Controversial Atlanta Librarian Ella Gaines Yates Dies

Controversial Atlanta Librarian Ella Gaines Yates Dies

Controversial Atlanta Librarian Ella Gaines Yates Dies

Ella Gaines Yates, who in 1976 became the first African-American director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System in Georgia, died in Atlanta June 27 of pancreatic cancer. She was 79.

A controversial figure, Yates’s career at what was then called the Atlanta Public Library began in 1972, when she became assistant director. Under her leadership, a new Central Library opened to the public in 1980. Yates left the library in 1981 to become a consultant. A short term as interim director in 1998 followed the resignation of Julie Hunter, who had served for only 15 months, and ended in a bitter resignation after she clashed with the library board over management issues. Before starting work in Atlanta, Yates also served as assistant director of Montclair (N.J.) Public Library from 1970 to 1972, branch librarian at East Orange (N.J.) Public Library from 1960 to 1970, head of the children’s department at Orange (N.J.) Public Library, and assistant branch librarian at Brooklyn Public Library from 1951 to 1955.

Yates was a prominent member of the American Library Association and the affiliated Black Caucus of ALA and helped found the Association’s Coretta Scott King Book Award. She also served on ALA’s governing Council and Executive Board. A life member of the NAACP, she received an MLS in 1951 and was regarded by many as a trailblazer and mentor for African Americans in the library profession. She received numerous service awards, including the Distinguished Alumnae Award from Clark Atlanta University in 2001.

Sibyl E. Moses, African-American history and culture specialist in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division of the Library of Congress, called Yates “one of the most influential leaders among both black and white, within the library and information science profession.”

Posted June 30, 2006.