Do You Know These Famous Librarians?

by, Jo Carol Hebert

Classified Ads: Jobs

*Needed for immediate employment: A person to be responsible for selecting, organizing, and delivering information materials to people. The person most qualified for this job will preferably have the following skills: likes to keep things in order; is careful about details; wants to help people; is friendly, patient, and caring. If interested, please apply at your nearest Library.

“Thank You For Your Service,” Librarians of the World!

Many people that fit this job description work in our libraries. They often go above and beyond their ‘call of duty’ to be of service to their clients. They respond to an endless variety of questions from “how do I file a tax return?” ” to “where is the bathroom?” with equally gracious answers. And, of course, they have the most tactful ways to tell us “to be quiet”.

You Can Take The Librarian Out of the Library, But . . . 

. . . you can’t take the library out of the Librarian. And, here are a few examples of Librarians that also achieved notoriety in other fields. This was due, in part, to their very orderly, logical, social, and everyday experiences in those hallowed halls of “the library”.

Flew a Kite in an Electrical Storm

Besides being an early American statesman, helping draft America’s Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was also a scientist, inventor, writer, and ‘library lover’. 

Born in  Boston, Massachusetts in 1706, he left a legacy of founding the Library Company of Philadelphia, America’s first ‘lending’ library. This led to the establishment of the first libraries open to the public.  Other libraries he founded include the first medical library – the Library of the Pennsylvania Hospital of America; also Penn State Library, Library of the University of Pennsylvania and a Library of American Philosophy. His own private library contained over 4,276 books.

Lady Librarian

Mary Foy (1862-1962).  First woman Head Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1880 when she was 18 years-old and a recent high school graduate. The ‘library’ was three rooms rented above a ‘saloon’. Her duties were: to set up a catalogue system for the books; keep accounts; host the ‘Ladies Reading Room’; be the ‘referee’ for chess games; and settle word dispute issues downstairs in the ‘saloon’, such as – “Who wrote Webster’s Dictionary? Noah or Daniel? (Noah). She was replaced with another woman four years later but did not go “gently into the night”.  She became a force to be reckoned with in the ‘suffragette’ movement for women’s right to vote.

“How Can I Find the Book I Want?”

Books in a library have to be displayed. The books have to have some order so people can locate the book they want.  At first, books were put on shelves according to the size of the book and the date when the library got the book (date of acquisition). Obviously, not a perfect way for readers to quickly find a book.

In 1876, a Librarian named Melvil Dewey had an idea to ‘shelve’ books according to ‘subject’, (what the book was about).  He invented a cataloging system with ten basic subjects:  000-Generalities, Information; 100-Philosophy and Psychology; 200-Religion; 300-Social Studies; 400-Language; 500-Science; 600; Technology; 700-Arts and Recreation; 800-Literature; and 900-History and Geography. With this system, other related subjects could be added under the numbered category. These are the ‘call numbers’ you see on the ‘spine’ of the book positioned on the shelf.  

“The Great Library War of 1905”

Mary Jones, the fifth Head Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library took over in 1900. Five years later, she was asked to resign so a male librarian could replace her. She refused and was promptly fired. This caused such an uproar that even Susan B. Anthony, ‘the famous suffragette leader’ came to town to voice the injustice of it all. Mary Jones left town and did well for herself, teaching at Berkeley University and becoming Head Librarian at Bryn Mawr, an equally prestigious women’s college. 

She returned to stay in Los Angeles, setting up the Los Angeles County Library System, and a library on a local military base. (Once a Librarian, always a Librarian).

Future Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

In 1913, at the age of 18, J. Edgar Hoover worked as a clerk at the Library of Congress (the Library of the United States). In 1917, he graduated from George Washington School of Law and entered the U. S. Justice Department.  He is quoted: “my library job trained me in the value of collating material. It gave me an excellent foundation for my work in the FBI where it has been necessary to collate information and evidence.”

Author of Ramona Quimby and Henry Higgins Books for Kids Like YOU

Beverly Cleary grew up in a town with no library. Her very resourceful mother arranged with the State Library of Oregon to have books sent to the little town. A local bank agreed to a library space in their facility. After Beverly Cleary graduated  from the University of Washington, she became a ‘Children’s Librarian’.

When kids started asking her why there were no books for ‘tweens’, she remembered that she had felt the same way when she was a young girl. So . . . she wrote some. Her ‘kid friendly’ books, which have sold 91,000,000 copies worldwide, are loved by real kids everywhere.

Built Over 1,600 Libraries

Andrew Carnegie, born ‘dirt-poor’ in Scotland, made a fortune in the 1880s in the steel industry in America. At 17, when he was a ‘bobbin boy’ in a textile mill, he couldn’t afford the $2 fee charged to borrow books from the local library. So, he wrote a letter to the library director, asking for free access to borrow the books. When Carnegie was refused, he sent the letter to the newspaper, which caused a lot of attention. The library offered him free access after that.  In 1903, he sold Carnegie Steel and retired as the  richest man in America.

In 1903, he funded the building of the Carnegie Washington, D.C. Library, called the Central Library. The library was free to all: women, children, and all races. At his death, he had financed 1,689 libraries across the country.

Librarian of the United States Library 

Dr. Carla Diane Hayden was appointed the 14th Librarian of Congress in 2016. She was the first woman and the first African-American to have this honor. Also, she was the first Professional Librarian to hold this post for sixty years. 

After graduating from the Graduate of Library School of the University of Chicago, she worked in a variety of library settings. These include being a Children’s Librarian, Librarian of a Museum of Science and Industry; Assistant Professor for Library and Information Science; Head Librarian; CEO of Enoch Pratt Free Library (Baltimore, Maryland); and President of the American Library Association. 

Dr. Hayden has expanded the Library of Congress access to young readers, with visiting authors, primary teaching resources, tools of technology, community outreach and a ‘Library of Congresson on the Go’, a type of bookmobile for nationwide travel. Thank you, Dr. Hayden, for encouraging  a generation of ‘library-loving’ children!

Look for “Here Comes the Bookmobile!” in Smarty Pants next post of Library History.

Categories: History

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