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.

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