Loleta Fyan

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Loleta Fyan
Loleta Dawson 1919.jpg
President of the American Library Association
In office
Preceded byClarence R. Graham
Succeeded byRobert Bingham Downs
Personal details
Loleta Irene Dawson

(1894-05-14)May 14, 1894
Clinton, Iowa, US
DiedMarch 15, 1990(1990-03-15) (aged 95)
East Lansing, Michigan, US
Clarence E. Fyan (m. 1926)
Alma materWellesley College

Loleta Dawson Fyan (May 14, 1894 – March 15, 1990) was the first professional librarian for the State of Michigan (1941 to 1961).[1] Long before the invention of the creation of the Internet, she believed that information should be available to all. She was instrumental in the passing of federal support for libraries.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Loleta Irene Dawson was born 14 May 1894 in Clinton, Iowa.[3] Her father, Albert Foster Dawson, was a U.S. Representative from Iowa.[4] Dawson’s political activity may have been an influence on Fyan’s lifelong participation in a variety of organizations, including the American Library Association, the Michigan Library Association, the League of Women Voters and the Michigan Rural-Urban Women’s Conference. Because of her father's position, she was able to meet Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.[5] Fyan's mother was Phoebe R. (DeGroat) Dawson, whose family came to Iowa via New York and the Erie Canal.[5]

She married Clarence E. Fyan on July 17, 1926.[5] Fyan became a teacher after her graduation in 1915 from Wellesley College with a B.A. in botany and music.[3]


In 1916 she began what became her lifelong passion in Davenport, Iowa, delivering books from the main public library to nearby schools and farms for people who would not otherwise be able to access reading materials.[5] "Books are dead until they meet the human mind,” Fyan believed[6] and so she created the first “bookmobile,” providing service in 1921 with a $10,000 budget and a Ford.

For twenty years, Fyan was head of the Wayne County Library, Michigan. Under her leadership it blossomed into a staff of one hundred librarians, a fleet of cars and several library branches.[6] This was in direct contrast to the prevailing wisdom of previous years that libraries weren't really necessary, and money spent on them was better spent elsewhere[citation needed].

“Don’t listen to those people who say that democracy won’t work.”, she stated in a Library Journal article. “Of course it won’t work. It’s up to us to work it”.[6]

1951 fire[edit]

Fyan was unfortunate in having to oversee the effects of a major fire in 1951 that resulted in the loss of thousands of documents due to fire and water damage in the State Office Building in February 1951.[7] This event encouraged builders such as those of the Ecorse Public Library to build the library “completely fireproof.” This building was among others built with funds directly received as a result of Fyan’s work on outlining post-war projects.[8]

Fyan also encountered difficulties raising funds. “There is never enough money, and painful choices must be made each year” she stated in her Report of the President to the American Library Association (ALA) in January, 1952. She was instrumental in developing library legislation titled P.A. 106 of 1937 which enabled the Michigan State Library to create the State Aid and Traveling Libraries Division.[5]

Career achievements[edit]

  • Michigan State Librarian, 1941-1961
  • Davenport Free Public Library, 1916-1919
  • Detroit Public Library, 1920-1921
  • Wayne County Librarian, 1921-1938; 1939-1941
  • Michigan Library Association President, 1934-1935
  • Michigan Library Association Secretary/Treasurer, 1935-1936; 1941
  • Michigan Rural Women’s Conference Chair, 1935-1941


In her will, Fyan left many legacies: the Loleta Fyan Continuing Education Scholarship Fund, the Loleta Fyan Small & Rural Library Conference, the Fyan Community Leadership Award, and the ALA Loleta D. Fyan Grant all aim to encourage and support smaller libraries supporting rural communities, her lifelong passion.[5]

The State Board in 1961 requested her resignation, the stated reason being that she was too old to hold the job.[9]


  1. ^ Bartlett, Bernadette (2001) Changing the face of the State Library and libraries statewide: Loleta Dawson Fyan, 1941-1961, updated 3 February 2004, (cited 12 May 2009), para 1
  2. ^ "Loleta Dawson Fyan". Women of Library History. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  3. ^ a b "Fyan, Loleta D. (Loleta Dawson), 1894-1990". Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  4. ^ Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1771 – Present, “Albert Foster Dawson.”
  5. ^ a b c d e f Davis, Donald G. (2003). Dictionary of American Library Biography: Second supplement. 2. Libraries Unlimited, Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 102–107. ISBN 9781563088681.
  6. ^ a b c DALB (2003), pg. 103
  7. ^ Bartlett (2001), para 4
  8. ^ History of Ecorse Public Library, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-06-27. Retrieved 2014-02-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) (cited 12 May 2009).
  9. ^ Bartlett (2001), para 7
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Clarence R. Graham
President of the American Library Association
Succeeded by
Robert Bingham Downs