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Kathleen E. Bethel

African American studies librarian Kathleen Evonne Bethel has dedicated her career to developing a broad collection of African American resource materials at Northwestern University. A fourth generation Washingtonian, Bethel was born in the Washington, D.C., area on August 4, 1953, to Helen and Frederick Bethel. From a very early age, she knew that she wished to do “cultural work” for the African American community. After graduating from high school, Bethel received a scholarship from the National Bridge Association to attend Elmhurst College in Illinois. She received her B.A. degree in 1975 and began working for the Newberry Library in Chicago as a receptionist that same year. Bethel worked in this position for two years.

In 1977, Bethel earned her M.A. degree in library science from Rosary College, now Dominican University. She then received a position as branch librarian for the Maywood Public Library in Maywood, Illinois. The next year, Bethel took a position at Johnson Publishing Company, home to Ebony and Jet magazines, working as an assistant librarian for four years. In 1982, Bethel was hired to serve as Northwestern University’s African American Studies librarian. In this capacity, she is responsible for acquisition, maintenance and cataloguing of source materials on African American life and history for the university library system. Seven years later, Bethel earned her second M.A. degree, this time from Northwestern University.

Bethel has not limited her service in African American Studies to Northwestern University. In 1996, she received a Fulbright Library Fellowship to provide expertise and assistance to colleagues at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and in 1999, she became a library fellow for the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities in order to study African American museums. In 2001, Bethel traveled to Paris to participate in an international colloquium on African diasporas. She served on the Board of Trustees for the DuSable Museum of African American History from 1993 to 2007. She is also a member of the NAACP and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). She has served as a juror for the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Award (BCALA) committee and is an official bibliographer for the Toni Morrison Society. Bethel publishes thematically based summer African American fiction and non-fiction reading lists annually and has also compiled bibliographies on W.E.B. DuBois, personal finance management for black women, and African American theatrical dramas.

Accession Number

A2008.087

Sex

Female

Interview Date

7/15/2008

Last Name

Bethel

Maker Category
Middle Name

E.

Schools

Rudolph Elementary School

Barnard Elementary School

Keene Elementary School

LaSalle-Backus Education Center

Rabaut Junior High School

Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School

Elmhurst College

Dominican University

Northwestern University

First Name

Kathleen

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

BET03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France

Favorite Quote

Just Because You're Paranoid, Does Not Mean They're Not Out To Get You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

8/4/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Crab (Chesapeake Bay)

Short Description

African american studies librarian Kathleen E. Bethel (1953 - ) was responsible for the acquisition, maintenance and cataloguing of source materials on African American life and history for the university library system at Northwestern University. She also served on the Board of Trustees for the DuSable Museum of African American History from 1993 to 2007.

Employment

United States Post Office

Newberry Library

Maywood Public Library

Johnson Publishing Company

Northwestern University

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Kathleen E. Bethel's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Kathleen E. Bethel lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her maternal great-grandfather, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her maternal great-grandfather, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her maternal grandmother's family, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her maternal grandmother's family, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her maternal grandmother's family, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her maternal family's social activities in Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her mother's childhood in Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her mother's education

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her father's childhood in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her father's U.S. Army service

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her parents' courtship

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her father's career

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her parents and how she takes after her mother

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Kathleen E. Bethel remembers her elementary schools

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her fourth grade teacher

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her early knowledge of African American history

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her family's relationship with George Washington Carver

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Kathleen E. Bethel remembers figures from St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls learning African American history in school

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes segregation in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her early activities

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes the music of her childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her childhood friends

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her parents' social club memberships

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Kathleen E. Bethel remembers Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in Washington, D.C., pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls Rabaut Junior High School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Kathleen E. Bethel remembers Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Kathleen E. Bethel remembers Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in Washington, D.C., pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her extracurricular activities

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls how she became interested in librarianship

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her early understanding of black history

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her transition to natural hair

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls deciding to attend Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her arrival at Elmhurst College

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her studies at Elmhurst College

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her experiences in Chicago, Illinois during college

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Kathleen E. Bethel remembers her decision to attend library school

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Kathleen E. Bethel remembers her professors at Elmhurst College

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls attending Rosary College in River Forest, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her jobs while attending Rosary College

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her courses at Rosary College

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her research on the racial history of libraries

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes working at Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Kathleen E. Bethel remembers visitors at Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls unemployment during the Reagan recession

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls being hired at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes African American studies at Northwestern University

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes the African American studies resources at Northwestern University

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls visiting Khartoum, Sudan, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls visiting Khartoum, Sudan, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Kathleen E. Bethel recalls her travels to Kenya

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Kathleen E. Bethel reflects upon her career at Northwestern University

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her summer reading lists

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Kathleen E. Bethel shares her advice to aspiring librarians

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her plans for the future

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Kathleen E. Bethel reflects upon her life

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Kathleen E. Bethel reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Kathleen E. Bethel talks about her family

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her contributions to South Africa

