May 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Eliza T. Dresang, Author and Noted Professor of Library Science, Dies at 72

Photo by Gavin W Sisk/Courtesy of University of Washington.

Photo by Gavin W Sisk/Courtesy of University of Washington.

Eliza T. Dresang, the Beverly Cleary Professor in Children and Youth Services at the University of Washington Information School, died on April 21. She was 72.

Dresang, a longtime professor of library science,  devoted her career to literacy and children, revolutionizing the field. She was perhaps best known for her pivotal book Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age (H. W. Wilson, 1999), in which she discussed more than 200  titles for children and young adults that she believed were crucial for educators to be aware in light of the new digital world. The book highlights many books written in a nonlinear style, as well as titles that embraced topics considered taboo at the time, such as sexuality and death, and other books featuring minority and marginalized populations.

She was inspired to write the book after serving on the 1991 Caldecott Award Committee, which selected David Macaulay’s Black and White (Houghton, 1990), a picture book comprised of four seemingly unrelated stories that were thematically linked. When she discovered that adults didn’t take to the book as readily as children, Dresang was intrigued and compelled to pen Radical Change; its discussion of boundary-pushing titles altered how librarians looked at literature.

Dresang’s work had an enormous impact in the field, with both professional publications and library leaders extolling its strengths. School Library Journal called Radical Change  “a valuable overview of the recent evolution of children’s literature and a wonderful resource list…that readers will find themselves turning to repeatedly.” Kathleen T. Horning, director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in Madison, WI, said that the book “transformed the way we think about young readers and their books and helped to shape our critical thinking in the 21st century.” Kathleen Burnett, Director of the School of Information and F. William Summers Professor at the Florida State University College of Communication & Information, said that it “changed the landscape for youth scholarship in our field, shifting the focus from resources to youth themselves.”

Born in Atlanta, GA, in 1941, Dresang graduated from Emory University before teaching Spanish in Los Angeles, CA. She briefly considered obtaining a master’s degree in French literature until deciding to pursue graduate work in library science at UCLA. She obtained a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dresang held a variety of librarian positions—working as a children’s librarian at the Encino Tarzan branch of the Los Angeles Public Library,  the Ida Williams branch of the Atlanta Public Library, and as a media specialist at Lapham Elementary School in the Madison (WI) Metropolitan School District (MMSD) during the 1970s. But her role as a leader within the library community took off when she published the School Library Journal article “There Are No Other Children: Special Children in Library Media Centers” in 1977.

Dresang spent 16 years working at MMSD, making improvements to the district’s school library programs, which led to the district being named a runner-up for the American Association of School Librarians’ National School Library Media Program of the Year Award. She also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during that period.

Photo of Eliza Dresang.

Dresang at Florida State University. Courtesy of FSU.

In 1996, she joined Florida State University’s College of Information as an associate professor and was awarded the Eliza Atkins Gleason Professorship in 2004. In 2009, Dresang became the Beverly Cleary Professor in Children’s and Youth Services at the University of Washington Information School.

Dresang also served on numerous committees, including the Newbery, Caldecott, and Batchelder Award committees. She won a variety of prizes, such as the 2007 Scholastic Library Publishing Award, presented to a librarian whose work promoting literacy and reading among young people exemplifies achievement in the profession. Recently, the University of Washington’s iSchool was granted $100,000 to invite 60 librarians and other innovators to a national leadership forum this October. Dresang was project director of the enterprise.

Though she held a variety of positions, from public and school libraries to more academic settings, Dresang embraced every aspect of libraries. Marc Aronson, author and lecturer in Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information, who knew Dresang for more than 20 years, said, “In all of these roles, there was Eliza: the careful author, the inspired and inspiring thinker, the lover of nonfiction, the bright mind at the heart of books for young readers.”


A School Library Journal cover story from August, 2007 highlighted Dresang’s contributions to the field and the receipt of the Scholastic Library Publishing Award.

Judy T. Nelson, youth customer experience manager at the Pierce County Library System and a member of the Cleary Chair Committee, spoke of Dresang’s dedication to “all librarians. In her own classroom, she prepared new librarians to be excellent effective youth librarians. In her work with her doctoral students, she infused them with the desire to use research to support libraries. And with those of us out here in the working libraries, she was always asking what support we needed from her and from the university to be the best we could be for our youth and their families. She did this every day with grace, humor, and a positive demeanor.  We will miss her and should honor her by continuing her good work.”

