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TL v59n2 : Interview with Dr. Edwin S. Gleaves
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 59 Number 2



 Interview With Dr. Edwin S. Gleaves

Compiled by

Scott Cohen, Library Director

Jackson State Community College


Edwin S. Gleaves served as State Librarian and Archivist of Tennessee from 1987 to 2005. Prior to that date he served for twenty years as Director of the School of Library and Information Science at George Peabody College for Teachers of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Dr. Gleaves holds the B.A. degree in English from David Lipscomb College in Nashville and the M.A. in Library Science and the Ph.D. in English (American and Victorian Literature) from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Postgraduate studies in Spanish led him to numerous teaching and consulting assignments in Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela, as well as the United States. He was a Fulbright Lecturer to the University of Costa Rica in 1971.

Dr. Gleaves has published widely in the professional literature in both English and Spanish. Among his publications are three monographs, approximately seventy articles, one hundred book reviews, and twenty-five consultant reports written in connection with institutions in this country and throughout Latin America.

Active in many professional associations, Dr. Gleaves participated in activities leading to the Second White House Conference on Library and Information Services, held in DC in July of 1991. He served as national vice-chair of the White House Conference on Library and Information Services Task Force (WHCLIST), from which he received a special award for distinguished service in 1990. In the same year, he also received the TLA Honor Award given by the Tennessee Library Association, from which he also received the Frances Neel Cheney Award in 1986 for “Outstanding Contributions to the World of Books and Librarianship.” In 2005 the Tennessee Library Association established the Edwin S. Gleaves Scholarship in his honor. In the same year he received the John H. Thweatt Archival Achievement Award from the Society of Tennessee Archivists.

Personal interests include classical music, computers, hiking, ornithology, Spanish, tennis, and reading whatever he chooses. He currently serves as a volunteer naturalist at the Warner Parks Nature Center and as a Spanish interpreter at the Siloam Family Healthcare Center. He is married to the former Jane Ann (Janey) Thompson and between them they have five children and six grandchildren who live, unfortunately for the grandparents, in four different states. This family diaspora makes frequent travel a joy and a necessity.

Chuck Sherrill, Director of the Brentwood Public Library

Dr. Gleaves: You hired a lot of people in your tenure at the State Library (including me) and I would like to know what are the most important qualities to look for in interviewing prospective librarians?

Ah, for the good old days when the administration and practice of librarianship could be nicely summarized and prescribed in a slender volume entitled simply Library Work. Yes, there was such a work written by Anna Lorraine Guthrie and published by the H. W. Wilson Company in 1906. Now, a century later, librarianship, or library science, has become library and information science (sometimes only the latter) and libraries abound in all their glorious infinite variety.

There’s no magic wand in the hiring of new employees, including librarians. Beyond appropriate education and experience, there are, I believe, a few core qualities that I would look for among candidates for a responsible library position:

· Leadership
· Compatibility
· Dependability
· Creativity
· Flexibility
· Vision
· Honesty
· Enthusiasm
· Dedication

On the negative side, if a candidate comes to you complaining about his/her former supervisor or organization, there’s a good chance that you don’t want that person.

All in all, I take pride in the key personnel for whom I had primary hiring responsibility at the State Library and Archives—Sandra Nelson, Jane Pinkston, Chuck Sherrill, and Jeanne Sugg among others.

By the way, there is a whole other world out there when it comes to library education, and the criteria for a good teacher—or a great one—may differ greatly from those of a practicing librarian. In my twenty years at Peabody, I hired ten full-time faculty members and no less than twenty-seven part-time and visiting faculty. (There were only four full-time faculty members, Mrs. Cheney being one of them, when I became director in 1967.) I wish I could say that I batted 1,000 among them all, but I must say that I found it harder to predict the success of a graduate level professor than that of practicing librarian.

Martha Gill, President, Friends of Tennessee Libraries

What initiatives do you recommend for Friends' groups in the current downturn?

It should be evident by now, to all who have eyes to see, that public libraries, while ready and willing to serve in all seasons, have a special role to play when the shadow of recession stalks the land. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, our public libraries became both a haven for the homeless and a source of inspiration and information for those who were mentally depressed and educationally deprived.

