Thursday, August 21, 2014

REGINA ANDREWS (and a note about

I just read Ethelene Whitmere’s new biography of Regina Andrews.  She did a good job finding what few personal papers exist (the bulk consist of 22 linear feet at NYPL’s Schomburg Center) and tracking down relatives with memories of Andrews.  The book highlights Andrews’ influence on the Harlem Renaissance.

Note: I have been following’s dispute with Hachette and the protests by authors on behalf of the publisher.  Hachette is a serious publisher, and Amazon seems determined to reduce books to the lowest common denominator.  Although I routinely order books from Amazon, this time I ordered the biography directly from the publisher.  The price was only $2.75 more and it took only 3 days longer for delivery.

For those who support the authors and want to order the book, I recommend doing so directly from the University of Illinois Press.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


The Carnegie Library of Atlanta (CLA) opened a library school in 1905 to train librarians to work in the South.  Over the next two decades, the school sent a number of graduates to NYPL to gain experience.  Although a few stayed, most returned South after a year or two. 

The arrangement was beneficial to both CLA and NYPL.  The Library hired Anne Carroll Moore in 1906 to develop its children’s services and needed a cadre of trained librarians to staff the growing number of children’s rooms in its newly-opened Carnegie buildings.  The CLA graduates (most wanted to be children’s librarians) were able to gain experience in a large, well-run system before returning south to work in that region’s growing number of libraries.

The CLA Library School wanted to make certain its graduates were well-prepared and also wanted to position the school as the place to contact when towns sought to organize or expand a library.  Thus, the school wanted to know how its graduates were progressing and urged the graduates to write letters describing their expectations and experiences.

Fortunately, much of that correspondence survives in the alumni files of the CLA Library School which are housed in the Manuscripts, Archives & Rare Book Library at Emory University.  I recently spent a day reading through those files.

The graduates’ correspondence reported on both the attractive and unattractive aspects of working and living in New York City.

They found NYPL’s six-day work week to be strenuous.   But, while the hustle and bustle of New York City was also difficult, they enjoyed the opportunity to live independently and to experience the City.  May Smith reported in 1914 that “New York is wonderful and Katharine and I have our ‘day away’ together, and we have had some most enjoyable jaunts.”  Other letters indicates that the ability to attend the theater seemed a particular attraction to the Southerners.  Another wrote “I feel that the past five months … has been as broadening as a trip to Europe.”

The City and the Library also presented situations at odds with the graduates southern backgrounds.  In 1913 Elwyn de Graffenried reported with apparent surprise on her first day working in the Central Children’s Room: “yesterday I found myself answering the questions of a ‘black’ lady with the same desire to please as though she had been white.”

The mutually valuable connections between NYPL and the CLA have not drawn much historical attention but deserve to be explored further.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


NYPL’s branch librarians loved books and looked suspiciously on new media that might reduce reading by children and adults.  They initially viwed both moving pictures and television as potential threats.  In each case, the librarians’ reactions to the new medium started with suspicion and ended with accommodation.  Here is a previous post about the initial reaction to television in a Bronx neighborhood.

The history of the Ottendorfer Branch illustrates this point in terms of motion pictures.  Ottendorfer, the second branch of the New York Free Circulating Library, opened in 1884 to serve a largely German population in what is now known as the East Village in Manhattan.

In December 1912, John Shaw Billings (NYPL’s Director) wrote the NYC Commissioner of Licenses to protest the opening of a movie theater next to the Ottendorfer Branch.  He argued that “it is not desirable on general principle to have movie picture establishments close to schools, public libraries and other places to which women and children are accustomed to go in large numbers. … around the entrances to such theatres there are usually displayed highly colored pictures, flaring electric lights, etc., which have a tendency to attract idlers.”  Despite Billings protest, the Commissioner granted the license.

In her annual report, Lucie Bohmert, the Branch Librarian, blamed Ottendorfer's decreased circulation in 1925 in part to “a successful moving picture house adjoining the Library.”

Just four years later, however, Bohmert’s annual report noted that the movie house was showing foreign films and boasted that the theater’s owner had agreed  to promote Ottendorfer’s foreign book collection in its program.

Over the course of 17 years, the Library had gone from protest to incorporating moving pictures into its community outreach activities.  

When I moved across the street from the Ottendorfer Branch in the early 1970s, both the library and the movie theater were thriving, and the theater was still featuring foreign films.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I have presented papers at the Conference on New York State History the past two summers.  It is a stimulating gathering of academic and independent scholars, archivists and curators, and town and county historians.

