- KERA radio story:
- Expanded online story (earlier version appeared as a blog post):
Lillian Moore Bradshaw died earlier this week at the age of 95. Bradshaw was the director of the Dallas Public Library, 1962-1984 — the first woman to run a big-city library system.
I met her only once — we were introduced at a library reception. But in 1998, the Dallas Public Library was part of a new bond election. I was a book critic and wrote a feature on it. The library system had suffered from years of severe cutbacks that led to leaky roofs and overworked staff. But it was hard getting city officials to talk frankly about the lack of new books and the increased demands on libraries for tax help, English classes, job re-education.
It was hard until I talked to Lillian Moore Bradshaw. Everything I have to say about Bradshaw comes from just two phone calls. But I can’t convey the delight a journalist feels in finding someone as sharp and honest as she was. True, she was no longer in office, so she didn’t have a job to lose. But I got the distinct impression that a little thing like political safety wouldn’t have stopped her. I occasionally laughed in surprise at the blunt statements she made, precisely the things city administrators never say.
Bradshaw more or less got the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library built (above). She had the reputation of being a smart politician. But this smart politician was also fearless when it came to defending intellectual freedom — which she had to do practically the moment she started running the library when Dallas City Council members wanted to pull some books off the shelves. Bradshaw went on to become the city’s liaison with the Republican National Convention, yet she had no truck with book banners, conservative or liberal.
The same went for defending the library. The city’s money-saving policy of “deferred maintenance” in the ’90s, she said, just meant the trash piled up. People who felt the library shouldn’t own rare expensive works — these people, Bradshaw said, wanted a library to stick to “grade school reading lists.”
Yes, she believed in the library’s educational purpose. But she saw it as much more. The public library is one of the great inventions of American democracy. The internet wouldn’t exist without libraries pioneering the free access to information. Bradshaw saw the library as practically a cornerstone of human cultural endeavor.
And in talking to Bradshaw, I understood why Tennessee Williams once said that, despite Dallas’ reputation as a man’s town, the city’s real spirit was in its women.
And, I’d add, its librarians.
Feel free to recount your own memories of Lillian Moore Bradshaw. Her funeral will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at Restland Memorial Chapel.