Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Elizabeth Foote received a BA in 1888 from Syracuse University and was the only NYPL Branch Librarian to earn a college degree prior to 1900.  She received her library degree in 1892 from the NY State Library School.  Beginning in 1891, she worked as a cataloger or organizer at seven public libraries in upstate New York and one academic library (Colgate University).   

In 1897 Melvil Dewey recommended Foote to Dr. John Shaw Billings, NYPL’s first Director, and she was hired as a Cataloger.  When the Circulation Department was formed in 1901 she became head of the Library’s Training Class.  Foote’s position at NYPL changed when Edwin Anderson became Assistant Director in 1908.  He was known for building strong library staffs and advised Billings that Foote was not the best person to attract good candidates to the Training Class.  She was finally moved out of that position in 1911 when the NYPL opened its own Library School.   At that time she was appointed Branch Librarian at the 125th Street Branch.

Foote liked working with foreign populations and was interested in the issue of Americanization of immigrants.  Nonetheless, she rejected a transfer to the Seward Park Branch, which served a largely Jewish population, since she felt that she could not “understand the foreign language or the foreign character” of that community.

This lack of understanding perhaps had its roots in her religious beliefs.  Foote, whose father was a Methodist minister, was active in summer evangelical campaigns in NYC.  She also wrote three pamphlets on church libraries: The Librarian of the Sunday School (1897), Strengthening the Sunday School Library (1903), and The Church Library (1931). 

In 1916 Foote was put in charge of the Aguilar branch which ironically had been the headquarters of the Aguilar Free Library, a Jewish-run library until it consolidated with NYPL in 1903.  In 1920 she was transferred out of Aguilar on the grounds that the conditions in the branch “have been exceedingly unsatisfactory.” 

A few months later E.L. Foote resigned from NYPL and became the head librarian at the Drew Theological Seminary in New Jersey.  That lasted only two years until she resigned in the midst of a dispute over her authority to run the library. 

Foote returned to the Syracuse area and received an MA from Syracuse University in 1924.  She continued to live in Syracuse and remained be active in religious undertakings. 

Today would be the 145th birthday of Elizabeth L. Foote.

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