An Advocate for Equality

photo of Rebecca Bingham

by Tiana Tew
SLIS Alumni Magazine, Fall 2002

Dedication, leadership, and professionalism are just a few of the terms that have been used to describe Rebecca Taylor Bingham, MLS'69. Others include vision, innovation, and pioneer. All apply to Bingham, who was recently honored with Indiana University's highest alumni award: the Distinguished Alumni Service Award. Presented to Bingham last June by IU President Myles Brand, the Distinguished Alumni award recognizes Bingham's devotion to service and education. Says IU Alumni Association Senior Vice-President John Hobson, "Rebecca Bingham has been a leader in the field of education and library science, and her service to her community and Indiana University has been marked by great distinction. She is most deserving of the Distinguished Alumni Service Award."

Bingham was born in Indianapolis at a time when library services were still segregated by race. She received a bachelor's degree in education from IU in 1950, four years before the U.S. Supreme Court desegregation ruling on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. She continued her education with a master's degree from the University of Tulsa in 1961, and her master's in library science from IU in 1969.

Bingham has always been an advocate for equality in education and access. In 1971, Bingham became the first black president of the Kentucky Library Association (KLA), and served as director of media service in Louisville, Ky., and later as director of school library media services for the Jefferson County (Kentucky) public school system.

"Library science tends to be a more color blind field," observes Bingham. "The focus is on understanding the information itself. Promotion of ideas, validity, integrity—these values are paramount in the profession. Soundness of thinking and creativity hold sway, more so than in other disciplines."

Bingham has also enthusiastically dedicated herself to her alma mater. She served as president and vice-president of the SLIS alumni board, and was a founding member of the Neal-Marshall Alumni Club. "I think I've served in every possible capacity within the club," reflects Bingham. "I have to applaud IU for being a pioneer, as it was among the first universities to have a black alumni club."

"Rebecca has been an integral part of the alumni club. She was a co-founder of the club, and the Delta Sigma Theta student chapter. Her fingerprints are all over it. She was active in the fund-raising for the Neal-Marshall Black Cultural Center and essential in rallying support for the building," comments Clarence Boone, director of the Neal-Marshall Alumni Club. He continues, "Rebecca is a warm and delightful woman, articulate and very intelligent. She possesses such a rich knowledge and perspective of the club and of campus life at IU."

Bingham was the first recipient of the SLIS Louise Maxwell Award (later renamed the Distinguished Alumni Award) in 1977, received the 1998 DEMCO/ALA Black Caucus Award for Excellence in Librarianship, and was the 1999 recipient of the Indiana University Alumni Association President's Award. Her achievements are also recorded in the Handbook of Black Librarianship. SLIS Associate Dean Debora Shaw says of Bingham, "Rebecca has been a role model for succeeding generations of SLIS graduates because of her commitment and persistence. She is a true professional, and SLIS is honored to count her among its graduates."

Bingham's role as a leader and innovator in library science extends far beyond regional or racial concerns. Her distinguished career culminated in her appointment by President Clinton to the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Services in 1998. NCLIS is an independent agency of the federal government, charged by law to advise the President and Congress on national and international library and information services policies and plans.

Says Bingham of her role as commissioner, "It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. We were able to study, consider, and debate important issues surrounding libraries and particularly education." During her tenure as commissioner, Bingham provided insight on issues such as child safety on the Internet, library services for individuals with disabilities, and the role of the school librarian in student performance. She has also worked extensively with the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries.

Posted February 06, 2003