In addition to a rich professional legacy, Dresang also leaves a personal one behind, with those who knew her speaking fondly of their personal memories. Horning called Dresang “one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever known.” Ginny Moore Kruse, a longtime friend and emerita director of the CCBC School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said, “to the extent possible, she lived her life on her own terms, and that’s also how her extremely active life so full of plans on behalf of others and for herself ended. She knew as she died that she was surrounded by love. What she would never know is how many people across the nation and beyond are affected by losing her.”

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar ( is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.



  1. Leona Lindvig says:

    Thank you for so promptly posting this, I had not heard this news. I was lucky enough to be a student in some of Eliza’s courses at the University of Washington. She was a treasure, and while I am saddened at this loss, I appreciate you highlighting her wonderful and giving career.
    Thank you.

  2. Sunny Strong says:

    Eliza contributed greatly to the Caledcott Award discussions. She was so well-prepared, yet fully engaged in hearing the comments of each of us on the committee.
    It was a pleasure to welcome her to my home state of Washington, knowing we would be enriched, encouraged, and the beneficiaries of her experience.

  3. Vicky Woider says:

    Eliza was our leader when I joined the world of libraries at MMSD and she was one heck of a leader to boot. When she left the district we lost major support at the administrative level in regards to libraries and it would of been amazing to see where we would of been had she stayed. I didn’t know this until yrs later after someone shared this with me, but she saw something in me and thought I would be a good choice for some new directions the libraries were taking in regards to automation. I wouldn’t be doing what I do today if it wasn’t for Eliza. I feel as long as we keep reading and share the learning and love of reading with others, we couldn’t honor Eliza in a better way.

  4. Annette Goldsmith says:

    Speaking as one of her former doctoral students, I would like to add that Eliza’s research questions grew out of her deep engagement with public and school librarianship as well as children’s publishing. Her unwavering commitment to intellectual freedom was another constant in her professional life. Her service on ALSC book award committees is well-known, but she was also a longtime member of the national Jane Addams Children’s Books Awards Committee, a reflection of her passion for social justice. She always invited local children’s book people to join the preliminary book discussions for her award committees, which is indicative of her generosity. She had a way of bringing people in and helping us shine. I can’t quite imagine the world without her but seeing the outpouring of admiration, affection, and determination to follow her vision on the part of so many brings me solace.

  5. If you would like to leave your comments on Eliza Dresang’s memorial website, feel free to do so. Eliza’s family and the University of Washington Information School set up the site for that purpose. Visit

  6. Mike Eisenberg says:

    Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and touching tribute.

    Eliza was a radical, and we all loved her for it. Oh, she was pleasant and engaging and charming and gracious. But, she was tenacious in her commitment to children, learning, and the importance of reading, narrative, and books in any and all forms.

    Her legacy, of course, includes all of the students she’s help to learn and be fulfilled. And, the rest of us whom she touched as well – faculty and staff at the UW iSchool and other schools across the world, librarians and educators, world leaders, and little kids.

    Eliza’s legacy is also a simple but powerful ideal: books matter. BOOKS MATTER A LOT.

    Eliza taught us to celebrate and champion books of every kind because books make us better, make us more human. Books bring us together and get us thinking and sharing and doing. Regardless of whether hard bound, e-book, audio, or paperback. Seek out the substance, the essence–the ideas, narrative, characters, emotions, setting, plot, and knowledge.

    Let a book touch you and you will be rewarded many times over.

    Thank you Eliza. Thanks for teaching and leading us. We’ll remember you with every book we experience.

    – Mike Eisenberg
    friend and fellow faculty member

  7. Eliza was on the Margaret A Edwards Award Committee the year I chaired and was such a thoughtful and well spoken mentor to several of us who were relatively new to the field. She is one of those people who enrich the lives of all, creates change, and makes a difference. Thank you for letting us know.

  8. Christy Temple says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article about a wonderful professor. I was fortunate enough to take a class from Dr. Dresang when I was attending FSU from 2003-2007 to get my masters degree in library science and information studies online. Although I didn’t get to meet her in person through my online classes, I could tell she was a very special and devoted lady to the cause of librarianship.
    I’m so sorry to hear of her passing. However, I know her legacy in the areas of children’s and youth education and literacy will be passed on for years to come.

  9. Tom Sorrells says:

    Eliza’s father, Dr. G.B. Timberlake brought me into this world and helped save my life as our family Doctor. The Timberlakes were close friends as Eliza and I grew up in Atlanta and were classmates in High School. She was always a beautiful, talented and kind individual.