library services for Negroes were and should be administered in the South.
Some librarians were still angry when the meeting concluded and it had been decided that permission would be sought from ALA for another Work With Negroes Round Table meeting at the next conference. The ALA ruling body was not pleased with the turn of events during the round table meeting, which was referred to as the "only untoward episode of the conference" in the ALA journal [source: "Editorial," Library Journal, v.47, p.169]. ALA permanently suspended the Work With Negroes Round Table. For more information and citations, see the 1921, 1922, and 1923 entries for the Work With Negroes Round Table in Library Service to African Americans in Kentucky by R. F. Jones.