My 2012 paper explored the experience of African-American librarians at the 135th Street Branch, which was the focus of efforts to integrate the staff, 1920-1940s.

In 2013, I spoke about how the Branch Librarians (mostly single women) achieved a lot of workplace autonomy (in a male-run institution) and then lost some of it due to the economic pressures of the Great Depression.  But, in the 1920s-1930s NYPLs librarians also supported the certification of public librarians in New York State and the educational reforms recommended by the Williamson Report.  They chose to support these initiatives which undercut their autonomy at work because they held out the promise of greater status as professionals. 

A truncated version of the latter paper has now been published: “Single and Independent” New York Archives 13 (Winter 2014) 15-19.  The magazine is still paper-based although one article is posted online.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Margaret Monroe worked at NYPL for 13 years but headed an NYPL branch for only two of those years.  She credited her NYPL experience for changing her focus in librarianship and setting her on the course that made her so influential as a leader in adult services and as a library educator.  She was also, without doubt, the most prolific author among those who had headed an NYPL branch.

Monroe received both a BA and a BLS from the New York State Teachers College.  She also earned an MA from Teachers College in 1939. 

Monroe served as Branch Librarian at the St. George Branch, 1946-1948, a period when NYPL was initiating its Great Books discussion groups.  Although she had originally specialized in young people’s work, Monroe volunteered for the new project and later wrote, “When book discussions became a service option, I knew I had found my m├ętier.”   In her memoir, (Margaret Monroe: Memoirs of a Public Librarian, 2006) she wrote that it was the “mixed cultural backgrounds, ages, vocations and educational experiences, and the cross-cultural learning” that attracted her to NYPL’s book discussion groups.

Following the success of the Great Books program, NYPL developed the American Heritage discussion groups.  This effort was taken over by ALA, and Monroe took a leave of absence in 1952-1954 to work on the ALA project.  She never returned to NYPL.  Instead she joined the faculty of the Rutgers University library school and earned her doctorate from Columbia University in 1962.  She then joined the University of Wisconsin library school, where she served as Director, 1963-1970. 

One measure of Monroe’s influence on the library profession is that the bibliography in her memoir lists 115 publications, including her book Library Adult Education: The Biography of An Idea (Scarecrow, 1963) which reviewed and defended the development of adult education approaches in American librarianship.

In 1985, the Reference and User Services Association of ALA established the Margaret E. Monroe Library Adult Services Award to honor those who made significant contributions to library adult services. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Maud A. Wait was born in Montreal, Canada, and came to the United States in 1903.

Maud Wait finished the NYPL Training Class in 1904 and received a permanent staff appointment.  She was promoted to First Assistant in 1907 and was appointed to be the Branch Librarian at the Washington Heights Branch in 1913.  Wait transferred to the Tremont Branch in 1917, but resigned in April 1921 to return to Canada and marry William Steele Louson (1860-1921), a “commercial traveler” or traveling salesman.   Within six months her husband had died, and Maud Louson returned to New York City in September 1922.  She immediately resumed her career at NYPL, serving as head of the Aguilar Branch from 1922 until 1938, when she retired.

After her retirement, Maud Wait Louson worked as a part-time librarian at the National Council of Churches in NYC.  There is one indication that Maud Louson might have returned to Canada to live in the 1940s.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

EUGENIE KRAUSS (1870-1947)

Eugenie Krauss was a life-long resident of Manhattan, but her life remains something of a mystery despite working as a librarian for 40 years. 

It is unlikely that Krauss had formal library training, but she started at the New York Free Circulating Library sometime before 1897.  She was serving as the head of the Bloomingdale Branch of the NYFCL at the time of consolidation with NYPL in 1901.  She remained in charge of Bloomingdale until 1905 and headed three other Manhattan branches before she retired in 1937.

Although Krauss did not leave many traces in the Library’s surviving archival records, we know that in 1898, shortly after being named head of the original NYFCL Bloomingdale Branch, she began to work with the architect James Brown Lord on the design of a new structure for the branch.  The resulting building served NYPL until 1960, and in 1989 was declared a landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.  The LPC designation report noted Krauss’ involvement with the design work and suggested that the Bloomingdale building served as a “prototype” for the architects who designed NYPL’s Carnegie branch buildings in the early twentieth century.