Sunday, March 6, 2011


Today would be the 100th birthday of Mary Howe, one of the early public library pioneers of automation. 

Howe graduated from the University of Illinois with a BA in Journalism in 1932 and an MA in Education in 1934.  She received her BS from CU SLS in 1939.  Howe started at NYPL in 1940 and worked in several branches before being promoted to Branch Librarian in 1949 at Stapleton Branch on Staten Island.  Howe resigned from NYPL in 1953 to return to the Midwest.  There she headed three library systems in Illinois (Decatur, Starved Rock and Lewis & Clark) between 1957-1977. 

While working as a student assistant in one of Columbia University’s libraries, Howe helped create an index to major physics books.  She reported later that compiling the paper slips was so laborious that they “began to explore other equipment to record data.”  This was her introduction to the need for machine processing in libraries.

Later while working for NYPL on Staten Island, Howe and a small group of friends (including Margaret Monroe--noted library educator) met to discuss equipment that could be used in libraries.  At the time, she was also encouraged by Ralph Beals who was then Director of NYPL to explore her interest in machine applications and she was exposed to related work as chair of ALA’s Bibliography Committee.  Later as Director of the Decatur (IL) Public Library Howe worked with representatives of IBM to use the company’s “accounting machines” to manage the library’s book collection. 

In the early 1960s Howe published two articles on library automation, see: “Mechanization in Public libraries” UNESCO Bulletin for Libraries 15 (November 1961), 317-321+ and “Data Processing in the Decatur Public Library” Illinois Libraries 44 (November 1962), 593-597.

Mary T. Howe donated her personal and professional papers to the University of Illinois Archives in 1989.

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