In perhaps the most dramatic and extreme case in the history of the world, the Leningrad Public Library became an indomitable refuge, refusing to close its doors, during the 1000-day siege of the city. 

While not facing either of these extremes at this point in our recent roller coaster economic history, Tennesseans are facing record levels of unemployment since the Great Depression and level of homelessness that has shocked even our most optimistic economists. In the face of such deprivation, our public libraries offer a Clean Well-Lighted Place to which admission is free and information is abundant in all its forms.

To the Friends’ groups across our state, I say stay the course, keep up the good work, and most especially press hard in supporting your public libraries in ways that address the current difficulties that we are facing at all levels of government. The Friends of Tennessee Libraries (FOTL) has been recognized of late as a premier friends’ group, a model for local and regional groups to follow.

Further information on FOTL can be found at the following website:


The national friends’ organization, FOLUSA, provides numerous examples of activities of friends’ groups around the country:


Annette Pilcher, formerly Circulation Librarian at Tennessee State University

I have always been curious about Dr. Gleaves’ interest in Central and South America. He was on an assignment in Costa Rica while I was in library school at Peabody and I know that he is as fluent Spanish speaker. I would like to know how all of that came about.

Thereby hangs a tale with a touch of jealousy. In the summer of 1961, while I was in graduate school at Emory, my younger brother Bob, a Spanish major in high school, college, and graduate school, asked me to accompany him on a three-week car tour of Mexico—at $5 per day. Well, we did it, and for slightly less than $5 per day, but it cost me my pride that my little brother could speak Spanish everywhere we went and I could not.

My opportunity came the following summer when my major professor at Emory approved Spanish as my second language on my doctorate, the only problem being that I had not studied Spanish anywhere at any time. So I signed up for a five-week Spanish course in Saltillo, Mexico, which remains the sum total of my Spanish formal education. I managed to pass the Spanish reading exam and used my new-found knowledge to research my dissertation topic on the Spanish background of the works of Ernest Hemingway.

But my fascination with the Spanish language and culture would not go away. A few years later, three years into my tenure as director of the Peabody Library School, I was offered the opportunity to teach for a six-month period at the Escuela Interamericana de Bibliotecología (Inter-American Library School) in Medellín, Colombia, which was followed by a Fulbright lectureship at the University of Costa Rica in San José, Costa Rica. Truth to tell, my Spanish was not all that proficient at the beginning of that period, but by the end I felt very much at home in the Spanish language and culture. Based on that experience, I was fortunate to receive a number of short-term teaching, interpreting, and consulting assignments in Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela.

Annelle Huggins, Executive Director of the Tennessee Library Association and Associate Dean of Libraries at the University of Memphis

When we first met exactly 40 years ago (as I began my studies at Peabody Library School) you were deeply involved in the education of librarians. What major changes have you observed during the last 40 years in the education of librarians and do you believe that library educators are currently meeting the needs of the profession as they prepare librarians to serve the future generations?

Yes, I was involved in the education of librarians forty years ago. (Let’s see, that would have been 1969, wouldn’t it?) I left the ivory tower of higher education for the bullring of state government over twenty years ago; consequently, my current view of library education is somewhat removed from that of my Peabody days.

Two major changes I have observed are (1) content and (2) delivery systems. As for content, it would appear that library science has become information science or, in some cases, information studies. I assume that the extent to which this has happened varies from institution to institution. Hands-on courses such as cataloging are a thing of the past, supplanted by computerization of knowledge. The computer also figures in various areas of library administration. Indeed, much of library science has become computer science.

By delivery systems I mean how and where information moves from professor to student, and here things have really changed! It might be worth noting that Peabody was one of the first library schools in the country to offer off-campus courses—first in Memphis (Memphis State), then in Huntsville, Alabama (Alabama A&M), and then in Conway, Arkansas (University of Central Arkansas). In all cases the courses were taught by full-time faculty members with full backup of the university libraries. They all went well and were well received—except by the Committee on Accreditation of the American Library Association. Nothing seemed to please that body, but they stopped short of imposing any kind of sanctions. Where would the committee of those days be now if they could see the accredited library schools offering total distance education in which students do not have to take a single course on campus?

