Esther J. Walls – Wikipedia

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American librarian

Esther Walls (May 1, 1926 – February 25, 2008) was an African American librarian and an international advocate for literacy. She is known for her work in the New York Public Library and with the Franklin Book Programs advocating for literacy in developing nations around the world.


Esther Jean Walls was born and raised in Mason City, Iowa. She graduated in 1944 as Valedictorian of Mason City High School, attending Mason City Junior College and the University of Iowa, graduating in 1948 summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Romance languages. She was the first African American woman elected to the Alpha of Iowa chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and one of the first women to integrate Currier Hall. After graduation, she worked in the Mason City Public Library before attending Columbia University and graduated in 1951 with a Master of Science degree in Library Science.[1]

She began her professional career in the New York Public Library as a young adult librarian, introducing the library services to vocational students. In 1958 she studied high school students’ reference needs. She became the head of Clason’s Point Branch in the Bronx and Head Librarian of the Countee Cullen Branch in Harlem. During her time at these branches she focused lectures and programs to interact with the Black community and its needs. She was appointed Director of the North Manhattan Project, a library expansion in several Harlem branches to serve disadvantaged communities.[2] At the time of her departure with the New York Public Library, she was the highest ranking African American in the system.[3]

Walls first traveled to Africa in 1959 visiting Ghana, Nigeria and Togo in a total of 25 visits. In 1965 she resigned her position at the Countee Cullen Library and accepted a position with Franklin Book Programs to stimulate book and library programs in developing countries.[4] During that time, she traveled throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia promoting literacy and libraries. She served in this role in an official capacity until 1971, continuing as special consultant on Africa and representing Franklin at government conferences and industry seminars.[5]

Walls was appointed director of U.S. Secretariat to promote UNESCO’s International Year of the Book. The goal of this program was to focus attention of the general public, governments, international and domestic organizations on the role of books and related materials in the lives and affairs of the individual and society.[6]

Walls died in New York City, aged 81 after a heart attack. There was a memorial in New York City. Walls is buried at Elmwood-St. Joseph Municipal Cemetery in Mason City.[8]


  1. ^ Henderson, Erik (15 June 2020). “Esther Walls: The role of a Black leader”. University of Iowa libraries. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  2. ^ “Library expansion in Harlem”. Wilson Library Bulletin. 39: 826. June 1965. ISSN 0043-5651.
  3. ^ unknown (26 October 1962). “Esther Walls has discussion series at New York branch library which she heads”. Globe Gazette, Mason City. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  4. ^ Smith, Dorothy Hunt. “From Mason City to Uganda”. University of Iowa Libraries. Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  5. ^ Buehner, Kristin (13 December 1996). “Retired librarian could write book about life, career”. University of Iowa Digital Libraries. Globe-Gazette, Mason City. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  6. ^ Walls, Esther J (January 1973). International Book Year 1972. Summary Report. New York, NY.: National Book Committee, Inc. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  7. ^ Buehner, Kristin. “Walls: a career based on books”. University of Iowa Library. Globe-Gazette, Mason City. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  8. ^ Buehner, Kristin (16 June 2008). “M.C. native, librarian of national status, dies”. Globe Gazette, Mason City. Retrieved 27 November 2020.

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