Saturday, March 5, 2011


Florence Overton (1870-1948), one of the most influential women librarians in the New York Public Library in the first half of the twentieth century, was born one hundred forty-one years ago today in Brooklyn NY.   

In 1899 Overton began as a children’s librarian in the Ottendorfer Branch of the New York Free Circulating Library (NYFCL) which consolidated with the New York Public Library in 1901 to create NYPL’s Circulating Department (CD), or branch library system.  Soon after consolidation, Overton worked as First Assistant in the Yorkville and the Riverside branches and then became Branch Librarian at Yorkville in 1905.  She held that post until 1914 when she was promoted to Supervisor of Branches.  In that position she reported directly to the Chief of the CD (always a man until 1943), and Overton was the highest ranking woman librarian in the branches until her retirement in 1941.

The retirement tribute published in the NYPL Bulletin (1941, page 240) noted that Overton “was in charge of personnel during the formative years of the Circulation Department when many branches were opening and the staff was growing.”  In fact, the size of the staff increased by about 50% during her tenure, but, even more significantly, the branch staff became much more professional during her time.  In addition, several special collections within the CD, such as the Music Library, the Picture Collection, and the Theatre Collection, “were largely results of her interests.”

Overton herself was active in ALA, the New York Library Association, and the New York Library Club, and she was a charter member of the Women’s City Club of New York.

The Bulletin article concluded that “Her native love of New York found practical expression in the building up of a great branch system, while her robust liking of people led to the encouragement of every individual talent.”

Her sisters Clara and Jacqueline also worked in the Circulation Department. 

Overton died in Westbury NY on May 8, 1948.

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