Not that I am opposed to it, but in our case we did require that students take one semester on campus, usually in the summer, and those who did often said that they would not have missed the experience of that one semester on campus.

Kathy Bennett, Librarian at Hillwood High School

a. Please describe working with Frances Neel Cheney.

My opinion of Frances Neel Cheney can best be seen in my biography of her that appears in the festschrift on Mrs. Cheney that John Mark Tucker and I edited: Reference Services and Library Education: Essays in Honor of Frances Neel Cheney (Lexington, MA, Lexington Books, 1983).

How to say it in a few words? Simply that Frances Cheney was the most literate person I ever knew—what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed. Just being around her was an education in itself. She and her husband Brainard were closely associated with the Vanderbilt Fugitives, who re-wrote literary criticism in this country and abroad.

For those of you who were not around during the Cheney days, she was clearly Peabody’s claim to fame when it came to library education and, for over thirty years, she was the nation’s number one reference reviewer, reviewing over 6,000 reviews in the Wilson Library Bulletin.

Despite all her achievements, there was not an ounce of vanity in the woman. She was a joy to work with. Before I accepted the appointment as director of the Library School, being scarcely thirty years young, I went to her to seek her blessing—or not. How would she feel, I asked, serving as associate director to an upstart such as myself? “Young man,” she said, “I have never considered one’s qualifications based on how long one manages to live on this earth.” I took the job.

b. Describe the thrill of bird watching.

Since these comments are intended for librarians, I think it worth knowing that my love of birds began in a library, a bookmobile to be exact. I was about fourteen when a bookmobile librarian in West Nashville convinced me to check out a little Golden Nature Guide entitled Birds: A Guide to the Most Familiar American Birds, and challenged me to go home and see how many birds I could identify. That challenge, along with my love of nature, was all I needed to compile my own life list of birds much in the manner that I have since collected books—and lived among both birds and books.

The thrill of bird watching? Well, it’s certainly that of listing the birds you see at different places at different times—a kind of lifelong contest with Mother Nature. It’s also the knowledge that wherever you may go, wherever you may live, birds are there in all their beauty, in all their infinite variety. Beyond the numbers, though, there’s nothing quite like a face-to-face encounter on a spring morning with a Scarlet Tanager, a Baltimore Oriole, or any number of colorful warblers coming through on their way to northern nesting sites. Because of my love affair with birds, I can say, along with Shakespeare: “Full many a glorious morning have I seen / Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye, / Kissing the golden face the meadows green, / Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy.”

Rebecca Tolley-Stokes, Librarian & Associate Professor, East Tennessee State University

a. What is your favorite book?

Among all the books I ever read? How much time do you have? OK, I will limit it to two: Miguel de Cervantes, The Adventures of Don Quixote, and Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The former, a great comic saga, spoke to me in my earlier years, and the latter, a novel of high irony in its indictment of slavery, never gets old.

See the question on bird watching for the importance of one little book in my life.

b. Describe the relationship between Peabody Library School and institutions to which it supplied recently minted librarians. Was it amicable?

I can’t think of any example in which our relationship with the libraries and institutions for which we supplied “recently minted librarians” was not amicable. Indeed, it was their good will that kept them sending new generations of students to Peabody.

Just as significant, however, were the work-study/assistantship programs that we had with local libraries that helped finance the students’ education while providing valuable paraprofessional experience. The Joint University Libraries (later Vanderbilt University Libraries) and the Nashville Public Library, including its branch libraries, were two examples of a highly productive symbiotic relationship. 

c. What is your fondest memory of Peabody Library School?

My fondest memories of my twenty years with the Peabody Library School are as follows: (1) students, (2) students, and (3) students—yes students in all their fascinating diversity.

Keep in mind that an MLS program differs from both an undergraduate program and a doctoral program in that for most students the MLS program is a one-year program—three semesters and you’re on your way to your career in librarianship! Each class of student has its own character and its own individuals that leave indelible memories on the hearts and minds of the faculty—and each other, for that matter. Many students stay in touch with each other after graduation and over the years we recorded several marriages between library school students.     

