I never met Allegra Westbrooks. She retired from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (then called the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County) in 1984, the same year that I arrived in Charlotte. She did, however, have an impact on my early years in Charlotte. Soon after my arrival, I met Pat Siegfried, the library’s Director of Youth Services. When she found out that I once made my living as a professional puppeteer, she obtained funding for me to do puppet shows at every branch of the public library. I remember being impressed with the library’s extensive network of branches. These branches had their own community outreach which they used to promote my puppet shows. I was especially impressed with how these outreach programs connected with Charlotte’s African American communities. I shared with Siegfried my positive experiences performing at the various branches, and she mentioned that the strengths of the branch system had a lot to do with the woman who had long served as the Supervisor of Branches. That woman was Allegra Westbrooks.
When Westbrooks moved to Charlotte in 1947 to manage the Brevard Street Library branch of the public library, the library system was still segregated. The Brevard Street Library was one of only two branches that served African Americans at the time. After the library system desegregated in 1956, Westbrooks moved to the Main Library where she ran the acquisitions operation before being promoted to Supervisor of Branches in 1957, making her the first African American to hold the position of supervisor in the Charlotte public library. Over the years, her title changed, but she continued to serve as a leader of the branch system throughout the rest of her career.
During her thirty-six years with the public library, Westbrooks played a major role in developing library outreach programs and expanding the library’s branch system. Early in her career, she collaborated with community groups and organizations to make books available to children who did not live near branches, and then she started a bookmobile program to bring books to residents throughout Mecklenburg County. Later in her career, she helped expand the number of library branches operating in the county, and she encouraged the branches to sponsor book-related events that would draw local residents to the branches.
Toward the end of her career with the library, Westbrooks worked closely with Judith Sutton, who became the Deputy Director of Libraries in 1977. As Sutton recently recalled, Westbrooks “did everything in her power to orient me to the system I joined, the community we served and to the nature, history and resources of the variety of branches of the library. Allegra was a calm, quiet-spoken but strong advocate for the best in public library services.”
Westbrooks talked about the highlights of her career during an oral history interview conducted in 2007. To listen to this interview, please click on the following link: https://repository.uncc.edu/islandora/object/uncc%3A2152
Westbrooks retired in 1984, but she remained involved in the Charlotte community until her death in 2017. In recognition of Westbrooks’ many contributions to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Board of Trustees recently decided to rename the Beatties Ford Regional Library in her honor. In April 2020, this library branch officially became known as the Allegra Westbrooks Regional Library. It’s a testament to Westbrooks’ lasting legacy that her contributions to Charlotte Mecklenburg Library are still remembered and honored some thirty-six years after she officially retired. As a librarian, Allegra Westbrooks devoted her career to making books and stories available to the residents of Charlotte. In the process, however, she made a place for herself in the pages of Storied Charlotte.