May 25, 1906|
|Died||April 8, 1990
New London, New Hampshire
|Institutions||Director, Pratt Library
Director, Free Library of Philadelphia
Director, American Library Association
|Alma mater||The North Carolina Library School|
|Known for||Advocate of information freedom|
|Notable awards||Honorary degrees from Wheaton and Drexel; American Libraries 100 most important library figures|
Emerson Greenaway (May 25, 1906 – April 8, 1990) was an American librarian of considerable note, particularly during the Cold War era of the 1950s. During his long career, he acted as the director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore, the director of the Free Library of Philadelphia and as a director of the American Library Association. He was also a highly respected scholar and an advocate for intellectual freedom in wartime. Greenaway also came under fire for his participation in anti-communist government committees. In 1999, American Libraries named Greenaway as one of the one hundred most important library figures of the 20th century.
Greenaway was born in 1906 in Massachusetts. Although he would go on to have considerable influence over libraries in all of the United States, Greenaway never lived far from the East coast. Greenaway was educated at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science (then called “The North Carolina Library School”). Greenaway eventually received honorary degrees from both Wheaton College and Drexel University.
The true beginning of Greenaway’s illustrious library career occurred in April 1945, when he became the director of Baltimore’s Pratt Library. During his time as head of the Pratt Library, Greenaway introduced both a film department and the bookmobile, both of which continue to serve the Baltimore community today. Greenaway was a longtime advocate of adult education but also placed a great deal of emphasis on children’s within the Pratt Library. While with the Pratt Library, Greenaway also began to study international libraries. This fascination would follow him throughout the remainder of his life.
In 1951, Greenaway stepped down as director of the Pratt Library to begin his position as head of Philadelphia’s Free Library. It was during this era (until his 1969 retirement from both the Free Library and the bulk of his library career) that Greenaway’s life was perhaps most driven and interesting. The political climate during his time in Philadelphia forced him to confront issues of race, political motivations, library funding and information freedom.
Greenaway pushed to expand library systems in many ways. He was a vocal proponent of federal funding for libraries rather than requiring smaller communities to take on the bulk of the financial burden. Greenaway also supported the concept of urban library systems which would consolidate the collections and resources of many smaller rural libraries into one more expansive system. In a 1959 speech and accompanying article for the American Philosophical Society, he detailed his own plans to create physical library spaces to better serve patrons. Chief among his ideas were proper space and physical buildings adapted to the needs of the community.
Cold War era
Greenaway’s relationship with the Cold War era and the (second) Red Scare was extremely complicated. Primarily, Greenaway was a strong proponent of intellectual freedom. In the 1950s he served as chair for the Intellectual Freedom Committee, a branch of the American Library Association which tasks itself with protecting the privacy rights of library patrons. In 1950 he led an unsuccessful fight against the “Ober Oath,” one of many “loyalty oaths” directed at libraries put in place by the United States government. However, Greenaway also supported anti-communist measures by the United States and was privately thought by many to be a supporter of Joseph McCarthy. Greenaway argued that one of the main purposes of public access to information was to educate the masses against beliefs he found undesirable, such as communism. One may perhaps surmise that Greenaway was himself politically conservative but nevertheless respected and believed in the value of freedom to information.
Despite Greenaway’s dedication to information freedom, he came under fire when the Free Library was named in the Access to Public Libraries study to be one of three urban Northern libraries (the other two being Detroit and Washington, D.C.) which openly discriminated against African-Americans. Greenaway hotly contested the methods used by the survey.
The height of Greenaway’s career was from 1958–1959, during which time he served as the director of the American Library Association. During this time Greenaway continued to be active in issues of censorship and freedom of information. His involvement with the ALA did not cease after he stepped down from the presidency. In 1964, he participated in an ALA-sponsored delegation trip to the Soviet Union, an area he had studied closely during his time as president of the ALA. He also continued to serve on several task forces for the ALA.
Following his retirement from the library world at large in 1969, Greenaway moved to New London, N.H. with his wife, Helen (Kidder) Greenaway. He continued to volunteer in libraries until close to his death.
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