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Eli M Oboler: Biography of Eli M. Oboler

Biography of Eli M. Oboler

Photo of Librarian Eli M. Oboler at traditional card catalog.

General Information

Eli Martin Oboler was born September 26, 1915, in Chicago to Clara and Leo Oboler. He married Marcia Lois Wolf in 1938, and they had two children, Leon and Carol. During World War II he worked for the Lend-Lease Expediting Bureau in Washington, D.C., in 1942 - 43, then served in the Army from 1943 - 46. He died of cancer June 15, 1983, in his home at Pocatello, survived by his wife, two children, and two grandchildren.

Education and Professional Experience

He received a B.A from the University of Chicago in 1941, and a B.S. in Library Service from Columbia University in 1942 (this degree is officially equivalent to the current M.L.S.). He attended the University of Chicago's Graduate Library School from 1946 - 49. During those years he also worked as the Head of the Reserve Books Room, Adult Education Librarian, and Lecturer in the Great Books Program, all at the University of Chicago, and also as bibliographical consultant to the Great Books Foundation. In 1949 he came to Pocatello to work as the Head Librarian at Idaho State College, where he stayed until his retirement in 1980.

Professional Activities

Oboler's activities in the field of librarianship are legendary.

Idaho Library Association:

  • Founding member
  • President from 1950 - 53
  • Also on many committees including Chair, Intellectual Freedom Committee
  • Committee to select first State Librarian 1956


Pacific Northwest Library Association:

  • Chair, PNLA Legislation Committee, 1951 - 53
  • Vice President 1954 - 55
  • President 1955 - 56
  • Chair, PNLA Library Development and Legislation Committee, 1967-?


American Library Association

  • Councilor (representing Idaho), 1953 - 59
  • Chair, ALA Library Periodicals Round Table, 1952 - 53
  • Idaho Chair, ALA Membership Committee, 1954 - 59
  • Member, ALA Library Legislation Committee, 1954 - 56
  • Member, Association of College & Research Libraries Standards Committee, 1954 - 56
  • Vice-Chair, Chair-Elect, College Section, ACRL, 1962 - 63
  • Chair, College Section, ACRL, 1963 - 64
  • Member, ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, 1965 - 69
  • Councilor at Large, 1977 - 80
  • Vice President of the Freedom to Read Foundation 1979 - 80
  • Trustee of the Freedom to Read Foundation, 1971 - 75, 1976 - 80
  • Chair, Intellectual Freedom Round Table, 1980 - 81


Editorial Activities and Publications

Please consult a separate list for a selected bibliography of Oboler's works.

Editor, Idaho Librarian (the Idaho Library Association's journal) 1950 - 54; 1957 - 58

Assistant Editor, Library Periodicals Round Table Newsletter, 1953 - 54

Editor, Library Periodicals Round Table Newsletter, 1961 - 62

Editor, Pacific Northwest Library Association Quarterly, 1959 - 67

Editor, Temple Topics (monthly newsletter of Temple Emmanuel), 1969 - 73

Regular columns or frequent contributor to Idaho State Journal, Library Journal, Choice, ALA Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, ISC/ISU Bengal, Intermountain, Intermountain Observer

Awards, Honors

Robert B. Downs Award for Intellectual Freedom, 1976

The Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award is given by the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Round Table (posthumous honor)

The Library at Idaho State University was named in his honor, 1983

Idaho Librarian of the Year, 1974 
    Granted Honorary Life Membership, 1980

Made a Charter Member of the ALA's Freedom to Read Foundation

ALA Special Resolution in recognition of his many contributions, 1983

H.W. Wilson Company American Library Association Library Periodical Award, 1964

Emeritus status at ISU Library, 1980


"He will be missed very, very much by the university and the community of Pocatello, and by all persons who are interested in our individual freedoms." -- Myron Coulter, ISU President in 1983

"His passing is a significant loss for ISU, and for the national library community, particularly in the area of intellectual freedom." -- Ron Swanson, ISU Librarian in 1983

"Eli M. Oboler has greatly served Idaho and the nation as a staunch and eloquent supporter of individual human rights and the principles of intellectual freedom." -- Harriet L. Reece, Chairman, Idaho State Library Board, in "Resolution," March 31, 1983

"He saw the truth as man's ultimate and never ending quest. He saw the quest for truth as the ultimate means to free the mind and soul." 
-- Freedom to Read Foundation's President William D. North

"Eli was our loyal and untiring conscience, who constantly and impatiently demanded the dismantling of all barriers to freedom of expression and inquiry." --Judith Krug, Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. XXXII, 5 (September, 1983), p. 131

"In his day, Eli Oboler rudely pricked more than a few forgetful consciences, ruffled the feathers of more than his share of smug politicians and complacent professionals. He could, at times, irritate his friends as much as he did his enemies, but that, after all, was what we loved and needed him for." Ibid., p. 170

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