Librarian of Congress James H. Billington
Luther Evans

Luther Evans (1902-1981)

10th Librarian of Congress 1945-1953

Luther Harris Evans, the tenth Librarian of Congress (1945-53) and the third director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), was born on his grandmother's farm near Sayerville, Bastrop County, Texas, the son of George Washington Evans, a railroad foreman, and Lillie Johnson.  Evans worked on his family's farm until he graduated from high school, when as valedictorian he spoke on the League of Nations.  Through teaching and work in cotton fields, Evans financed his education at the University of Texas, receiving his A.S. degree in 1923 and M.A. in political science in 1924.  Following a summer in Europe, where he studied the League of Nations firsthand, Evans began teaching and graduate work at Stanford University, where he received a Ph.D in political science in 1927.  In 1925 he married Helen Murphy, a University of Texas classmate.

From 1927 to 1935, Evans taught at New York University, Dartmouth, and Princeton.  On the recommendation of Raymond Moley, a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "brain Trust," in 1935 Evans went to Washington, D.C. to develop a national survey of historical records. Later in the year, when the project evolved into the Historical Records Survey (HRS) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), he became its first director.  Under his leadership, it became one of the most successful of the New Deal arts projects.

Evans also had political connections that, in the autumn of 1939, brought him to the attention of the newly appointed Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish.  He offered Evans the job of director of the Library’s Legislative Reference Service (LRS).   Evans quickly became MacLeish's principal lieutenant, a position formalized less than a year later when he became chief assistant librarian as well as director of the LRS.

MacLeish was a wartime advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Evans served as Acting Librarian of Congress during MacLeish's frequent absences.  He played an influential role in shaping a major administrative reorganization.  Once they adjusted to Evans's blunt style, the Library staff appreciated their chief assistant librarian, who believed in sharing decision-making.  When MacLeish resigned to become assistant secretary of state, most of the Library's staff hoped Evans would be named to head the Library. Although Roosevelt had other plans, he died before filling the post, and President Harry S. Truman was willing to consider the advice of the American Library Association (ALA).  Evans was included on its list of three "acceptable" nominees and Truman, who liked him immediately, sent his nomination to the Senate on June 18, 1945.  Hearings were held on June 29 and confirmation took place without objection the same day.  On June 30, Evans took the oath of office as the tenth Librarian of Congress.

MacLeish had insisted that the Library of Congress contribute actively to the cultural and scholarly life of the nation.  Evans shared MacLeish's views, and in many ways Evans's eight-year administration was an extension of the MacLeish years.  But Evans also plunged into technical library issues and promoted the Library of Congress as a leader and partner among American libraries.  In the process he established an international role for the Library.  These were considerable accomplishments, because Evans ran into opposition in Congress and never was given what he considered an adequate appropriation.

As soon as he took office, Evans emphasized the national role of the Library of Congress, which had, he believed, "an inescapable responsibility" to serve the entire country.  The challenges of the postwar years meant "no spot on the earth's surface is any longer alien to the interest of the American people."  In such a world, the Library of Congress could be "a powerful instrument of peace and progress."  Thus the new Librarian asked Congress to nearly double the Library's appropriation in fiscal1947.  But not only was his request rejected by an economy-minded Congress, his broad vision of the Library's future also was challenged when the Appropriations Committee questioned the Library's authority to serve "as a national and indeed an international library."  With Evans on the defensive, the Library's appropriation grew only slowly, but his leadership ability pushed the institution forward in spite of fiscal constraints.

Most of the Library's accomplishments between 1945 and 1953 can be traced to Evans's initiatives or concerns.  Important acquisitions and bibliographical achievements included the Library of Congress Mission to Europe to obtain multiple copies of European publications for the war period, microfilming projects for the Middle East, and leadership in developing the Farmington Plan, a cooperative acquisitions effort among research libraries.  Evans's colleague, Assistant Librarian Verner W. Clapp, asserted that Evans invented the phrase "bibliographical control," and his open management style was a positive contribution.  He consulted frequently with his department directors and mixed freely with the staff.  He believed that in a democracy the free flow of information was a necessity, and he courageously applied his belief, speaking out against censorship at home and abroad. Evans was one of the few government officials to openly resist the intimidation of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, even hiring an administrator in 1952 a month after she was dismissed from the State Department as a "security risk."

Such actions made Evans a controversial Librarian of Congress.  Many members of Congress disliked his aggressive, opinionated style and criticized both his ambitious plans for the Library and the time he spent away from the institution, particularly in UNESCO activities.  In a profile of Evans, Chief Assistant Librarian Verner Clapp speaks of his dogmatic manner, his "totally uninhibited laugh," and his "constitutional inability to praise a subordinate to his face."  Yet the staff respected him.

Evan's interest in international affairs remained strong throughout his librarianship.  In late 1945 he was a member of the U.S. delegation to the London conference that established UNESCO, and the new organization benefited from his earlier interest in the League of Nations.  He continued to work for UNESCO and involved  the Library of Congress in its activities, particularly in the development of a Universal Copyright Convention. In 1953 Evans allowed his name to be considered for the vacant post of director-general.  He was elected and resigned as Librarian of Congress, effective July 5, 1953.

Evans served from 1953 to 1958 as UNESCO's director-general.  He received good marks as an administrator but, ironically, given his personal views, became entangled with the U.S. government's loyalty program as it applied to American citizens working for UNESCO.  The organization grew rapidly during this period, however, and Evans effectively developed its technical assistance and educational programs.

Evans returned to Texas in 1958, but he soon became the director of a Brookings Institution survey, recommending ways to coordinate the planning and operation of federal libraries.  A suggestion in his report showed that he still held strong and controversial views: he called for the transfer of the Library of Congress to the executive branch of government, where he felt it would obtain the support it deserved.  In 1962 he became director of International and Legal Collections for Columbia University Libraries and helped develop a new library for the School of International Affairs.  After retiring from this post in 1971, he became president of World Federalists U.S.A. and played an active role in groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the United Nations Association.  He died in San Antonio, Texas, where he had made his home since 1977.

The principal contribution of Luther Evans’ career was to the Library of Congress.  In his budget proposal for fiscal 1947, he articulated for the first time a modern, postwar vision of the institution's national and international roles.  For the next eight years he expanded his ideas and advocated his views in more than 100 articles and 400 speeches. His vision, in large measure, has been fulfilled by subsequent Librarians of Congress. (JYC)


Sittig, William J., "Luther Evans: Man for a New Age," The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 33 (July 1976): 251-267

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