Ismail Abdullahi, (Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh) is currently Professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Library and Information Sciences (SLIS), but I know him from my time as a Clark Atlanta University SLIS graduate student (I completed my master’s degree in Spring 2004).
From its opening with 25 students in 1948 to its eventual closure in 2005, the Clark Atlanta University SLIS mission was to prepare African American (and eventually, people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds) to enter into library service in their communities. The school has an illustrious history – the first dean of the school, Eliza Atkins Gleason, was also the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in LIS and the first African-American on the ALA Board; other leaders of the school or graduates of note include:
As I matriculated through my graduate program, I encountered instructors who worked diligently to improve the program or impart expected (and unexpected) knowledge to me. Dr. Abdullahi was a person who did the latter particularly well. I enrolled in several of his courses, including Multicultural Information Resources and Academic Library Management. During those classes, we covered expected topics of organizational culture, structure or how to develop, parse, or consult finding aids. It was in his lectures that he covered those things and also introduced intriguing pieces of American history, development, or experience – always with a hope, I expect – that we would use this information to better inform interactions with our future diverse users. As a (undergraduate) student from a PWI, one can imagine all that was left out of my Euro-centric curriculum. I can still remember being enthralled by, at the time, what I thought were meandering commentaries about random topics, including:
- The arbitrary meaning and application of race (and Whiteness) in America (See, Ozawa v. United States)
- The promotion and codification of informal racial/ethnic segregration via access to mortgage funding in the United States (See, Redlining)
Through these conversations, I gleaned that my work – my very presence – as a minority librarian would be vital, even critical to many communities that continue to suffer outright or subtly from these and other equally destructive jurisprudence or practices. Years after these lectures, the ideas surrounding these topics have stayed with me. I’ve read books about immigrants groups’ aspirations to Whiteness and pages on the history and development of neighborhoods and links to racial/ethnic marginalization.
Most importantly, Dr. Abdullahi’s lectures – and the ensuing class discussions – were the impetus of my early work. Soon after I began my first academic position, I decided that I would focus on the history and development of minority American librarianship. To that end, I wrote and published a bibliography and an article. Dr. Abdullahi’s talks still influence my work as I have turned my focus more broadly to issues of professionalism and ethics – always remembering that these career fundamentals keep me aware of my responsibilities to my users in all the ways they appear before me.
SHOUT OUT (apologies for the colloquialism in this instance) to the esteemed Dr. Ismail Abdullahi, for his formal instruction in librarianship and informal teaching about the real life surrounding the practice of community and information service.
Asim, J. (2010). A taste of honey. New York: Broadway Books.
Benjamin, R. (2009). Searching for Whitopia: An improbable journey to the heart of White America. New York: Hyperion.
Roediger, D. R. (2007). The wages of whiteness: Race and the making of the American working class. London: Verso.