Robert Wedgeworth is one of those people who had everything he needed for his Ph.D. – except his dissertation.
In 1972, he had completed his coursework, passed his comprehensive examination and started his dissertation. But the American Library Association reached out to him and “offered me a position I couldn’t refuse.”
“She told me I was throwing away a brilliant academic career,” Wedgeworth remembered recently on a visit to the New Brunswick Campus. He had come to finish the work he started so long ago.
He successfully defended his dissertation on December 14 and plans to graduate in May 2013. Where has he been for the 40 years? Following a brilliant academic career.
Wedgeworth spent 13 years as executive director of American Library Association – the first and only African -American to hold that post – and in 1985 was hired by Columbia University as the dean of its School of Library Service.
He was university librarian and professor of library administration at the University of Illinois from 1992-1999. While at the University of Illinois, Wedgeworth was president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions from 1991 to 1997, the only American since 1927 to be so honored. He led Laubach Literacy International, an international nonprofit organization supporting literacy, into a merger with Literacy Volunteers of America, retiring as president and CEO of the merged organization, Proliteracy Worldwide, in 2007.
Wedgeworth was a veteran librarian when he arrived at Rutgers in 1969. He was an early experimenter with and advocate for the application of computers to librarianship. In 1962, while a cataloger at the public library in Kansas City, he was picked to demonstrate the library of the future at the American Library Association’s booth at the World’s Fair in Seattle.
“We had a Xerox copier there, and copiers were rare then,” he said. “We had a Univac solid-state computer that would give you a computer printout and lots of lights flashing and disks whirring. Our booth was really popular.”
Wedgeworth came to Rutgers to learn more about information technology and librarianship, and he did just that. He returned to complete his doctorate partly to further that knowledge but also as a final salute to the institution that launched him on his career.
“Those three years I spent at Rutgers (1969 to 1972) were really important to me,” Wedgeworth said. “I learned things that served me well throughout my career, and I never had a chance, until I retired, to give credit to Rutgers.”