Sadie Peterson Delaney. Illustration: Mary Phelan, American Libraries Magazine, 2017.
Today Sladen Library celebrates the life of Dr. Sara (Sadie) Marie Johnson Peterson Delaney, an early pioneer in medical librarianship who developed a method of therapy through the selected reading of literature, known as bibliotherapy. Born February 26, 1889, Delaney began her library career at a New York Public Library branch in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, and recruited local authors and artists to help serve the library’s growing community. Her programs sometimes focused on the needs of children who were blind, foreign-born, or had behavioral issues, an experience that gave Delaney a passion for treating patients by engaging them with literature.
(Over its long history, bibliotherapy has come to mean both “the use of selected reading material as therapeutic adjuvants in medicine and psychiatry," and "the guidance in the solution of personal problems through directed reading.” The term was coined in 1916, though its roots date back to ancient Greece. A bibliography by the American Librarian Association on the topic of bibliotherapy can be found here.)
In 1924, Delaney became Chief Librarian of the Veterans Administration Hospital Library in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she expanded the library collection and created reading programs for African-American war veterans with mental illness, addiction, or physical disability. Delaney used these programs to better understand patients and recommend reading material based on their needs. She sought to create a welcoming environment with easy access to literature, acquiring book carts for bedridden patients, projectors to display images for patients who were unable to hold a book or turn pages, and audiobooks and books in Braille for patients who were blind.
By expanding library access, working closely with physicians, and promoting the library across the health system, Delaney helped thousands of patients achieve recovery and well-being. Her successful approach became a model for medical librarianship that was adopted by other VA hospitals. Delaney died in 1958, leaving behind a quiet legacy of advocacy, scholarships, literary collectives, national and international awards and acclaim, and countless affected lives. A humanitarian trailblazer in a time of extreme prejudice, Delaney's impact on medical librarianship cannot be overstated.
While we wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, Sladen Library is physically closed to patients and visitors. But our online services remain open and available, and Sladen Library is committed to providing information to those who need it. Members of Henry Ford Health System are encouraged to use select Sladen Library resources to provide information to patients, whether it’s sharing our guides to consumer health information, recommending titles from our Health Equity Book Club, or pointing them toward the thousands of free full-text articles by HFHS authors that are available at HFHS Scholarly Commons.
American Library Association. "Bibliotherapy." American Library Association website. December 17, 2012. Accessed February 19, 2021. http://www.ala.org/tools/atoz/bibliotherapy
Dr. Sadie Peterson Delaney. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1958;46(3):495. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC200297/?page=1
The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts. "Sadie P. Delaney papers." Accessed February 19, 2021. http://archives.nypl.org/scm/20693#overview
Smith, Katisha. 13 PIONEERING BLACK AMERICAN LIBRARIANS YOU OUGHTA KNOW. Bookriot website. May 8, 2020. Accessed on February 19, 2021. https://bookriot.com/pioneering-black-american-librarians/
Smith, Jessie. Sara "Sadie" Peterson Delaney. Notable Black American Women. Gale Research, 1992: 264-268.
Hatch, Shari Dorantes D. Delaney, Sara ("Sadie") Marie (nee Johnson) (1st married name: Peterson). Encyclopedia of African-American Writing: Five Centuries of Contribution. Grey House Publishing, Inc. 2009: 203-204.