Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hannah Packard James (1835-1903)

Happy 175th birthday on September 5 to early public library administrator Hannah Packard James. As noted in previous blogs I peruse the Dictionary of American Library Biography and its supplements each year to identify key birth dates for notable librarians and library supporters from the past. In doing so I am able to learn about some impressive individuals that have been previously unknown to me. Hannah James is one of those impressive individuals. In 1870, having been trained at the Boston Athenaeum, James became the first director of of the Newton, Massachusetts, Free Library. After a successful tenure at that library, she became director in 1887 of the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She continued in this position until 1902. She was active in the American Library Association and served on the ALA Council and as a vice-president. The article in the Dictionary of American Library Biography was written by Joan M. Costello and Edward G. Holley. Costello and Holley write, "James was one of the early leaders in the movement to establish strong relations between the public library and schools." They also note that James, "took obvious pride in the fact that American women were not bound by precedent and had been able to become directors not only of small, but also of some large libraries, 'commanding the same salary as men in similar positions'." James was a contemporary of Melvil Dewey and lectured in his library school at Columbia. It was Dewey who recommended her for the Wilkes-Barre position. I understand that library historian Bernadette A. Lear, the current Chair of the ALA Library History Round Table, is working on an article about James. I look forward to her perspective on this impressive librarian.

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