Wednesday, April 27, 2011

MARION E. LANG (1902-1981)

Today would be the 109th birthday of Marion E. Lang.  Marion Lang was born in New Hampshire and moved away from home after graduating from high school.

Lang entered the Springfield (MA) City Library Association Training Class in 1920 but left in 1921 to work for the S. Manchester (CT) Free Library.  She moved to NYC in 1922 and started substituting at NYPL.  Marion Lang headed the Westchester Square and Chatham Square branches between 1941 and her retirement in 1963. 

The Chatham Square Branch kept a historical card file of those who worked in the branch.  Lang’s card listed two individuals as emergency contacts.  The first was Ruth Shinnamon (1907-1982) who was also a NYPL Branch Librarian.  The second was Esther V. Saul (1896-1989), who started at NYPL but left to be a librarian for the NYC Board of Education.  The lives of these three librarians were intertwined for more than 50 years.

Lang and Saul are listed in the 1930 Census as rooming with Mildred Mathews (also a NYPL librarian) and her husband.  From ship passenger lists, we know that Lang and Esther Saul also travelled to Bermuda together in 1938.

Between 1932-1935 Lang, Shinnamon and Saul lived together on East 89th Street.   Lang and Shinnamon shared apartments in Manhattan in the 1940s. 

The three of them all retired to Jamesburg NJ, and the three friends all died there in the 1980s.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Elizabeth R. Edwards received her BA from Chattanooga University in 1927 and then entered the apprentice program at Chattanooga Public Library (CPL).  She came to NYC in 1928 to attend Columbia’s library school and returned to CPL as Head Cataloger 1929-1930.  She then came back to New York City and joined the Queens Borough Public Library 1930-1931 and joined to NYPL in 1931.  Edwards worked primarily in the NYPL Extension Division before serving as Branch Librarian of the Kingsbridge Branch, 1943-1944.

Elizabeth Edwards’ major impact on librarianship occurred in the two positions she held after she left NYPL.

First, Edwards left NYPL in 1944 because she was tapped by the federal government to organize the library in Oak Ridge TN.  The population of Oak Ridge grew from 3,000 in 1942 to about 75,000 in 1945 after the US government chose the town as the secret home of the Manhattan Project.  The thousands of newcomers were literate adults who demanded a well-stocked library.  Edwards flourished as the first librarian serving “a most unusual and exciting community”.

Second, when Edwards left Oak Ridge at war’s end she returned home to Chattanooga to be the head librarian of the CPL, a position she held for 20 years.  Edwards’ obituary noted among her accomplishments that she “presided over the desegregation of the library’s facilities”.  Beginning in 1949, African-American high school students and adults were admitted to the Library and children’s services were integrated the following year.

Today would be Elizabeth (Libby) Edwards’ 104th birthday.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


“Movie-made children and radio-made opinions, streamlined cars and streamlined minds impel the library skipper to chart a new course, as the changing mode of living and thinking is reflected in the library and is affecting its type of service.”

These were the opening lines of the 1937 annual report prepared by Irma Horak Erath, the Branch Librarian at the St. George Branch. The words resonate with today’s information professionals who follow in the tradition of their predecessors by adjusting their services to changing social patterns. 

BTW, the nautical metaphor came naturally to Erath since the St. George Branch on Staten Island had a Sea Room and catered to a population living on an island in the NY harbor. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Today would be the 108th birthday of Dorothy Cynthia Robinson.  While I can trace her career at NYPL, I have not been able to fill in many gaps for the rest of her life.

Dorothy C. Robinson received a BA from Barnard College in 1925 and a BS from the School of Library Service at Columbia University in 1929.

Dorothy Robinson began substituting at NYPL in 1927 and became full-time in 1929.  She focused on school and reference work and had a rapid rise to become the first head of the Bronx Reference Center in 1931. 

In 1933-1935 she had a series of illnesses and missed extensive time from work.  Probably due to her health, she was transferred from Bronx Reference Center in 1935 and held five different positions over the next 6 years before being promoted to head the 67th Street Branch in 1941. 

After only two years as a Branch Librarian, Robinson announced that she wanted to “go to a library in the Southwest” and resigned from NYPL in 1943.  The 1943 ALA Handbook, however, listed her as head of the Hospital Library Bureau of the United Hospital Fund.  The 1949 ALA membership list placed her in Milbridge Maine as Mrs. Albert E. Busby.  So it appears that she married Albert Early Busby (1896-1964), a Texan, sometime between 1943-1949

Dorothy Busby ended her career by working for the Hartford (CT) Public Library, from 1957 to about 1966.  She apparently lived in Hartford until her death in 1985 or 1986. 

Monday, April 18, 2011


Margaret S. Toliver started work at NYPL in 1938 a year after receiving her BS from the Columbia University School of Library Service.  She had previously earned a BA from Transylvania University.  She worked in Central Circulation until 1946 when she was promoted to head the 67th Street Branch.  She had married Marvin P. Garner in 1941 and left NYPL in 1947 when her husband began teaching at the State University of New York at Potsdam.  Margaret T. Garner then worked as a librarian at SUNY Potsdam, 1954-1972.

