Report: “UCLA Library Collections Reveal Legacy of California’s First Black Librarian”
fIs it possible to know somebody without ever having met them?
A decade ago, Claudia Horning attempted to answer this riddle while conducting research for her master’s thesis in information studies in what was then the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information.
The person Horning was forging a relationship with was Miriam Matthews, who in 1927 became the first certified Black librarian in California and went to work for the Los Angeles Public Library. For the next seven-plus decades until her death in 2003, Matthews made a profound impact on both her vocation and the city she called home. She archived Black life in Los Angeles, promoted intellectual freedom while opposing censorship and was a devoted patron of the arts.
Horning — currently the UCLA Library’s director of metadata services — didn’t need to travel far to acquaint herself with Matthews. Although she transferred from UCLA (then known as the University of California, Southern Branch) after two years to the flagship institution in Berkeley and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1926, much of the historical record of Matthews’ life is found in Westwood. In the mid-1980s she conducted nearly 10 hours of interviews with the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research, while in 2008 the Matthews family entrusted 19 boxes worth of her personal papers to UCLA Library Special Collections.
Then there’s UCLA Library’s treasure trove that is the Miriam Matthews Photograph Collection, which contains more than 4,600 images — many of them digitized and openly accessible — spanning so much of the Black experience in California, from Los Angeles’ mixed-race founding families in 1781 (see embedded slideshow) to 20th-century Black businesses and cultural leaders.
Through meticulous exploration of primary source material on campus and further afield, Horning wrote her thesis, “Trailblazing Librarian in the Golden State: A Look at the Life and Career of Miriam Matthews” (2012). This National Librarian Day (April 16), she offers insights on what drove Matthews’ professional and personal passions.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com. Gary is also the co-founder of infoDJ an innovation research consultancy supporting corporate product and business model teams with just-in-time fact and insight finding.