Monday, October 24, 2011


Eliza B. Marquess was born in Crescent Hill, Kentucky.  Her father was a minister and college professor, who died in New York City in 1921. 

Eliza Marquess graduated from the Wadleigh High School for Girls, the first public girls’ school in New York City.  She then entered Barnard College and in 1917 received her BA in French.  After graduation, Marquess became an editorial assistant at the publishing house of Longman's Green & Co.

Marquess started at NYPL in 1918 as a substitute, and later did both children’s work and school and reference work.  She entered the NYPL Library School in 1926, but it does not appear that she finished the studies required to receive a certificate. 

In 1933 she was promoted to Superintendent of the Book Order Office (BOO) and served there until 1944.  A 1938 profile in the New York Times called Marquess one of the largest book buyers in the world and noted that she had purchased one million books for NYPL in her first five years in BOO--despite the fact that New York City had cut the allocation for book purchases in 1933 due to the Depression. 

In her book, An Ample Field (Chicago: ALA, 1950), Amelia Munson (a colleague at NYPL) quoted Eliza Marquess’ definition of book selection as “‘the practice of supplying people with the books they want, and of setting before them the books they don’t know that they want.’”

In 1944, Marquess left BOO and returned to branch work as head of the Harlem Branch.  She retired from NYPL in 1962.

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.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Rachel C. Perry was born in NJ and was a graduate of the New Jersey Normal School in the early 1880s.  She held a NJ teaching certificate in 1882.  She probably had no formal library training.

Perry worked as an Assistant in the Aguilar Free Library 1900-1903, at the East Broadway and 110th Street branches. 

After consolidation Rachel Perry continued to work at the 110th Street Branch.  The new Aguilar Branch replaced the old 110th Street Branch in 1905, and Perry was named First Assistant.  In 1907 she was promoted to Branch Librarian at the Aguilar Branch.  The following year, Perry took a leave of absence (probably for health reasons) and it was reported that she found the work was “too hard for her”. 

Perry returned to NYPL in 1910 to work in the Traveling Library Department but in a lower level position.  She resigned at the end of 1915 after another prolonged illness.  At that time she moved to Wallingford CT.

Today would be the 159th birthday of Rachel Perry.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Louise P. Berry was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky and attended Hamilton College in Lexington KY, 1899-1900. 

In 1907 she married George P. Bull (1876-1915), a farmer in Florida.  She apparently returned home to Kentucky after his death and moved to NYC a year later.

Louise P. Bull, as she was known at NYPL, entered the NYPL Library School in 1916 and completed the two-year degree program in 1918.  Bull received a regular appointment to NYPL in 1917 and after 1919 spent her entire career at the Mott Haven Branch in the Bronx.  She served as Branch Librarian at Mott Haven from 1923 until her retirement in 1948.

Tight city budgets in the 1920s made operations difficult for NYPL.  Bull’s annual reports at Mott Haven often commented on the impact of low salaries and high turnover on library efficiency.  She complained that the low pay attracted unqualified employees and that good staff members often left.  In her 1925 report she cited one librarian who after receiving six months of training left for a Long Island library with a one-third increase in salary.  A year later Bull reported that the branch had had 31 different staff members during the year, but only seven of them had worked in the branch the previous year. 

Today would be the 128th birthday of Louise Bull.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Charlotte E. Wallace was born in Wallingford CT.

She received a certificate from the Pratt Institute Library School in 1897 and took the children’s librarians course at Pratt in 1900.

Wallace began working as a librarian in 1900 at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburg and headed two branches there.  In 1910 she moved to the Seattle Public Library, where she was Superintendent of Circulation.  She resigned in 1912 to travel abroad with her mother.  They returned from Europe in 1914, and that year Charlotte Wallace was appointed Branch Librarian at the Yorkville Branch.

Wallace resigned from NYPL in 1916 to marry Dwight Clark (ca. 1869-1935), an industrialist and director of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation.  After her marriage she used the name Elizabeth W. Clark.  They lived in Pittsburgh, 1916-1920, and then moved to Washington DC., where they lived until at least 1930. 