I was fortunate to correspond with Margaret Garner three years ago.  She and her husband were living in Lincolnville, Maine and running a combined book and pottery shop. 

Her letter included two memories which provide an insight into the culture of the NYPL librarians.

First, as she prepared to take charge of her first branch, she was “Warned before I arrived never to clash with a custodian.  Good custodians were much Rarer than librarians.”  Since 1901, custodians, usually men, reported to the Branch Librarian, usually a woman.  Obviously, those gender and employment dynamics could get complicated.

Second, she wrote, “Following the custom in most branches afternoon tea was provided in the staff room.  This was literally a cup of tea and cookies or pastry provided by the staff in turn.”  This ritual of sharing afternoon tea surfaces in the folklore of the branch system, but despite its long history there is very little documentation on it.  The custom died out in the mid-1970s when the New York City fiscal crisis forced substantial layoffs in the branches, and the remaining staff could no longer make time to meet over tea.

Margaret Toliver Garner was born on April 18, 1916.

Friday, April 15, 2011

MARIE C. SAXER (1862-1933)

Today would be the 149th birthday of Marie C. Saxer.

Marie Saxer headed the Bond Street Branch of the New York Free Circulating Library (NYFCL), 1891-1901.  Although her father had been director of Concordia Seminary, she apparently had neither college nor library training

After NYPL absorbed the NYFCL in 1901, Saxer headed the Bond Street, St. Agnes and St. George Branches until 1911 when she took a leave of absence.  So far, I have not been able to determine what she did during the six years she was on leave. 

When Saxer returned to NYPL in 1917, she was not reappointed as a Branch Librarian.  Instead, she served as a reference librarian at the Hamilton Fish Park & St. Agnes branches until 1933, when she died.

During her last years at NYPL, Saxer was described as “very feeble, and almost unable to walk.”  Nonetheless, the Library allowed Saxer to keep her position since there was no pension plan for NYPL staff.  This is somewhat ironic, because in 1906 the Library’s Director, Dr. John Shaw Billings, had appointed Saxer to a committee to look into creating a staff pension system. Nothing came of that effort, and Saxer died just four years before a regular pension system was finally implemented for all NYPL librarians

The pension issue was a difficult one for the Library and the librarians and I will be writing more about it in future posts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Emily G. Davis was born in Pennsylvania on this day 107 years ago.

She attended Syracuse University where she earned a BA in Library Science in 1925.   At Syracuse she was elected to Pi Lambda Sigma [], the first library science honor society in the United States, which had been founded at Syracuse in 1903.

Davis immediately joined the Marshall City (WVa) Public Library as a substitute and then became a reference assistant at the Hackley (Muskegon MI) Public Library, 1925-1927.  She returned to Syracuse as an art reference librarian, 1927-1928.  In 1929-1930 she worked as a Research Assistant in the Johns-Manville Corporation library.  The latter experience was unusual in that only two other NYPL Branch Librarians worked in a business library prior to joining NYPL.

In 1930 Emily Davis began substituting at NYPL’s Circulation Department and received a regular appointment the following year.  She worked as a school and reference specialist in five different branches in the Bronx and Manhattan.  Davis was named Branch Librarian at the Yorkville Branch in 1947 and served there until her retirement in 1964. 

Emily G. Davis married Newton G. Rosebaugh sometime in the 1920s, and it appears that she was the first woman in this group of Branch Librarians to continue to use her maiden name at NYPL after she married.  It doesn’t seem that Davis and Rosebaugh were separated since they were listed as living together in Queens, NY, in the 1930 US Census and appear on ship passenger lists traveling to Europe in 1932 and 1933.  She also is listed in the Social Security Death Index as Emily G. Davis.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Marital Status is one of the demographic facts that I have collected about the Branch Librarians.  Drawing from census records, NYPL archival material, several editions of Who’s Who in Library Service, family histories, and related sources, I have been able to determine the marital status of all but one librarian in my study.

When NYPL’s Circulation Department was created in 1901, the heads of the 11 branches were all single working women.  That changed in 1904 when NYPL absorbed the Webster Free Library and its head librarian, Edwin White Gaillard, became head of NYPL’s Webster Branch.  He had been married since 1902.  This consolidation also made Gaillard the first man to head a branch of NYPL.  When Gaillard was promoted to head the Library’s work with schools in 1904, the branches returned to being headed only by unmarried women. 

By the end of the first decade of its work the Circulation Department had grown to 40 branches and 51 librarians (including Gaillard) had headed one of those branches.  Of the 50 women, two were widows and 48 were unmarried librarians.  At least one of the latter, Alice Slater, resigned her position in order to get married. 

Both Gaillard and Slater followed the gender conventions of the time—the male librarian by getting married and continuing to work and the female librarian by giving up her job before getting married.

In terms of marital status, the first decade of the Circulation Department was one of very conventional gender roles.  It would also be the last decade when that would be completely true.  I will post later on the changes in marital status over the next few decades.