New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

NYLA Mourns the Death of David Cohen

On February 5, 2015, long time NYLA member and intellectual freedom & multicultural advocate, David Cohen died at he age of 105.  An esteemed member of NYLA he was a recognizable presence at the annual NYLA conferences and in 1986 he received the organization Intellectual Freedom Award.  At the age of 98 Cohen attended the American Library Association Conference where he was awarded the organization’s highest achievement, Honorary Membership.

On May 24, 1909 David Cohen was born on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side to an itinerant Paper Hanger and homemaker. After his family moved to Bronx he attended Townsend Harris High School.  Cohen received a Bachelor of Arts in 1930 and a Master of Education in 1934 from City College (City University of New York).  It was there that the world of ideas and books opened up to him. He became an activist while working in the college library. He organized students and faculty and was signaled out along with others by the Rapp-Coudert Joint Committee of the State Legislature, who were investigating ‘subversive activities’ in the state colleges.  He and several other colleagues lost their jobs. Later David became an elementary school teacher in the NYC public schools, and an activist and leader in the Teacher’s Union. 

In 1939 he received a Master of Library Science from Columbia University and went on to be the school librarian at Plainview High School on Long Island.  There he co-founded the Long Island Coalition Against Censorship which spearheaded Island Trees School District vs. Pico, the 1982 Supreme Court decision that prohibits local school boards from removing books from library shelves because they dislike the political ideas and social perspectives contained in them.

Cohen taught Library Science at Queens College, founded the Friends of Queens College Library, and sparked the annual competition for the Queens Poet Laureate.

Cohen was the founding editor of the Ethnic Materials and Information Exchange (EMIE) Bulletin and Roundtable of the ALA; in 1999 the organization created the David Cohen EMIERT Multicultural Award in recognition of his early advocacy and promotion of multicultural library collections and services. Additionally, Cohen was a Charter Member of the Freedom to Read Foundation and a trustee of the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund. Importantly, he is a longtime member of the American Civil Liberties Union and served for many years on the Academic Freedom Committee of its New York Chapter.

David Cohen was married to Evelyn Zuckerman Cohen for 71 years.  David Cohen was married to Evelyn Zuckerman Cohen for 71 years.  He is survived by his 2 daughters, Harriet and Deanna, 3 grandchildren, Sasha, Jonathan and Jesse and 2 great grandchildren, Emir and Alma; and his brother Paul.