Today would be Charlotte Wallace’s 138th birthday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ESTHER K. JOHNSTON (1886-1986)

Esther Johnston was born on this day 125 years ago.  As a child she knew that she wanted to be a librarian, and as an adult she became the first woman to head NYPL’s Circulation Department. 

Johnston had no college education and her library training consisted of earning a certificate from the Wisconsin Library School in 1908.  Her first professional position was at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (1908-1909).  She then returned to Wisconsin to head the Marshfield Free Library (1909-1910) and then served as head of the Lake Forest (IL) Public Library (1910-1916).

Johnston was hired to be the First Assistant at the Seward Park Branch in 1916, for what she later called a “trial run” that she would undertake for a year.  At the end of that year she was made the Acting Branch Librarian and then served as head of Seward Park, 1917-1923.  She took a leave of absence in 1919 to spend eight months working for the ALA Overseas War Service to aid France’s recovery after World War I.

In 1923 Johnston was given an important assignment to organize work at the new Fordham Branch in the Bronx.  Then from 1924-1941 Johnston was the head of NYPL’s Central Circulation Branch, the busiest branch in the system.  In 1941 she became Supervisor of Branches—the second highest position in the Circulation Department.

Johnston was the Acting Chief of the Circulation Department 1943-1945 while the Chief, Francis R. St. John, served in the Navy.  She resumed her old position upon his return from the war.  St. John left NYPL at the end of 1946.  Johnston was promoted to Chief in 1947 and headed the system until her retirement in 1951.  In this position she oversaw a staff or more than a 1,000 employees.

While this promotion was a breakthrough for women administrators at NYPL, even Johnston still faced day-to-day obstacles.  For instance, Johnston, as Chief, presented a report at the monthly meetings of the Committee on Circulation.  This NYPL committee sometimes met at a private club which admitted only men as members.  Therefore, Esther Johnston was forced to use the service elevator, in the rear of the building, to reach to meeting room where the all-male Committee on Circulation was meeting.

1946-Mar 15

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Louise E. Jones was born in Wisconsin 132 years ago today.

Prior to becoming a librarian, Jones was interested in both teaching and art.  She earned a diploma in Latin from the Oshkosh Normal School in 1900 and then became a teacher.  She left teaching to come to New York City and earned a degree in Manual Art from Pratt Institute in 1906.

In 1910 she entered NYPL and began studying at Teachers College (earning a BS in 1911).  She later earned a two-year degree from the NYPL Library School in 1916.

Louise Jones was promoted to Branch Librarian at the Rivington Street Branch in 1917.   She was transferred to the Aguilar Branch in 1920 and was credited with turning around a troubled branch.  In 1921 she was transferred to the Tremont Branch in the Bronx.  This was regarded as a very important assignment, and at the time Jones was described as “unquestionably one of the most able graduates" of the NYPL Library School.

Louise Jones resigned from NYPL in 1923, shortly after her mother’s death.  She subsequently moved to Denver where she served as Supervisor of Libraries for the public schools, 1923-1924.  She then moved to Los Angeles to work at the LA Public Library, eventually becoming head of the Philosophy and Religion Department.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

ELLA M. SAUER (1864-1937)

Today would be Ella Sauer’s 147th birthday.

Ella Sauer started work at the New York Free Circulating Library in 1886 and eventually headed three NYFCL branches.  She was serving as the Treasurer’s Assistant in 1901 when the NYFCL consolidated with NYPL.  Sauer continued to do administrative work in NYPL’s Circulation Department until being named as Branch Librarian for the Bond Street Branch.  After that she also headed the St. Agnes and Washington Heights branches. 

