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Retiring Professor Promotes Diversity in Library Science

Dr. Ismail Abudllahi

North Carolina Central University School of Library and Information Sciences (SLIS) Professor Ismail Abdullahi, Ph.D., retired in May 2019 after decades of mentoring students and encouraging more diverse participation in the field.

Originally from Ethiopia, Abdullahi began his career journey at the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen, where he earned a bachelor’s degree. As his passion for library science grew, he joined the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLAI), where mentors encouraged him to attend graduate school in the United States.

He attended the NCCU School of Library and Information Sciences’ graduate program and worked for a time in the James E. Shepard Memorial Library. He earned his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh in 1992.

Abdullahi accepted teaching posts at the University of Southern Mississippi and Clark Atlanta University, where he was a tenured professor from 1992 to 2005.

“Teaching showed me how important it is to have diversity in the library sciences profession,” said Abdullahi, who encouraged students to travel and visit other cultures.

After joining the faculty of NCCU in 2005, he taught a global library information systems course and served as the advisor for the student chapter of the American Library Association (ALA). He also established study-abroad programs in Denmark and Sweden to enable SLIS graduate students to experience library programs in other countries. 

Abdullahi was instrumental in recruiting many students of color to the library and information science profession, where he believed they could have tremendous community and societal impact.

“Many people think that libraries are just about books, but they don’t understand how libraries influence our democracy,” he said. “Libraries help our nation have informed and knowledgeable societies. They are a place of development and are the only institutions that provide access to resources for all people – and it’s free.”

SLIS Dean Jon Gant, Ph.D., said Abdullahi's dedication to students and love for the library science field has made him a valuable member the school's faculty.

“Dr. Abdullahi's leadership in global librarianship has helped promote global immersion for the NCCU campus community through years of leading study-abroad programs for SLIS, international exchanges with scholars and policy-makers, and student engagement with international organizations in his courses,” Gant said. “Our students have developed a deep connection with many libraries and information organizations in various African countries through Dr. Abdullahi's research, teaching and service.”

Among his accolades through the years were the Harold Lancour Award for Excellence in International and Comparative Study in Library and Information Sciences; the Leadership Award of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association; North Carolina Library Association’s Roadbuilder’s Award for Library Education;  the Emerald Literatti Network Award for Excellence in Publications; and the Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in the United States

In 2018, he received the ALA International Relations Committee’s John Ames Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Award and the Harold Lancour Award for Excellence in International and Comparative Study in Library and Information Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Recently, Abdullahi traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, to receive the IFLAI Lifetime Award honoring librarians of African descent who have made significant contributions to the growth of the library sector in Africa.

Having taught his final course as a fulltime NCCU professor in May 2019, he plans to continue his work in the library sciences field internationally. His first trip: to Zhuhai, China, in June 2019  to discuss the future of technology, privacy, and the digital divide.

Published: Thursday, July 11, 2019
by Senior Writer and Editor, Renee Elder
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