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Kathleen E. Bethel talks about her work with libraries internationally

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Kathleen E. Bethel describes her organizational activities

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Kathleen E. Bethel reflects upon the importance of oral history

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Kathleen E. Bethel describe show she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

6$7

DAStory

5$5

DATitle
Kathleen E. Bethel describes working at Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, Illinois
Kathleen E. Bethel reflects upon her career at Northwestern University
Transcript
When did you find out there was a job at Johnson Publishing Company [Chicago, Illinois] for a librarian? I mean, how did you find out?$$I'm trying to remember how I found out. I'm fairly certain, I still would've been on some sort of list at Rosary [Rosary College; Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois] for job descriptions. It, it might have come that way. That's what I can think of. I don't recall how I heard about it. I had toured the building, and when people came to town if you could get in on a tour that was a very nice wonderful free thing to do for folks. So I'd definitely been in the building before I'd gone to library school so I knew there was a library there and things. So, saw the position and applied there. And that was, it was just, it was wonderful.$$(Laughter).$$A library on the seventh floor of 820 South Michigan [Avenue]. You get off the elevator and first thing there is a Hale Woodruff painting. The hallway to the library is lined with six or seven Charles White [Charles Wilbert White] illustrations. This private library, he had on his shelf books by Phillis Wheatley. I'd never seen this kind of stuff that was happening and it was, it was just wonderful, wonderful experience.$$Now, is that, in that era, the Johnson Publishing was republishing some of the black classic--$$Yes.$$--books. As you said, the works of Phillis Wheatley and--$$Yes, yes.$$Frederick Douglass and--$$They did 'The Underground Railroad' [William Still], and Douglass, Sojourner Truth--$$And, William Still's 'Underground Railroad.' I have a copy at home from Johnson, you know.$$And that fine brown leather binding that they did. Yes, it was, it was good. Their book division was selective and Basil Phillips was a photo librarian, to, had known my family since, since he was a boy. The seventh floor was also the office of Jet magazine. And, Mrs. Johnson, Eunice Johnson, her office was there. And she was doing Fashion Fair, the show, the models were there, the clothes were there, and the moderator that year happened to be a young woman from my high school, Shayla Simpson. So, she was like my home girl. And, Bob Johnson [Robert L. Johnson] was a classmate of Reverend Mack's [James Mack]. And, it was just, just tremendous, just tremendous. There was a video room on the seventh floor as well 'cause Mr. Johnson [HistoryMaker John H. Johnson] was on the board of 20th Century Fox [Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation], I think, back then. So we got to preview the movies before they hit the theaters. I managed to be on a, not quite the A list, but a B list of staff members when there was a need for, I don't know, he was having an event for advertisers and needed some cadre of young women for all the men coming in, would get invited to things. And, he was buying tables at all sorts of events that--and the giveaways, it's like well, "Who wants to go to the Saturday morning brunch for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History?" (Raises hand).$$(Laughter).$$So, those kinds of things. So, had a, had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit about cataloging African American stuff. I sort of did a reclassification and re-cataloging of some of the collection, identified some items for some preservation work and things. Was really able to appreciate the morgue that's there and so much. But it was a good time. It was a good time.$$That was excit- very exciting I'm sure. And, the Tom Joyner Show ['Tom Joyner Morning Show'] was coming out of there, right?$$Yes. Yes.$$WJPC [WJPC Radio; WNTD Radio, Chicago, Illinois].$$WJPC. And, for a couple of years, my--I wrote the Black History Month quiz contest. I did that. And, we'd get free records from Tom.$So you've been at Northwestern [Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois] since 1985, and we're just trying--$$Eighty-two [1982], actually.$$Eighty-two [1982], okay, '82 [1982], right. That's right. That's right. And, what's been the, I guess the highlight of your tenure at Northwestern? (Cough).$$I think the highlight of my tenure at Northwestern has been to be a witness, as well as, perhaps a participant in the maturation of black studies. Something that we saw programmatically develop in the '60s [1960s] to then grow into a finally fully recognized and appreciated academic discipline has really been something. So to see that development has really been a high point for me. It has afforded me many opportunities for travel and research. The opportunity to get a second master's degree at a tremendous discount because of an educational assistance program was quite the treat. I've been a head of fellowship to the Kaplan Center for the Humanities [Alice Berline Kaplan Center for the Humanities; Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Evanston, Illinois] on campus where I was able to take a year and research black museums. Something I'm still working with now. I'm actually gonna present as a paper and get published this year as the Association of African American Museums is meeting in Chicago [Illinois]. So, to combine my personal interest with things Northwestern with its reputation with theatre and my interest in theatre, particularly black theatre and arts and things. It's just been a tremendous way to, to have a career meet your own personal interests and your sort of childhood desires for things. So, I've had great opportunities there and I like to think the contributions have been strong as well that I've been able to contribute to both the profession of black studies and the profession of librarianship.$$Okay.$$So, that I've liked a lot.