Jesse Shera

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SHERA, Jesse Hauk (8 Dec. 1903 – 8 Mar. 1982), librarian, educator and author, was born in Oxford, Ohio, the son of Charles Hypes Shera, a dairyman, and Jesse Hauk. Shera attended William Mc-Guffey High School, where he was a member of the debating team, as well as a drummer, a cheerleader, and the 1921 senior class president. Although he was interested in career in chemistry, his poor eyesight prevented him pursuing this interest. Remaining in Oxford, he graduated with honors from Miami University in 1925 with an A.B. in English. Shera earned tuition by selling typewriters from door to door and working at a local soda fountain. From Miami he went to Yale University, where he graduated in 1927 with a master’s degree in English Literature. He received a Ph.D. in Library Science from the Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago in 1944.

After working several years at the University of Chicago Library, Shera became dean of the Western Reserve University School of Library (1952-1982), expanding its faculty and adding a doctoral program within few years. In 1952, Shera reorganized the American Documentation Institute (ADI), which eventually became the American Society for Information Scientists. In 1955, in collaboration with James Perry and Alan Kent, Shera established the Center for Documentation and Communications Research (CDRC), which developed a program of teaching and research in the emerging field of information retrieval.

Shera’s contribution to reference services through the major writings on bibliographic organizations began in collaboration with Margaret Egan, with whom he published conference papers with the title Bibliographic Organization (1950), contributed by the most eminent national and international scholars in the area. Shera’s own paper dealt with classification. Reviewing the history of library classification, beginning from Aristotle to Comte, Shera reached for a principle that “classification is basic to bibliographic organization.” From this Shera argued for “divorcing classification from hierarchical order because such a single-faceted arrangement failed to account for multifarious relations in a book.”

Throughout his professional life, Shera was a prolific writer. Although he held successive positions in international organizations, government and academia, it was primarily as an author that he exercised an enduring influence on library and information science profession in general, and reference services in particular. His Introduction to Library Science (1976) is still one of the world’s most widely-used texts for the reference services profession, and it has been translated into many languages, including Russian.

Shera defined “the true essence of librarianship” as “the maximization of the effective use of graphic records for any purpose that contributes to the dignity, beauty, and strength of human endeavor.” Over and again, he asserted his thesis that the library must derive its goals and practices from the needs and goals of society.

After his death in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Shera was remembered for touching numerous lives with hundreds of his publications. Perhaps his most significant contribution to reference services is not a “thing” but a concept – “the concept of librarianship as a totality, a unity in which all the facts are interrelated and interdependent.” The role of the librarian, he envisioned, is to act as mediator between users and graphic records, and “the goal of the librarian is to maximize the social utility of graphic records for the benefit of humanity.”


The Shera Festschrift, Toward a Theory of Librarianship: Papers in Honor of Jesse Hauk Shera, edited by Conrad H. Raski (1973), provides a bibliography of 381 of Shera’s writings. Shera’s personal papers are housed in the Case Western Reserve University Archives, Cleveland, Ohio.


Bowman, J. (Ed.). (1995). The Cambridge dictionary of American biography. Cambridge University Press.

Garraty, J., & Carnes M. (Eds.). (1999). American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press.

Plotnik, A. (1982). Profession loses revered educator and visionary. American Libraries, 13, 220-222.

Shera, J. (1976). Introduction to library science: basic elements of library service. Littleton: Libraries Unlimited.

Wedgeworth, R. (Ed.). (1993). World encyclopedia of library and information services. Chicago: American Library Association.

Wiegand, W. (Ed.). (1990). Supplement to the dictionary of American library biography. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

David Turshyan

Shera, J.H. and Egan, M.E. (1952). Foundations of a theory of bibliography. Library Quarterly 22(2), April: 125-__137.

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