Monday, March 10, 2014


Margaret Monroe worked at NYPL for 13 years but headed an NYPL branch for only two of those years.  She credited her NYPL experience for changing her focus in librarianship and setting her on the course that made her so influential as a leader in adult services and as a library educator.  She was also, without doubt, the most prolific author among those who had headed an NYPL branch.

Monroe received both a BA and a BLS from the New York State Teachers College.  She also earned an MA from Teachers College in 1939. 

Monroe served as Branch Librarian at the St. George Branch, 1946-1948, a period when NYPL was initiating its Great Books discussion groups.  Although she had originally specialized in young people’s work, Monroe volunteered for the new project and later wrote, “When book discussions became a service option, I knew I had found my métier.”   In her memoir, (Margaret Monroe: Memoirs of a Public Librarian, 2006) she wrote that it was the “mixed cultural backgrounds, ages, vocations and educational experiences, and the cross-cultural learning” that attracted her to NYPL’s book discussion groups.

Following the success of the Great Books program, NYPL developed the American Heritage discussion groups.  This effort was taken over by ALA, and Monroe took a leave of absence in 1952-1954 to work on the ALA project.  She never returned to NYPL.  Instead she joined the faculty of the Rutgers University library school and earned her doctorate from Columbia University in 1962.  She then joined the University of Wisconsin library school, where she served as Director, 1963-1970. 

One measure of Monroe’s influence on the library profession is that the bibliography in her memoir lists 115 publications, including her book Library Adult Education: The Biography of An Idea (Scarecrow, 1963) which reviewed and defended the development of adult education approaches in American librarianship.

In 1985, the Reference and User Services Association of ALA established the Margaret E. Monroe Library Adult Services Award to honor those who made significant contributions to library adult services. 

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