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Michele Lockleair
LIS 604 Review 2-1
Dr. Jim Carmichael
17 July 2016
Burt, L. (2009). Vivian Harsh, Adult Education, and the Library's Role as Community Center. Libraries &
the Cultural Record, Vol. 44, No. 2, Women Pioneers in the Information Sciences Part I, 1900-1950, pp.
234-255. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25549550
Vivian Harsh was born to an affluent African American family in the Bronzeville community of
Chicago in 1890. She was afforded the ability to attend college and became a librarian in her hometown
and the branch director of the Hall Branch Library from 1932-1958. Her goal was to always create a
safe space for community intellectual inquiry (235). Though she is not officially recognized as a figure
that began community engagement in the library, she was definitely a pivotal figure in its inceptions, in
the black community, and in the field of library science.
During her time as the director of the Hall Library, she began several prominent community
programs and her work was nationally recognized. Langston Hughes not only presented his work at one
of her lectures, but also wrote an article praising the collection she had created for African American
Life, History, and Culture. She believed in educating the African American population on their history as
well as current events. Her Book Review and Lecture Forum (BRLF) met twice a month to discuss new
literature and current events. She brought in authors to read and discuss their works as well as other
community members. One event featured the Republican, Democratic, Socialist, Prohibition, and
Communist parties to discuss their political philosophies. Another was about gardening and canning.
And yet another held during WWII was a flag-raising ceremony demonstration. She was not afraid to
have speakers and discussions that went against the main-stream ideas of the time, she wanted to
educate the community about all ideas. The DuSable History Club met to learn about African American
and African History and Culture. She also held classes in French, public speaking, social psychology, and
Spanish. The Fun at Maturity (FAM) club, for older adults was one of the most popular groups at the
time of Miss Harshs retirement in 1958.

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Five years after the start of BRLF, the library community began to call for more library
community involvement through lectures, forums, and reading clubs in order to help libraries play a
more crucial role in educating their communities (244), but Miss Harsh was way ahead of them.
This article by Laura Burt is easy to read and showcases the life of Miss Vivian Harsh. It shows
that even when the odds are against someone or a group of people, there is always a way to make a
difference. In her reports, Miss Harsh had a way with words and would say only as much as necessary
and give the Library Board the information they needed. This allowed her to continue with programs
that they would not have supported otherwise, but as long as the official documents did not reveal this,
she was left to run her branch the way she wanted and institute the programs she felt were important.
She was supported by the Board even through the Depression and WWII when funds were limited to
continue building her Special Collection of African American Literature and History which still survives at
the time of the article in 2009 and was renamed for Miss Vivian Harsh.
Laura Burt said that it takes a gifted librarian to accurately assess her community's needs and
wants and find a way to promote the library in serving them (251). Miss Vivian Harsh indeed knew how
to assess the needs of her community, and her work shows that she greatly loved both her community
and her work and it is reflected in how she engaged with her patrons. Vivian Harsh said, It is a
librarian's duty to stimulate and guide in the matter of reading, to promote use of books so that all
people of all ages may develop educationally and culturally. If Hall Br. has assisted its patrons in reading
guidance, aroused their interest in the use of books for personal improvement and encouraged them
towards better things then it has fulfilled its duty (251). I believe Miss Vivian Harsh fulfilled her duty
and has encouraged me to do the same.