Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Josephus Larned, Pioneer Buffalo Librarian
The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library has a rich history that involved a number of outstanding librarians. I have written previously about Walter Lewis Brown and Theresa West Elmendorf. Today is the 175th anniversary of the birth of Josephus Nelson Larned (1836-1913) who laid the foundation for this great American public library. In 1877 after working for a number of years as a journalist in Buffalo, Larned was appointed as Superintendent of the Young Men's Association of the City of Buffalo which had established a subscription library in 1836 (also 175 years ago). One of his first tasks was to investigate and adopt a system for classifying the library's collection. He decided on the new system developed by Melvil Dewey, and in 1877-78 the library's collection of 30,000 volumes were classified under this system. In 1886 the library's name was changed to "The Buffalo Library", although it still remained a subscription library. In 1883 Larned issued free tickets (library cards) to 50 school children as an experiment. This proved so successful that a thousand free tickets were being distributed to children by 1895. Under Larned's leadership the library moved into a new building in 1887. In 1896, Larned made the Buffalo Library an open stack library, an unusual occurrence in libraries at that time. Larned worked to make the library a free public library, and in 1897 that was accomplished. Shortly after that, he resigned, completing a 20 year tenure as librarian. Larned was active in both the New York Library Association and the American Library Association. He served as president of ALA in 1893-94. The primary source of the information in this post is Elizabeth W. Smith's entry for Larned in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978). The two Buffalo library envelopes shown above are from my collection. The first was mailed in 1885 and the second in 1887 during which period the library's name was changed.