Dorothy Porter Wesley: Changing The Narrative of Black Studies Through Library and Information Science

Dorothy Porter, a pioneer in library and information science for Howard University
August 18, 2022

February is the shortest month of the year and usually comes with chilly weather. The sun typically sets earlier during the day and the evening seemingly appears to be longer. However, thanks to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “The Father of Black History” and on campus student activist groups of the mid-twentieth century, it is also the time of year referred to as Black History Month.This time of year comes with the celebration of Black historical figures, the exploration of Black inventions and the recognition of Black accomplishments. Even though book bans have been nationally sanctioned by various educational entities and the topic of Critical Race Theory has become a term that continues to gain widespread familiarity within households, this is also a time when numerous people from different backgrounds take time out to go beyond the surface uncovering the many layers of Black History’s significance.

A figure who oftentimes doesn’t get much mention in most Black history discussions is Dorothy Porter. She was a pioneer in library and information science for Howard University for over forty-three years (1930-1973). She was born of a middle class family on May 25, 1904 and took her last breath December 17, 1995. As an avid writer and bibliophile she was greatly influenced by the Harlem Renaissance which propelled her to become the first Black woman to receive a library science degree from Columbia University.

During her tenure at Howard as the chief librarian, she expanded the school’s library, also known as the Moorland Spingarn Research Center in monumental ways. She helped to make Black special collections more prominent while also ensuring that the institution provided quality access to documentation that served as counter narratives to Black people who had been historically marginalized due to racist anti-Black stereotypes. She expanded the classification system ensuring that up to date ideologies and theories were provided related to the Black experience. She developed more quality research tools to help to bring in more money by way of grants which helped to bring in dozens of staff to manage the growing massive collection. Her passion and work ethic as the head librarian helped establish Howard as an authority in the field of Black Studies. Her legacy still lives on today and the Moorland Spingarn Library of Howard University would not be what it is today if it was not for her efforts to advance the field of Black Historical research. Gone, but never forgotten is the life, deeds and legacy of a true trailblazing pioneer, Dorothy Porter.

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