Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Margarethe (also called Marga) Kortenbeutel received her BA from the New Jersey College for Women (now Douglass College) in 1933 and already knew that she wanted to be a librarian.  She began as an NYPL substitute in 1934 during the midst of the Great Depression.  Ten years later she was still in an entry-level position when she was asked to be a witness at the US Senate Committee on Education and Labor hearings on the financial plight of white collar workers.  Kortenbeutel, who had created a monthly list of her itemized expenses, was asked to explain how she lived on her limited budget, and the New York Times noted that her “case history” captured the committee’s attention. 

Kortenbeutel testified that she had no extra money at the end of the month although she sewed her own clothes and got “one good cheap meal a day at the library”.  That meal was a shared one cooked by the branch staff (on Library time) at a cost of 25¢ each, and she noted that for “about everyone this dinner is the main meal of the day.”  Before she left the witness table, Kortenbeutel was asked why she stayed at the Library given her financial hardships. “I am quite willing to stay,” she replied. “I happen to be very interested in my work, and I like working with all kinds of people.”  She then added, “I am really not interested in just making money, but I would like not to starve to death.”

Kortenbeutel’s financial situation improved somewhat the following year when she was promoted to be the First Assistant at the Ottendorfer Branch.  In 1947 she was promoted to Branch Librarian at the 67th Street Branch and retired in 1970.

Today would be Margarethe Kortenbeutel’s 99th birthday.

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