It was the late Mike Rothacker who best related to the students and who, even many years afterward, remembered individual students year by year. And now, Mike, we all remember you.

d. What kind of reputation did PLS have in the state/region/nation?

Peabody College began to offer library science courses in 1919 and the Peabody Library School was officially established in 1928. It received an appropriation of $80,000 from the General Education Board in 1930 and in the summer of that year enrolled 153 students. At that time, it was the only school in the South offering two years of library science instruction. The associate director of the school, Lucille Fargo, was one of the country’s greatest authorities on school libraries. Dr. Louis Shores—prolific writer, editor, and educator—was appointed director in 1935, and was later followed by the inimitable Frances Neel Cheney. 

All this indicated that, early on, Peabody was one of the best known library schools in the South and, indeed, in the country. One measure was its cosmopolitan student body that continued for the life of the school.  We had a number of feeder schools from states that did not have an accredited library school: states such as Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and—of all places—Dickinson State College in North Dakota. More often than not, there was a Peabody connection in those states and many others.

George Peabody College for Teachers also had an international reputation in education and related fields and the Library School basked in that limelight. During the sixties, the Library School was inundated with students from Taiwan, most all of whom stayed in this country. However, over a two-year period in the seventies, we had students from Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Liberia, Malaysia, Mexico, The Netherlands, Nigeria, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Venezuela—a large percentage of whom returned to their home countries upon completion of their MLS degrees. (I hope that my assignments in Latin America during the early seventies had a little to do with the influx of Latin American students.)

Jeanne Sugg, State Librarian and Archivist of Tennessee

a.    What was your first encounter with email use and how did it happen?

I remember the event quite well but am a little fuzzy on the date; my best guess is that it was in the late 1980s. I had a friend who worked in the State Department of Education who, I had been told, was one of the first in state government to have an e-mail arrangement in place. I asked him if he would demonstrate it to me, he said yes, and on a hot afternoon in August I met with my friend in a state office complex on Murfreesboro Road—a meeting that changed my life, and that of many of us.

The setup was primitive compared to today—a dark screen in which white letters moved across right to left in eerie silence. I don’t recall if a telephone was involved but the process of sending and receiving messages was mysteriously complicated—no images, no directories, just the process of imputing a series of letters and numbers that, I was assured, put us into contact with a computer somewhere in the state university system—in this case Memphis State University or Tennessee State University, the latter of which had been given the name HARPO (which, as many of us know by now, was Oprah spelled backward). The process was slow and belabored beginning with entering a question or two and telling the system to send it, followed by a long wait. Then, right before our eyes the response began to scroll slowly across the screen like a lazy snake uncoiling in the sun—except that there was no sun, only white letters on a black screen.

The rest is history, but not always a smooth one. It was not an easy sell to the administration in the Secretary of State’s office to invest in this still primitive communication technology. But in time we became the first office in the Department of State, and one of the first in state government, to have a working e-mail system. It was truly a great step forward.

b.   What was the most rewarding national library event in which you planned/participated and what were its outcomes?  

This is easy to identify but confusing at times. Following the White House Conference on Library and Information Services (WHCLIS) of 1979, a national taskforce entitled White House Conference on Library and Information Services Taskforce (WHCLIST) was formed to facilitate planning for the second White House Conference, which eventually took place in 1991. A key organization in the planning process was COSLA, the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies. Early on, I became active not only in COSLA but in WHCLIST as well, and was, in time, elected vice-president of the organization. The president, a layperson according to WHCLIST bylaws, was Joan Ress Reeves, a dynamic library advocate from Rhode Island. 

WHCLIST held annual meetings in the years leading up to the 1991 White House Conference, culminating in a final meeting of WHCLIST in Nashville: the Nashville ’90 Conference, which by all accounts was a resounding success. Some wag from out of state called the meeting the Reeves and Gleaves show.

Meanwhile, the State Library and Archives was sponsoring a series of regional meetings, as well as one state-wide meeting, in anticipation of the White House Conference. Such meetings at the state level, along with the Nashville ’90 Conferences, provided major national momentum for the White House Conference itself, which was held in Washington in July of 1992, with both lay and professional representation from across the state of Tennessee.  

c. Under your leadership, what were the greatest accomplishments of Peabody Library School?

