Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Edwin W. Gaillard was the first man to head an NYPL branch and the first head of the Library’s work with schools.  He was also, most likely, the only person to serve as NYPL’s Special Investigator after having been arrested for attempted burglary
In 1896, at the age of 24, Gaillard was arrested for attempted burglary.  The story in the New York Herald (June 2, 1896, page 5) described him as “intelligent, fairly good looking, well dressed and evidently of a respectable family.”  The newspaper reported Gaillard’s claim that he “was only playing burglar” after having bragged to his brothers that “it could be done in a walk”. 

Although he had no training as a librarian, a year after his arrest Edwin Gaillard became head librarian of the Webster Free Library Society, which served the Czech émigré community on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  As librarian, Gaillard worked with that community and also developed programs in conjunction with neighborhood schools.  Late in his life Gaillard was awarded the Order of the White Lion by the Czechoslovak government in recognition of his public service at the Webster Library.

Once Webster consolidated with NYPL in 1904, Gaillard remained as head of the Webster Branch and thus became the first man to head an NYPL branch.  He gave up that position in 1906 to develop NYPL’s work with schools program, which Phyllis Dain has called the first such department in the nation.  In that position, he clashed with Anne Carroll Moore, NYPL’s famous children’s librarian, and in 1913 Gaillard was moved to a newly created position as Special Investigator for the Library.  In this role, he was regarded “as conspicuously successful” for aggressively investigating thefts and mutilations of books.  This was an unusual success story for someone once arrested for attempted burglary.

Gaillard died at the age of 56 of a kidney disorder.

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