Friday, April 1, 2011
Augusta Baker, Master Storyteller
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Augusta Braxston Baker (1911-1998). Baker began working at the New York Public Library (NYPL) in 1937 where she developed into one of our nation's greatest children's librarians and storytellers. Her first position was as an assistant children's librarian at the Countee Cullen Branch (at that time it was the 135th Street Branch) in Harlem. She retired from NYPL in 1974 after a 13 year stint as Coordinator of Children's Services. Among her many contributions was the raising of awareness about the detrimental nature of stereotypes in children's literature, and the need to include positive images of minority children. Baker's storytelling specialty was telling folktales from Haiti and Africa. In 1980 she became the first storyteller-in-residence at the University of South Carolina's School of Library and Information Science (SLIS). SLIS along with the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, S.C. began sponsoring an annual storytelling festival in 1987 called "A(ugusta) Baker's Dozen". SLIS has an Augusta Baker page and oral interview on its website (source of the photo above). The storytelling festival this year will occur on April 14-16 and will make special recognition of Baker's 100th birthday. Because of Baker's contributions to children's services, she was one of the library people I thought would be worthy of a United States postage stamp. The source for much of the information in this post is Julie Commins' entry for Baker in the Dictionary of American Library Biography, Second Supplement (Libraries Unlimited, 2003).