Time will tell, not I, but I believe that the measure of our success in the Peabody Library School must inevitably be seen in the success of our graduates. Neither time nor space permits a full-scale analysis of our graduates over the years, but any overview of the Peabody Reflector will indeed reflect that many of our graduates became leaders in their chosen profession, both in this country and abroad.

In retrospect, I take special pride in our scholarship program funded under Title II-B of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Under this program we were able to provide substantial assistance to minority applicants at a time when the number of racial and cultural minorities with MLS degrees was disgracefully low. The impact of this program was best seen locally through assistance made to librarians who made major lifetime contributions to the Nashville Public Library, Tennessee State University, Meharry Medical College, and Fisk University—as well as other library systems around the country.

Incidentally, Peabody was one of the first such accredited library schools to offer a course in the literature of minority cultures, taught by Dr. Jessie Carney Smith, a graduate of Peabody, director of the Fisk University Library, and the first African-American woman to earn the doctorate in library and information science.

d. What was the most outstanding event of your tenure at TSLA?

The WHCLIS/WHCLIST initiatives, considering the number of people involved, would have to rank high among events with which I was associated, but the event that will have the broadest long-term impact would have to be Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL).

I remember well the day that TEL became reality. Jane Pinkston and I were sitting in the balcony of the State Senate Chambers as the sponsor of the TEL bill was reading (all too slowly, I thought) the justification for TEL and the $300K tag that came with it. Suddenly, Senator Cohen of Memphis raised his hand and demanded to be recognized. Uh-oh, we thought, what could happen to this bill at this stage of the game? Our fears changed to elation when Sen. Cohen moved that the bill pass by acclamation, i.e., that all members would sponsor the bill—which is exactly what happened. It was a great moment in the history of State support for libraries

As many readers will know, the $300K stayed in the State budget for only one year, but fortunately federal funding continued even after the State funds were cut. The Tennessee State Library and Archives, the Tennessee Library Association, TennSHARE, and FOTL have continued to advocate for the restoration of the hard-fought funds for TEL. 

In any case, TEL is now a reality, providing all Tennesseans with free access to an online suite of electronic databases covering a wide range of subjects and age groups. The coming of TEL was clearly a giant step forward in the provision of information to all Tennesseans.

Footnote: We almost named it ELVIS (Electronic Library Virtual Information System) but TEL won out after all. But ELVIS stayed as the generic password for several years.

 e. Discuss the impact that the Gates Grants had on public libraries in Tennessee.

I don’t have access to the specific figures relating to the Gates Grants to Tennessee libraries, but I am confident in saying that their share of the grants exceeded that of any bestowed on public libraries in Tennessee—and, seen broadly, the nation—including the grants of Andrew Carnegie.

The impact of the Gates Grants on public libraries in Tennessee? I dare say that there is a good chance that that these grants saved many of our public libraries a death by obsolescence. Without the hardware given outright to public libraries, and the training that came with it, I believe that many public libraries would not have survived as a viable and competitive source of information in this information-rich environment.

Scott Cohen, Library Director, Jackson State Community College

How can libraries of all types stay viable in this age of budget cutbacks?

Given the great variety of libraries in Tennessee, and the equally great variety of levels of support, it is difficult to generalize about “this age of budget cutbacks.” At this writing, there are signs that the recession is receding, but also that unemployment continues to climb above ten per cent. The housing market is still reeling as thousands of Tennesseans have had to sell their dream homes and settle for housing—if any—well below what they have experienced and expected. Consequently, housing starts are well below that which we have expected, adversely affecting employment levels.   It is a vicious economic circle.

This conundrum hits hard at the heart of the American dream and, in the process, endangers support of libraries, especially those in the public sector. Seen in another light, however, the basic mission of all libraries, the provision of information, may well be what this nations needs most today. If indeed knowledge is power, perhaps we can make the case, in every venue in which libraries play a role, that never in our history have libraries been so essential to the well being of our state and of our nation.

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