Renate Chancellor (88), Ph.D., was almost finished with her master’s degree program in library and information science (M.L.I.S.) at UCLA, but she still hadn’t learned about any people of color in library science. Then, preparing for a research paper, she learned of EJ Josey, an African American librarian and professor who was active in the Civil Rights movement.
Chancellor learned that Josey had been a librarian, an administrator of library services, and a professor of library science at the University of Pittsburgh. He also served as the president of the American Library Association (ALA) and wrote more than 400 articles and 13 books. His career spanned the years 1953 to 1995 and involved working for positive change in the profession.
In her doctoral program, Chancellor further studied Josey, interviewing him before his death in 2009. She learned more about Josey’s experiences challenging the ALA to end discrimination and segregation and to make libraries accessible to all. Chancellor was one of the last to interview Josey, visiting him in the hospital, and forming relationships with his family members. She wrote her dissertation on Josey, and in February 2020, her book E.J. Josey: Transformational Leader of the Modern Library Profession was published by Rowman and Littlefield and the Association for Library and Information Science Education.
Thus far, Chancellor’s book has landed her on the cover of Library Journal and garnered several interviews.
“I’m surprised that I have received so much attention from this book,” she said. “Never would have I thought that I would have gotten a lot of reaction in such a positive way. I’ve been humbled and overwhelmed by the reaction.”
Chancellor’s book is an academic work, but it is accessible to anyone wanting to understand more fully the pursuit of justice and civil rights in a professional organization. The book’s description states: “Josey’s transformative leadership provides a model to tackle today’s civil rights challenges both in and outside the library profession.”
Like Josey, Chancellor is deeply committed to diversity and social justice within library and information science.
“When it comes to issues of social justice and service,” she said, “they have always been a part of my life.”
Chancellor was born in Germany but grew up in Los Angeles where she spent time volunteering in a hospital, with Big Sisters of LA, and with her home church, St. Brigid’s. Chancellor also helped establish a soup kitchen on Skid Row while working with the Young Adult Ministry.
“My parents and my Catholic faith fuel my interest in social justice and feeding the homeless and helping the needy,” she said. “That’s always shaped who I am and what I write. Both of my parents were in the military and worked for the government. My mom got me involved in the Big Sisters.”
Chancellor originally chose Point Loma for college because of the reputation of the nursing program as she had originally planned to pursue nursing. However, once in college, she changed her major to history and political science with a minor in criminal justice. Chancellor was also part of the international club, debate team, paint crew, and Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority.
“I had such a rich experience there,” she said. “I’m still friends with a lot of people from college.”
After working in a law firm, Chancellor determined that she didn’t want to become a lawyer but realized that she loved the research aspect of law. That passion led her to working at UCLA’s law school and earning her M.L.I.S. from UCLA.
Chancellor then began working in law librarianship for the U.S. Court of Appeals as well as for several law firms in the Los Angeles area.
“I decided to go back to school for my Ph.D. because there were interesting questions I wanted answered, and I love research,” Chancellor said.
Chancellor’s current role is chair of the Department of Library and Information Science at The Catholic University of America in Washington DC. She oversees the law librarian course of study and teaches a variety of classes, including foundations of library and information science, human information behavior, oral history, storytelling, and “Visions of Italy,” in which she takes students from various universities to Rome and Florence for special access to the Vatican library and archives. She said her favorite part of her job is “hands down is working with students.”
This perception of the library as a physical space that remains open for all members of the community in times of crisis reflects a broader understanding of the library as protecting equal access and fulfilling social responsibility.
Chancellor has been working on several articles pertaining to social justice and diversity since the publication of her book, including a collaborative piece entitled “Struggling to Breathe: COVID-19, Protest, and the LIS Response” and an article on Clara Stanton Jones, the first black woman president of the ALA.
Chancellor wants to make clear that she doesn’t condone violence in pursuit of justice, but she does believe people should speak up when they witness injustice. She also sees opportunities for libraries to be proactive participants in social justice. In fact, the topic was the focus of a paper she published in Collaborative Librarianship entitled “Communities in the Crossfire: Models for Public Library Action.”
“I wrote about Ferguson Municipal Public Library and how [librarian] Scott Bonner made the decision to keep the library open while the city was burning [in 2014],” she said. “Students came to the library to have their lessons. In Baltimore with Freddie Gray, the same thing happened. There was an uprising, and Carla Hayden, now the Librarian of Congress, made the decision to keep the library open. As public institutions, libraries have a unique, strong opportunity to be community anchors.”
In the paper, Chancellor explained, “This perception of the library as a physical space that remains open for all members of the community in times of crisis reflects a broader understanding of the library as protecting equal access and fulfilling social responsibility.”
Regarding the crisis in Ferguson after the police shooting of Michael Brown, she also wrote, “Nearly every public institution was closed, except for the Ferguson Public Library. Because of Bonner’s choice to keep the library open, teachers were able to hold classes in the library, and individuals from the community were able to obtain information about housing, and general information. Community members were able to gather and be in a space and place where there was calm even though there was turbulence going on directly outside the library’s doors. It essentially became a safe haven to all.”
Chancellor’s vision is that libraries can continue to be not only safe spaces during times of crisis but places where all people are welcomed and accepted and where public discourse can take place. She knows her field has work to do to become more diverse and inclusive and more engaged with issues of justice, but it’s work Chancellor is ready to be a part of.