Thursday, September 22, 2011


Until the late 1930s, New York City librarians did not have pensions, and H. Estelle Olmsted (as she was known at NYPL) is a good example of how the lack of retirement allowances impacted library services.  As the librarians aged, they could not afford to quit, and the Library kept them on payroll despite their infirmities. 

Olmsted graduated from Auburn (NY) High School in 1882 and taught in the town’s public schools for at least three years, maybe more.  She entered the NYPL Training Class in 1902 and earned a regular position in 1903.  Olmsted was promoted to Branch Librarian at the Tottenville Branch in 1908 and remained there until 1917.  She then transferred to be the Branch Librarian at the Stapleton Branch and served there until 1929, when she died suddenly.

In 1927, Edwin H. Anderson, the Director of NYPL, wrote that Olmsted (who was then 64 years old) was "a mere shadow of herself ... stooped and shriveled and hardly able to get about".  Although she could barely walk around the branch to serve users, Olmsted kept working the best she could since she would be unable to support herself if she retired. 

Anderson’s memo also listed five other librarians, with between 25-41 years of service at NYPL, who were described as “feeble”, “practically blind”, or “exhausted”.  All were single women with no other means of support, and NYPL kept all of them on payroll.  Another decade would pass before a pension plan was finally enacted for all NYPL librarians and retirement at a reasonable age became the norm.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! How fortunate things are different today. So glad to find this blog and learn the a bit about the early Librarians. Thanks for your ongoing effort!