Friday, September 2, 2011


One of the issues I am studying focuses on the autonomy the Branch Librarians had to run their branch and how that autonomy began to erode in the 1920s.  Isabel de Treville’s career illustrates that autonomy.

Isabel De Treville, as she was generally known at NYPL, was actually named Sarah Isabelle de Treville at birth.  She was part of a prominent South Carolina family but moved to NYC in the mid-1880s.  She joined the New York Free Circulating Library in 1891 and was promoted to head the NYFCL’s George Bruce Branch in 1898

De Treville continued to head the George Bruce Branch from consolidation with NYPL in 1901 until 1913.  At that point she transferred to be the first Branch Librarian of the new Carnegie building for the West 40th Street Branch.  In 1915 she transferred back to George Bruce and headed it until her death in 1929.

Fourteen years after her death the Library uncovered a practice that illustrated the autonomy the Branch Librarians could exercise over the operation of their branches.  The Circulation Department discovered that the George Bruce Branch had never stamped its books “Property of the City of New York” as was required by the 1901 contract between NYPL and NYC which established the Circulation Department.  Every other branch followed the contract provision.  In a 1943 memo about the contract violation, the Director wrote: “My guess … is that it goes back to Miss de Treville, who was for many years librarian of the old Bruce Library and then the George Bruce Branch.  She was a very independent person and operated the George Bruce Branch as independently from the system as a whole as possible.”  

Today would be the 148th birthday of this autonomy-seeking librarian.

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