Ella Gaines Yates

Ella Gaines Yates (June 14, 1927 – June 27, 2006)[1] is recognized in the library world as being the first African-American director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System in Georgia.[2]

Yates was born into a well known and wealthy family in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended Booker T. Washington High School. She was accepted to Spelman on July 13, 1944. She wrote in her admission letter to the college “I wish to come to Spelman, because I feel there is no other college anywhere in the world finer for a girl to receive training to prepare her for higher gain in life. I have always looked forward to entering Spelman College, because Spelman students have a certain air about them that denotes character and culture. I would naturally fall in line.” Ella graduated from Spelman in 1949. She not only walked away from Spelman with her degree she met her husband, Clayton Yates, at Morehouse College.

Yates received her bachelor's degree from Spelman College. She then received an MLS degree from Atlanta University in 1951, and went on to be a prominent member of African-American librarianship. She was hired as the assistant branch librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library from 1951 to 1955. From there she would move to the Orange Public Library in New Jersey to become head of the children’s department, East Orange Public Library to work as a branch librarian, and then as an assistant director at the Montclair Public Library from 1970 to 1972. Yates obtained this position in 1976 and served until 1981.

Yates was a member of the American Library Association (ALA) and the Black Caucus of ALA. She was also a member of the NAACP, helped to found the Association’s Coretta Scott King Book Award, she published an article entitled “Sexism in the Library Profession”, she served as a research writer for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, she was a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, she created her own firm Yates Library Consultants, and she was a visiting professor at Atlanta University Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

Yates obtained this position in 1976 and served until 1981. Ella and her family moved to Seattle, Washington where she established a Library and Learning Resource Center for the Seattle Opportunities Industrialization Center, she also began teaching at the University of Washington’s Graduate Library School. She later accepted a position as State Librarian of the Virginia State Library. Ella enjoyed this position but was soon plagued with the same issues that she had dealt with in Atlanta. Ella was dismissed and returned to Atlanta. Yates returned as interim director in 1998, but because of disputes with the library board she left this position on December 31. Yates died on June 27, 2006 of Pancreatic Cancer at the age of 79.

Under her leadership, the Atlanta-Fulton public library built its central branch on Margaret Mitchell Square in downtown Atlanta. Yates saw the state-of-the-art facility through its planning and construction stages and presided at the May 1980 dedication ceremonies and gave Ella the privilege of being the first African American librarian in the country to have a major metropolitan library built during tenure. She was so concerned about the city receiving a fair deal that she found time to earn a doctoral degree from Atlanta Law School in 1979 so she could understand contracts.

Yates cared about much more than an impressive building. She expanded library services for the disabled, ethnic groups, and prisoners. She brought the library into the Fulton County jail, making the jail the first penal institution in the country with a public library branch.


  1. ^ "Ella Gaines Yates". Find a Grave. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  2. ^ "Controversial Atlanta Librarian Ella Gaines Yates Dies". American Libraries. 30 Jun 2006. Archived from the original on 9 October 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2016.