Monday, September 21, 2009

Margaret Hutchins, Reference Librarian

Today is the 125th anniversary of the birth of Margaret Hutchins (1884-1961). Hutchins was one of 305 individuals selected to be included in the first edition of the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978). She was selected for inclusion because of her contribution to library reference service through practice, teaching, and writing. Her entry in the DALB was written by Frances Neel Cheney, also a noted contributor to reference service and one of those included in the Second Supplement to the DALB. Cheney quotes a statement by Phineas Windsor, Director of the University of Illinois Library, about Hutchins: "Miss Margaret Hutchins is about as good a reference librarian as I have ever known, and I have seen some good ones. She has an unusually keen mind, broad interests, a splendid knowledge of what we call reference material, is quick at catching new points of view, has good common sense, good judgment, and is herself a hard worker." Hutchins was a reference librarian at the University of Illinois Library from 1908 to 1927. After earning a degree at Columbia University in 1931 she joined the faculty of the Library School at Columbia. She wrote the classic reference text Introduction to Reference Work in 1944 (American Library Association) which has been published in several later editions. My first library job after library school was as a reference librarian and it is clear from what I have read about Margaret Hutchins that her knowledge and understanding of reference service was based on actual experience at the reference desk. It is refreshing when someone who has spent a substantial portion of her career working as a reference librarian is honored in such a prestigious publication as the DALB. A web biography of Margaret Hutchins written by library school student Jennifer Masunaga is located here.

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