Sunday, October 27, 2013

EUGENIE KRAUSS (1870-1947)

Eugenie Krauss was a life-long resident of Manhattan, but her life remains something of a mystery despite working as a librarian for 40 years. 

It is unlikely that Krauss had formal library training, but she started at the New York Free Circulating Library sometime before 1897.  She was serving as the head of the Bloomingdale Branch of the NYFCL at the time of consolidation with NYPL in 1901.  She remained in charge of Bloomingdale until 1905 and headed three other Manhattan branches before she retired in 1937.

Although Krauss did not leave many traces in the Library’s surviving archival records, we know that in 1898, shortly after being named head of the original NYFCL Bloomingdale Branch, she began to work with the architect James Brown Lord on the design of a new structure for the branch.  The resulting building served NYPL until 1960, and in 1989 was declared a landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.  The LPC designation report noted Krauss’ involvement with the design work and suggested that the Bloomingdale building served as a “prototype” for the architects who designed NYPL’s Carnegie branch buildings in the early twentieth century.

Friday, October 25, 2013

SOPHIA P. KENT (1882-????)

Sophia Kent was born in Pennsylvania and studied at Drexel Institute, 1901-1902. 

In 1904 Kent attended the Chautauqua Summer Library School, completed the NYPL Training Class, and received a regular staff appointment at NYPL.  By 1906, she had been promoted to First Assistant and in 1911 was under consideration for promotion to Branch Librarian.  The Head Worker at the University Settlement House wrote Dr. John Shaw Billings (NYPL Director) recommending Kent’s promotion based on “her uniform courtesy to the patrons of the Library; and her keen interest in the work.”

Kent received the promotion and over the next nine years headed three branches in Manhattan.  She resigned in 1920 and married John Archibald Shields in 1920 or 1921.  He worked as a private detective.

The couple lived on Staten Island, and Sophia Shields apparently did not work outside the home until her oldest daughter was in college.   In 1943 she returned to librarianship at Wagner College and worked there until she was 76 years old. 

Sophia Kent’s younger sister, Dorothy Kent (1889-1917), was a 1913 graduate of the NYPL Library School and worked as a librarian at NYPL and in New Jersey.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Like many NYC librarians, Eleanor Janssen’s career was held back by the Great Depression.

Eleanor W. Hill was born in Tennessee and received a BA in English from Vanderbilt University in 1927.  She worked as a teacher for several years.

In 1933, Hill earned a BS in Library Science from Columbia University and began as a substitute at NYPL.  Although she was eligible for a regular position, neither appointments nor promotions were common during the Depression.  Hill finally received her Grade 2 appointment in 1938, and it took another seven years before she was promoted to be an Assistant Branch Librarian.  She was finally promoted to Branch Librarian in 1948 and headed two Bronx branches until her retirement in 1969.

Eleanor Hill married Frederick Janssen sometime in the late 1930s, but the marriage ended in divorce.

Eleanor Janssen’s annual reports at the Westchester Square Branch reflect the fears that many librarians had about the negative impact of television.  In 1950 she noted “Watching television has become a serious rival of the reading habits of our generation.”  At the same time, however, she was experimenting with film programs for young adult users.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Louise F. Hlavac was born in New York and earned a BA from Hunter College in 1929.  That same year, she entered Columbia’s School of Library Service as a part-time student and received her BS in 1931.

NYPL’s Webster Branch was central to Hlavac’s career.  Webster was known informally as the “Bohemian” branch and served the Czech community in its Upper East Side neighborhood as well as those scattered around the city.  It was not unusual that NYPL placed Hlavac at Webster since she was of Czech ancestry--both of her parents were born in Bohemia and came to the US in the 1880s.   Hlavac started her work at NYPL as a substitute at Webster while she was still a student at Hunter.  Upon her graduation from college she received a regular appointment at Webster and worked there for two years while attending library school.  She returned to Webster in 1939 as Acting Branch Librarian and became Webster’s Branch Librarian in 1941. 

Louise Hlavac married George Alan Woods (1903-????) in 1936/37.  He worked as a civil engineer.

Louise Woods resigned from NYPL in 1943 and worked as a Library Assistant at the Bellevue School of Nursing, 1946-1947.  Woods returned to NYPL (probably on a part-time basis) in 1947 and worked at several sub-branches until she retired in 1955.

Friday, October 18, 2013

NONA E. PLUMMER (1880-1943)

In her book Library Adult Education (1963), Margaret Monroe cited Nona Plummer as an example of a librarian who was reluctant to engage in community work but eventually embraced it after some experimentation. 

