Thursday, May 5, 2011


Hedwig M. Goeks was born in Germany, came to US in 1888, entered the New York Free Circulating Library in 1890 and eventually headed the Muhlenberg and Ottendorfer branches of the NYFCL.  After the NYFCL consolidated with NYPL in 1901, Goeks remained in charge of the Ottendorfer Branch (which served Manhattan’s German community).  In 1905 she was transferred to the Mott Haven Branch in the Bronx and headed that branch until 1919.  She then transferred to be Branch Librarian at the Epiphany Branch and retired in 1920. 

These job details obscure the fact that Goeks career was an example of how the Library dealt with (or avoided dealing with) difficult staff members.

In January 1919 Franklin F. Hopper became the third Chief of NYPL’s Circulation Department.   He immediately was faced with complaints from two staff members at Mott Haven who reported that Goeks “rules by a kind of arbitrary Germanic force”.  Hopper found that many assistants refused to work under her and also that Goeks had alienated many users in the neighborhood.   Hopper considered demoting her but recognized that no Branch Librarian would accept her on their staff.  Instead Goeks was transferred to be Branch Librarian at the Epiphany Branch, in a less busy neighborhood.  Within months, Hopper received a letter from six users of Epiphany complaining about Goeks and labeling her a “persona non grata”.   After some negotiation, Goeks agreed to retire with an allowance of $85 per month, reported to be the largest ever given by the Library.

Unfortunately for Goeks that was not the end of the story.  In 1932, the foundation that annually donated money to NYPL to pay for retirement allowances was forced to reduce its gift.  NYPL in turn cut Goeks allowance.  Two years later, when another Branch Librarian was becoming “more and more undependable and erratic”, NYPL cut the allowance of four retirees (including Goeks) to free up money to support this new retiree.

Goeks’ career illustrates the degree to which NYPL felt an obligation to retain difficult or enfeebled librarians in the period before NYC librarians obtained guaranteed pensions.  It also illustrates the strains this paternalistic policy imposed on the Library, other staff members, and users.

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