Vivian G. Harsh (May 27, 1890 - August 17, 1960) On February 26, 1924 she became the Chicago Public Library system's first black librarian. Harsh first began working for the Chicago Public Library as a junior clerk in 1909 after graduating high school. She later went on to graduate from Simmons College Library School in Boston. Harsh was named director of the new George Cleveland Hall branch in 1932.
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Harsh’s goal for Hall Library when she became director was to have it serve as a community gathering space and to provide educational outreach opportunities. As a librarian, Harsh was passionate about collecting works about African Americans and she traveled extensively throughout the South finding books to add to her collection. She assembled the "Special Negro Collection" at the library which drew a large number of diverse readers and researchers to the library.
Additionally, in her role as the director of Hall Library, Harsh organized community programs such as black history clubs, literary study clubs, a literature forum, art exhibits, storytelling sessions, drama clubs, a senior citizen’s group, and debates.
The literature forum she created met twice a month and provided community members a place to come and listen to book reviews or lectures given by fellow community members. Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Horace Clayton, and Margaret Walker were some of the people who participated in these forums.
Harsh retired as director of Hall Library in 1958 and died on August 17, 1960. The collection she started has been renamed the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature and is now located at the Woodson Regional Library in Chicago.