The Wray and Olkes Book Collections at the JKM LIbrary


Have you ever checked out a book and noticed it was marked with a sticker that says, “Wray”? Or what about that collection of books on the small bookshelf near the elevator on the third floor marked “Olkes Collection”? Have you ever wondered what Wray and Olkes mean?

The JKM Library has, in addition to our main circulating collection, smaller collections of books that are focused on certain topics, aimed at certain age ranges, or were donated by certain people. We give these collections of books different names in order to honor the person who donated the items or to make it clear that there is something special about the items in the collection. For example, our Curriculum Collection is comprised of books for young readers and includes picture books, middle-grade fiction and nonfiction, young adult fiction and nonfiction, and graphic novels appropriate for those age ranges. In the case of the Wray and Olkes collections, these are items donated by Professor Wendell Wray and Dr. Cheryl Olkes respectively.

Wendell Wray, a library and information science professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, was an avid book collector. The first African-American man to graduate from the then Carnegie Institute of Technology’s library science program with a master’s degree in 1952, Wray was an influential voice in the library profession. After graduation, he went on to be one of the first African-American men to be hired by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Raised in Beltzhoover, Wray’s resume includes military service during WWII and working at the New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the inner city outreach program the North Manhattan Library Project. Wray returned to Pittsburgh in 1973 to take a position as a faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh in the library school. He was honored the same year with the Distinguished Alumni award from Carnegie Tech. He moved to California in 1988 upon his retirement, where he spent the rest of his life until his death in 2003.

His personal book collection largely focused on African-American and Caribbean cultures and histories. Of this collection, over 4,000 were donated to Jennie King Mellon Library. Some items are first edition copies or signed by the author and are housed in Special Collections. The rest of the items donated by Wray are in the circulating collection and are indicated with a spine sticker and a special book plate on the inside front cover. You can read more about Professor Wray on the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives and Manuscripts tumblr post about his papers.

The Olkes book collection was donated to the Jennie King Mellon Library by Chatham alumna Dr. Cheryl Olkes as a supplemental element to the formidable Cheryl Olkes African Art Collection. The collection was donated in 1998 and includes more than 600 works of African art meant for study and exhibition. Along with the artwork, over 120 books covering African art, history, sociology, anthropology, and culture were donated to the library.

From “The Dynamics of Gender: African Art from Chatham University” at the August Wilson Center

After graduating from Chatham in 1970, Dr. Olkes went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio State University and a doctorate in communications from the University of Texas, Austin. She then spent time during the 1980s in Niger with the Songhay people, resulting in a book co-authored by her husband Paul Stoller titled In Sorcery’s Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship Among the Songhay of Niger. She continued to make trips to Africa and collected works of art from across the continent. The result is that her collection is wide-ranging and eclectic. Certain pieces from the collection have also been displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Most recently, a group of Chatham students crafted an exhibit, “The Dynamics of Gender: African Art from Chatham University,” held in Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center, that included pieces from Dr. Olkes as well as alumna Vivian Lowery Derryck, ’67, and a gift from Richard and Marilyn Finberg.

While the Olkes book collection is kept together on the bookshelves near the elevator on the third floor (near our limited textbook collection), the Wray collection is sprinkled throughout our circulating collection and Special Collections, easily identifiable by the “Wray” spine sticker. The Jennie King Mellon Library is proud to hold both of these collections, and while the books are older and well-loved, we encourage you to take advantage of your access to them!

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