A native-born New Yorker, Nona Plummer almost certainly had no formal library training since she began working at the Muhlenberg Branch of New York Free Circulating Library at the age of 17 or 18.
Plummer continued as First Assistant at the Muhlenberg Branch when the NYFCL consolidated with NYPL in 1901.  In 1908 she was promoted to be Branch Librarian at Kingsbridge and later headed the Bloomingdale, Mott Haven and Yorkville branches before she retired in 1942.

Monroe wrote that Plummer, as the new head of Yorkville in 1922, felt that “inside” work--serving patrons coming into the branch--was more useful than community work.  A decade later after experimenting with outreach to local businessmen, hosting community council meetings, and working with an evening school in the Yorkville neighborhood, Plummer seemed committed to “outside” work as well.  Nonetheless, Plummer remained convinced that providing good books to individuals was the best service that a librarian could provide.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Helen Wessells worked at NYPL for 16 years, 12 of them as head of a branch.  Afterwards her horizons expanded and she worked for ALA, the federal government, and as editor of Library Journal.

Helen E. Pierson attended the NJ State Normal School, 1920-1921, and took the summer course offered by the NJ Public Library Commission.  She then worked at the Morristown (NJ) Public Library in her hometown, 1922-1925.

After short stints at the Florence (SC) Public Library and the Olivia Paney Public Library in Raleigh NC, she earned a certificate from the NYPL Library School in 1926.

She started at NYPL in 1926 while still a student in Library School and then had unusually quick promotions.  By 1929 she was Acting Branch Librarian, was promoted to Branch Librarian in 1930, and headed the Port Richmond and Hamilton Fish Park branches, 1930-1942.

Wessells was one of the NYPL librarians who worked to collect books for American military personnel during World War II.  In 1942 she took a leave of absence to be the Assistant Director of the Victory Book Campaign sponsored by ALA, the American Red Cross and the United Service Organization.  She never returned to NYPL.

Between 1943-1950, Wessells worked on library issues for the US Information Service in the State Department, except for a short period as Acting Director of ALA’s International Relations Office in 1948. 

She then served as editor of Library Journal, 1951-1957.  In 1957 Wessells was forced to resign due to poor health.  Frederic Melcher (President of R.R. Bowker) hailed her for the 600 editorials she wrote during a time of post-war expansion for American librarianship. 

Helen Pierson was married twice.  First, in 1927 to Parker Franklin Wessells, a social worker, and they divorced in 1936.  Second, in 1952 to Herman Strecker Hettinger (ca. 1902-1972), an economist.  Professionally, she continued to use the name Wessells after her divorce from her first husband.

Helen Wessells’ personal papers are held by Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Alice M. Binns graduated from high school in 1920 and became an assistant curator at an unidentified museum.  The following year she entered the Cooper Union Art School.  While studying at Cooper Union, she worked as a substitute in the NYPL Circulation Department, 1922-1925. 

In 1925 Binns received a regular appointment at NYPL.  She took a leave of absence from NYPL 1928-1929 to work at the American Library in Paris.

Alice Binns took another leave to attend the Pratt Institute Library School and earned her degree in 1933.  The Pratt application asked prospective students to label their political beliefs as Conservative, Liberal or Radical, and she checked off the latter.  Although this was a period of labor ferment at the Library, Gibson’s name does not appear in any of the records relating to union activity.

In 1935, Binns married Randall Lee Gibson (1903-1957), a railroad contractor, but the marriage apparently ended in divorce. 

After working as a First Assistant at Central Circulation, the Picture Collection, and the Hudson Park Branch, Alice Gibson was finally promoted to be Branch Librarian at the Yorkville Branch in 1942.  After two years in that position, she resigned to work for the US Navy Department. 

Constance Binns (Alice’s sister), was a long-time children’s librarian at NYPL.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


In the 1930s, Lucille A. Goldthwaite was regarded as one of the country’s two leading authorities on books for the blind. 

Lucy Goldthwaite (as she was known) had no formal library training but in 1899 at the age of 22 she became a library assistant at the New York Free Circulating Library.  She worked at the NYFCL’s George Bruce Branch and was there at the time of the 1901 consolidation with NYPL.

Goldthwaite remained at the George Bruce Branch and was promoted to First Assistant in 1902.  In 1905 she was appointed head of the Library for the Blind and continued there until her retirement from NYPL in 1941.  Following her retirement, she worked half-time for the American Foundation for the Blind.

Goldthwaite was active in ALA’s Committee on Work for the Blind and for 20 years served as a member of the NY State Commission for the Blind, 1913-1933.  She was also a frequent writer on services for the blind. 

Goldthwaite focused especially on ways to provide books to blind users.  She was an early proponent of “talking books” and served as founder and editor of the Braille Book Review, 1932-1951, and as managing editor of Outlook for the Blind.

In 1946 the American Foundation for the Blind awarded its Migel Medal to Lucille Goldthwaite for her many services to the blind in the United States.