Sauer was regarded as one of the finest librarians in the Circulation Department although her work suffered as her health began to decline in the 1920s.  In 1927 the Director reported that “Her 41 years of excellent service seem to have exhausted her capacity for work.”  Sauer, however, did not have the funds to support herself in retirement.  After her death, the minutes of the Trustees’ Committee on Circulation noted that “she stayed on year after year in the hope for a pension.  It is tragic that just at the time the pension seems definitely in sight Miss Sauer should die.”  Sauer died on March 30, 1937, and the pension plan became effective on July 1st of that year


Dorothea H. Waples was one of the few NYPL librarians whose mother was a college graduate.  Her mother, Agnes Howson Waples, graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1897 and worked as a teacher.

Dorothea Waples attended Wellesley College and received an AB in 1929.  In 1931 she earned her library degree from Columbia’s School of Library Service.  For eight years after getting her library degree, she worked as an Assistant Librarian in Columbia University’s Business School Library 1931-1939

Waples left Columbia to join NYPL’s Readers Advisor Office in 1939.  In 1943 she transferred to the Yorkville Branch as the Assistant Branch Librarian.  In 1945 she was promoted to be the Branch Librarian at Yorkville. 

Waples resigned from NYPL in 1946 just months after she married Simon Lissim (1900-1981).  Lissim was a Russian born artist, who emigrated to the United States in 1941 and the following year received a grant from the Emergency Committee to Aid Displaced Foreign Scholars to teach art classes in several NYPL branches.

Today would be Dorothy Waples Lissim’s 104th birthday.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Marjorie L. White was born and died in Bennington VT.  She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1920 with a BA in History and afterwards moved to New York City to work in the Teachers College Library.

White entered NYPL in 1923 and was promoted to Branch Librarian at the Hamilton Fish Park Branch in 1939.  She then headed the Wakefield Branch, 1941-1948.  In 1948 she resigned from NYPL shortly after she married Hans Ernst Friederich (1884-1967), a German-born insurance adjustor.  White returned to NYPL in 1949 and was re-appointed to her former position at Wakefield.  She headed that branch until her retirement in 1953.

In her first annual report at the Wakefield Branch in 1941, Marjorie White reflected the optimism of NYPL librarians and their faith in humanity, even as World War II began.  White wrote:  “the hope that America may lead the way in solving world problems seems suddenly quite possible.  We see moving about the room without friction or ill-will the descendants of those nations on both sides of the world’s most devastating conflict.”  For White, the ethnic coexistence reflected in her small branch library in the Bronx had a positive meaning that gave her hope even as this new “devastating conflict” erupted around the world.

Today would be the 114th birthday of Marjorie White.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Isabella M. Cooper had one of the most varied careers among the NYPL Branch Librarians.  She was a librarian, bibliographer, and library educator who worked in public, special, academic and federal libraries.  She was also unusually well-educated for her time.

Cooper graduated from the Emma Willard School in Troy NY in 1894.  She then entered what is now Teachers College to study elementary education.   She received a BA from Barnard College in 1901.  Cooper entered the NYPL Training Class in 1904 and later got her BLS from the New York State Library School in 1908.  She later returned to Teachers College and got an MA in 1912-- making her the first librarian in this study to earn a Master’s degree.

Isabella Cooper worked at NYPL in 1904-1907, 1908-1909, 1916-1920, and 1921-1924.  During the last two of these periods she served as head of the Central Circulation branch.

In between these stints at NYPL, Cooper worked at the Newark Public Library (1909-1910), taught at the Simmons College library school ((1910-1913), and worked for the Brooklyn Public Library (1913-1915) and the American Committee for Devastated France (1920-1921).  She later worked for the Queens Borough Public Library, McGraw-Hill, the Works Progress Administration, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the New-York Historical Society.  As a freelancer, Cooper produced bibliographies on References to Beer and Ale (1937) and Educational Broadcasting (1942).

When Cooper left NYPL for the last time in 1924, she became the editor of the A.L.A. Catalog, the second update of ALA’s original 1904 annotated list used by librarians to select the best books.  Cooper’s 1926 edition included 10,000 titles that would be of interest to public library users looking for current fiction and non-fiction.  The ALA Catalog was probably the most significant of Cooper’s contributions to the library profession.

Today would be Isabella M. Cooper’s 137th birthday.