Monday, April 18, 2011


Margaret S. Toliver started work at NYPL in 1938 a year after receiving her BS from the Columbia University School of Library Service.  She had previously earned a BA from Transylvania University.  She worked in Central Circulation until 1946 when she was promoted to head the 67th Street Branch.  She had married Marvin P. Garner in 1941 and left NYPL in 1947 when her husband began teaching at the State University of New York at Potsdam.  Margaret T. Garner then worked as a librarian at SUNY Potsdam, 1954-1972.

I was fortunate to correspond with Margaret Garner three years ago.  She and her husband were living in Lincolnville, Maine and running a combined book and pottery shop. 

Her letter included two memories which provide an insight into the culture of the NYPL librarians.

First, as she prepared to take charge of her first branch, she was “Warned before I arrived never to clash with a custodian.  Good custodians were much Rarer than librarians.”  Since 1901, custodians, usually men, reported to the Branch Librarian, usually a woman.  Obviously, those gender and employment dynamics could get complicated.

Second, she wrote, “Following the custom in most branches afternoon tea was provided in the staff room.  This was literally a cup of tea and cookies or pastry provided by the staff in turn.”  This ritual of sharing afternoon tea surfaces in the folklore of the branch system, but despite its long history there is very little documentation on it.  The custom died out in the mid-1970s when the New York City fiscal crisis forced substantial layoffs in the branches, and the remaining staff could no longer make time to meet over tea.

Margaret Toliver Garner was born on April 18, 1916.

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