February 16, 2018

Richard Ashby Jr. | Movers & Shakers 2016 – Community Builders

Richard Ashby Jr.


Director, Yeadon Public Library, PA


MLS, Queens College, CUNY, 2009


www.yeadonlibrary.org; www.literacynation.com

Photo ©2016 Shawn G. Henry

Street-Level Supporter

The Yeadon Public Library opens at 10 a.m., but director Richard Ashby always arrives two hours earlier. “I begin with walking the floor—praying and getting emotionally ready for the day—to ensure the library’s presentation is up to par,” he says.

Ashby has walked the floor of a library since 1989, when he was a security guard at Wyandanch Public Library (WPL), NY. Then, too, he wanted to make the space welcoming to all. His “career-defining moment” came one day when a young African American girl complained to the librarian, who was white and not from the local community, that another patron was calling her names. The librarian “did not know how to handle the situation,” Ashby recalls, and as a support staff member, he wasn’t allowed to intervene.

“This was…when I decided that I needed to pursue my library degree,” he says.

Over the next several years, he worked his way up as a page at WPL, starting first at the circulation desk and then moving to the children’s room, reference desk, and finally becoming page supervisor. Meanwhile, he was in school.

“My career trajectory can be considered nontraditional…to some,” he says. “However, for most librarians of color, starting as a page and working your way through the ranks is more common.”

In 2005 he became supervisor of WPL’s library operations, a position he held for five years, and in 2012 he set up a “sidewalk library” in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia on a corner plagued with drugs and violence. The first initiative of LiteracyNation, the nonprofit he established, the sidewalk library distributes gently used books to young people. Ashby also helps their parents with job applications, fixes bicycle tires—and simply listens.

In 2014—the same year he was named Librarian of the Year by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA)—Ashby became director at Yeadon, a small urban library near Philadelphia with big community reach. Among the programs he’s developed are a homework club with free meals for participants and an annual back-to-school event at which kids with library cards get free haircuts from local barbers. He also brokered a partnership with a neighborhood organization to train and employ three retirees, who each work 20 hours a week. “The partnership allowed the library to save 3,120 additional staffing hours [annually],” says Ashby, who is currently running for vice president of BCALA.

“Our programming is diverse [enough] to meet all of the changes public libraries are undergoing,” he says. “And I am here for the long haul.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Bridget Stokes says:

    Congrats on the successes

  2. I was in class at Queens College with Richard and knew he was destined to do great things! Congratulations!

  3. Awesome!!! Keep shining! Congratulations!

  4. Mariel Perez says:

    Way to go! What an inspirational story!

  5. This is so amazing and definitely inspirational! Kudos Richard! You are definitely an inspiration to many!

  6. Donna Hopson says:

    A well-deserved honor to an awesome guy! Congratulation, Richard!!!

  7. It’s good to hear that your steps have been ordered by the Lord and he is using you to impact the lives of others. Having a positive experience with an institution which by nature should be non-judgmental and progressive is very important, but at times our field doesn’t live up to this. There are still racial disparities in hiring qualified individuals in management positions gives me hope of this field.

  8. jean barsotti says:

    Awesome Job!. You are an inspiration. Service above Self. Best wishes and Congratulations

  9. Karl Helicher says:

    Congratulations, Richard. You bring honor to our profession and state!
    Karl Helicher, Director
    Upper Merion Township Library

  10. Congratulations, Richard! So well deserved–when you care, people notice. All the best to you.

  11. Congratulations, Great Inspiration !