Children’s Services Champion Virginia Mathews Dies

May 11, 2011

Virginia Mathews, 86, renowned advocate for family and early-childhood literacy and outreach programs, consultant, and author who was respected in the publishing and library worlds, died May 7.

Instrumental in the success of both the 1979 and 1991 White House Conference on Library and Information Services (WHCLIS), Mathews navigated a career that bridged the worlds of publishing and library advocacy. In particular, her leadership during the 1991 conference resulted in the creation of the Omnibus Children’s and Youth Literacy through Libraries Initiative, which emerged as the highest-priority goal of the conference. The achievement was cited as one reason ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children gave Mathews its Distinguished Service Award in 1995, the year after ALA awarded her Honorary Membership, the highest honor given by the Association.

The ALSC award also cited her involvement in the National Book Committee—a group whose promotion of reading evolved into the celebration of National Library Week. Mathews went on to serve as a consultant to the Library of Congress Center for the Book in Washington, D.C., where she developed the curricular materials for the 1992–1997 Library–Head Start Partnership that brought ALSC to the early-literacy table at the national level. The initiative culminated in the publication of A Library Head Start to Literacy (1999), coauthored by Mathews and then-ALSC Executive Director Susan Roman, which was distributed to every Head Start program in the country.

“As ambassador of library youth services to the world, Virginia Mathews continues to inspire new generations,” said Carole D. Fiore at the time her committee selected Mathews for the ALSC award. She added, “Her vision and political acumen have served as a catalyst for ALSC to reach beyond its traditional boundaries to form partnerships with other youth agencies.”

Mathews’s other awards include the 1989 Distinguished Service Award and the 1998 Herb and Virginia White Award for Promoting Librarianship from ALA’s American Association for School Librarians.

Vice president of Shoe String Press since 1980, Mathews was director of library professional publications for Gaylord Brothers from 1975 to 1979 and before that at the American Book Publishers Council and David McKay Company. She wrote numerous book reviews for the New York Times. Among her contributions to library literature, she edited Library Services for Children and Youth: Dollars and Sense (Neal-Schuman, 1994).