Library Mentor and Pioneer Clara Stanton Jones Dies

October 3, 2012

Clara Stanton Jones, 99, the first woman as well as the first African American to direct the Detroit Public Library, died September 30. Jones’s 26-year career at DPL culminated in a promotion to the directorship in 1970, where she served until her retirement in 1978. A renowned mentor to young professionals, Jones was ALA’s first African-American president, serving from 1976 to 1977.

Calling Jones “a true leader and maverick to many of us,” Yolo County (Calif.) Librarian and Chief Archivist Patty Wong mused, “She would have enjoyed how far we have come and encouraged all of us to move forward together.”

Her rise to the top of the DPL staff was controversial at the time and two library board members quit in protest, the Detroit Free Press reported October 3. Leonard Kniffel, former editor and publisher of American Libraries, worked for Jones in the 1970s and recalled the charged atmosphere: “There were any number of people who were quick to point out that other ‘better qualified’ potential directors had been passed over in favor of her (meaning that they were white). Mrs. Jones knew that she would never win over these racists; she ignored them and concentrated on younger professionals, those who came to Detroit with new ideas and without the racial bias that had stung Mrs. Jones and others for so many years before and during the civil rights movement. She and others had had to fight simply to be addressed as Mr. or Miss or Mrs. as other professionals were, instead of by first name.”

“Clara was a wonderful role model,” ALA Immediate Past President Molly Raphael said. “I look back on my ALA work over the past near 40 years and credit Clara with giving me my start. She was indeed a gracious and admirable leader of our profession, who touched many lives beyond her work in leading the Detroit Public Library. Her contribution to our profession will continue to live on.”

Among Jones’s accomplishments in Detroit was pioneering the establishment in 1972 of a community information and referral system at DPL, known as TIP (The Information Place), that became a model for other libraries throughout the country. “There was no Google then. TIP was huge, and we still have it,” DPL Director Jo Anne Mondowney told the Free Press, noting that TIP “helped people get in touch with all kinds of agencies.” During her ALA presidency, Jones was instrumental in bringing the 1977 ALA Annual Conference to Detroit.

Jones started her library career in 1938 as a reference librarian at Dillard University Library in New Orleans and began serving at DPL in 1944. The author of the library science textbook Public Library Information and Referral Service (Gaylord, 1978), received honorary doctorates from nine colleges and universities, and was voted an Honorary Member of ALA, the Association’s highest honor. President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Services, where she served as a commissioner from 1978 to 1982.