April 25 was National Library Worker’s Day—who knew? (Not me! And I am a library worker.)
Though that date has passed, it still seems like an excellent opportunity to introduce you to a truly pioneering librarian from our nation’s past: the Rev. Thomas Fountain Blue. Thomas Blue was born in Farmville, Virginia in 1866. He attended Hampton University and the Richmond Theological Seminary before moving to Louisville, KY.
In 1905, Rev. Blue was chosen to lead the Western Branch Library of the Louisville Free Public Library. This was the first free public library in the United States for Black patrons, staffed and run by Black librarians. The Western Branch was an immediate success, leading to the creation of a second branch for Black patrons, the Eastern Branch Library, in 1914.
In 1922, Rev. Blue was the first African-American to speak at the annual conference of the American Library Association, where he presented on the library worker training program he had started in Louisville that drew students from states throughout the south. (Read his address here.)
Beyond his remarkable career as a librarian, Rev. Blue was a “respected leader in the civic, religious, and educational life of the Louisville black community.” (Louisville Western Archives) Rev. Blue had an expansive view of the role a public library could play for the community it operated in. He saw libraries not just as repositories for books, but as a community center; a place where no one was better than anyone else and could meet on common ground.
“A Separate Flame” Western Branch: The First African American Public Library
Louisville Free Public Library, https://www.lfpl.org/separateFlame/index.html
Louisville Western Archives (LFPL) – The Reverend Thomas Fountain Blue Papers
Blue, Thomas Fountain. “The Library as a Community Center.” Address given at the Hampton Institute Library Conference, 1927. Louisville Free Public Library. https://kdl.kyvl.org/digital/collection/lfpl-revblue/id/350/rec/54