March 22, 2018

Library Luminary Is a Doctor At Last

Robert Wedgeworth

Robert Wedgeworth, photo by Nick Romanenko

A mere forty years late, a former American Library Association (ALA) executive director and university librarian finally defended his dissertation.

Robert Wedgeworth left Rutgers University’s doctoral program in library science in 1972, to head up ALA, according to the university. As the saying goes, he was ABD, or all but dissertation, having completed his coursework and passed his comprehensive exam.

Wedgeworth said his advisor “told me I was throwing away a brilliant academic career,” but in practice, it doesn’t seem to have hurt him. While at ALA, he was instrumental in founding Friends of Libraries U.S.A., now United for Libraries, and National Library Week.

After spending 13 years as executive director of ALA, he was hired by Columbia University as dean of its School of Library Service in 1985. He later served as university librarian and professor of library administration at the University of Illinois from 1992-1999, was president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) from 1991-1997, and later led nonprofit Laubach Literacy International, which merged with Literacy Volunteers of America to create Proliteracy Worldwide.

Wedgeworth also edited the World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services, as well as co-authoring Starvation of Young Black Minds: The Effects of the Book Boycotts in South Africa, and a study of library development in South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. He won ALA’s Lippincott and Melvil Dewey awards, the Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Award for achievements in international librarianship, and the Trailblazer’s Award from the Black Caucus of ALA.

Wedgeworth retired as president and CEO of Proliteracy in 2007, giving him time to turn his attention to that little piece of unfinished business. (Though he keeps his hand in by serving on the board of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, among others.) Wedgworth successfully defended his dissertation on December 14, 2012, and will receive his Ph.D. from Rutgers in May. “Those three years I spent at Rutgers (1969 to 1972) were really important to me,” Wedgeworth said. “I learned things that served me well throughout my career, and I never had a chance, until I retired, to give credit to Rutgers.”

Although this is Wedgeworth’s first dissertation, technically it’s not his first doctorate: he’s received several honorary degrees.

Prior to attending Rutgers, Wedgeworth was a cataloger and an early computer adopter. He worked at several Kansas City and St. Louis libraries, demonstrated the “library of the future” at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, and served as Assistant Chief Acquisitions Librarian at Brown University from 1966-1969, where he introduced automation.

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Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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