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Librarian Conditions Vastly Improved Since 1920s

Mar 30, 2009 9:25 AM | 4 comments

Librarians at tea, former Brownsville Children's Library

Although the ladies in the photograph appear to be in good health and are enjoying their tea in pleasant surroundings, evidence uncovered today reveals stark truths about the lives of librarians in the 1920s. Seeking something else entirely, I stumbled upon the following in the 1921 Annual Report of Brooklyn Public Library, which, thanks to the kind ministrations of Google Books is now available online. Evidently it was the habit of the Assistant Chief Librarian to list in one paragraph all those who had  fallen in the line of duty during the year.  Call me twisted, but to me the resultant litany is darkly comic. Who knew that working in a library could be so dangerous to your health?

"The year has marked the termination of service rendered over an unusually long period of several members of the staff. Mr. William E. Lanchantin, Bursar, was stricken with paralysis on April llth. He came to the Library, August 6, 1903. Miss Frances Elcock was appointed in 1891 an assistant in the Union for Christian Work Library, and continued her services when that library became the Schermerhorn Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, January 2, 1901. In April, Miss Elcock became physically incapacitated and was released from her duties. The name of Miss Charlotte A. Todd has been carried on the pay roll since October 1, 1917. At that time Miss Todd became mentally incapacitated, and because of the fact that she had been with the Library since the opening of the Schermerhorn Branch she was given an indefinite leave. With the closing of the Schermerhorn Branch her name was dropped. Ill health compelled Miss Elizabeth M. Johnson to relinquish her duties on October 14, 1921. She had been in the Reference Department of Montague since 1889. Miss Louise M. Chappuis of the Cataloguing Department went on her summer vacation to Florida, and while there, discovered that she had an incurable disease. An operation was performed, but she has not been able to return to the Library. Miss Chappuis entered the Library's service, January 8, 1902. Although the Library has no pension system nor retiring allowance, in view of the long and faithful service rendered, the Trustees carried these names on the pay roll through the end of the year. Miss Louise F. Tweedy, Library Assistant, Grade 2, at the Montague Branch, submitted her resignation on December 22, 1921, on account of ill health. She was a member of the Brooklyn Library Staff, and continued her services with the Brooklyn Public Library after June 12, 1903. Mr. John W. Johns, Caretaker at the Borough Park Branch, died on January 26, 1921. He entered the Library service August 16, 1913. Mr. William F. Fales, Head Caretaker at the Eastern Parkway Branch, resigned on account of ill health on May 14, 1921, after working for the Library for over eleven years, and died on May 25, 1921."

But don't worry--we're doing much better these days.

Photograph: Live Librarians at tea, former Brownsville Children's Library (now Stone Avenue Branch)  ca. 1915


3/30/2009 1:29:51 PM #

This is indeed worthy of Lemony Snicket: The Lugubrious Library! And no pensions or benefits, either. Good to know things are improved for our librarians, at least on some scores.

Brenda from Flatbush

3/30/2009 2:58:34 PM #

You are exactly right Brenda--I was groping for a literary comparison and Lemony Snicket is right on the nose.


3/31/2009 10:47:01 PM #

Lovely! I assume that this pic is at a BPL branch (?)-- I wonder if you could find that room and give us an "after" picture of what it looks like now? I know that's a horrible question, but, well, I couldn't stop myself.  1921 seems a tough (?!) year for the library.  

John Ptak

4/17/2009 4:50:03 PM #

Yes John, it's actually the Brownsville Children's branch, the first library designed specifically for children in the U.S. that we know of, now known as the Stone Avenue Branch.  A librarian named Clara Whitehill Hunt had a big hand in its design, and also started a fine collection of children's literature that we still have here in the Central Library. if I'm ever in Brownsville I'll be sure to search for that room.