Melvil Dewey’s name removed from library award over racism concerns

At last year’s American Library Association Annual Conference, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name was stripped from a prestigious children’s book award over concerns of how the author portrayed Native Americans in her books and because many felt her classic works promoted racism.

This year, Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal system by which most libraries follow when organizing their non-fiction collections, was on the chopping block. Citing many of the same concerns that they had with Laura Ingalls Wilder – racism, anti-Semitism and sexual harassment, the ALA voted to remove Dewey’s name from their organization’s top honor, the Melvil Dewey Medal.

The ALA issued a resolution on the matter, stating:

  • Whereas the American Library Association awards the Melvil Dewey Medal to recognize librarians for achievement for recent creative leadership of high order;
  • Whereas Melvil Dewey did not permit Jewish people, African Americans, or other minorities admittance to the resort owned by Dewey and his wife;
  • Whereas he was censured by the New York State Board of Regents for his refusal to admit Jews to his resort, whereupon he resigned as New York State Librarian;
  • Whereas Dewey made numerous inappropriate physical advances toward women he worked with and wielded professional power over;
  • Whereas during the 1906 ALA conference there was a movement to censure Dewey after four women came forward to accuse him of sexual impropriety, and he was ostracized from the organization for decades;
  • Whereas the behavior demonstrated for decades by Dewey does not represent the stated fundamental values of ALA in equity, diversity, and inclusion;
  • Now therefore be it resolved, that the American Library Association (ALA), on behalf of its members, rename the Melvil Dewey Medal to remove Melvil Dewey’s association with the award.

Interestingly enough, Dewey was also one of the founders of the American Library Association and served as editor of The Library Journal. According to Publisher’s Weekly, ALA has not selected a new name for the award and ALA tells the publication the next steps in renaming the award will “now be referred to the ALA Award Committee for next steps, including discussion with the award’s sponsor. When there is a new name to announce, we will share that news with you at that time.”

Librarians celebrated the news on Twitter.

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