Saturday, October 22, 2011


Katherine L. O’Brien was born in upstate New York, 104 years ago today.

In 1928 she graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Classics from Wells College.  After graduation, Katherine O’Brien became an assistant in the Albany (NY) Public Library, 1929-1930.  She then entered the Columbia University School of Library Service and earned a BLS in 1931.

O’Brien entered NYPL in 1931 and worked in the Central Circulation Branch until 1942.  In that year she was promoted to be Branch Librarian at the Riverside Branch and later held the same position at the St. George Branch on Staten Island.

In 1950 Kay O’Brien, as she was known, drew up a plan to implement what was called regionalization.  She proposed creating the position of Staten Island Coordinator who would supervise all the branches in that borough.  The plan was adopted, and O’Brien was named to the position.  Regionalization was later extended to the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx.

In 1955 O’Brien was promoted to Coordinator of the Donnell Branch.  This new building in midtown Manhattan housed a general collection plus Young Adult Services and the Central Children’s Room in addition to special units for Education, Foreign Language and Film.  In 1957 O’Brien was promoted to be the head of the Office of Adult Services.

In 1967 O’Brien was chosen to develop and head the new Mid-Manhattan Branch which was to be the new central circulating library diagonally across Fifth Avenue from the Central Building.   It officially opened in 1970.

After serving as a Branch Librarian and having developed two new library centers in midtown Manhattan, O’Brien retired in 1976.  Her career at NYPL, however, was not over.  A year after she retired, O’Brien was asked to return to NYPL to become the Personnel Officer.

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