Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Today would be the 110th birthday of Helen Benson Matthews.

Matthews received her certificate from the NYPL Library School in 1924 and immediately started working as a children’s librarian at Seward Park (1924-1929) and the Extension Division (1929-1937).  She then was promoted to Assistant Branch Librarian in Extension and in 1942 was make Branch Librarian at Aguilar.  She served at Aguilar until her retirement in 1958.

Helen Matthews was unusual among NYPL librarians in that she was mentioned twice in the New York Times.  A 1945 article highlighted the new youth lounge at Aguilar Branch, developed by Matthews in conjunction with United Neighborhood Houses.  When the Times asked about noise problems with the teenage users, Matthews was unconcerned, “'After all,’ she said, ‘the days of sh-sh in the library have long been over.’”

Five years later the Times mentioned Matthews earning a special citation from the Library for her “brilliant adaptation of services and book stock” to the changing needs of Aguilar’s predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood.

Helen B. Matthews was one of eight librarians in my study who was married to another librarian; in 1933 she married William Henry Matthews Jr (1903-1968) who was a librarian in the Theatre Division of NYPL’s Research Libraries. 

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