Important Women Librarians That Shaped The Role of Libraries

When we think of libraries today, we think of places that incubate community and comfort. The way libraries currently run has been expanded and experimented on for decades. The place and role of a library within a community has also drastically changed and morphed into what we know of it today: a place where one can connect and learn. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are three women who have greatly impacted the role of libraries, how they fit into society, and how they work.

Charlamae Hill Rollins

Charlamae Hill Rollins began working at the Chicago Public Library in 1926 at the Hardin Square Branch. She moved to the South Side in 1932 to work at George Cleveland Hall Branch, which became one of the first libraries in the area with the intent to serve the growing black population in Chicago. A storyteller at heart, Rollins paid special attention to bringing forth stories that accurately depicted African American children, devoid of stereotypes. She worked effortlessly to try to pull harmful books from the library’s collection such as the Pickaninny Twins by Lucy Perkins. Within the community, she hosted workshops for parents at the library and upheld black pride by highlighting African American contributions through books reviews and recommendations.

Mary Cutler Fairchild

Born in 1855 in Dalton, Massachusetts, Fairchild was one of the first librarians to establish the common use of the Dewey Decimal system. Melvil Dewey gave her a position as head cataloger at Columbia College. She then became a cataloguing instructor at Columbia College School of Library Economy in 1887. She then moved to Albany Library School and became the vice director to Melvil Dewey. Although Dewey was the head of the school, Fairchild was the one who administered and implemented action. Along

with her position at the school, she instituted the New York State Library for the Blind in honor of her father. Through her leadership of the library school, she made it a model for other emerging library schools across the country. She instructed students into the public library movement and shaped the curriculum of Columbia that instated entrance exams and promoted the Albany School as a graduate institution. In her last years, she served as the vice president of the American Library Associations Council. She was also in charge of the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893 for the Chicago World Fair, where a model of a library containing 5,000 books was assembled as a model for local town libraries.

Suzanne Briet

First an English teacher in Algeria in the late 1900s, Suzanne Briet moved to librarianship in 1920 after moving back to Paris. She began working at the Bibliothèque Nationale as a professional librarian, only one of three

women. In 1934 she established the Salle des Catalogues et Bibliographies and opened previously closed off bibliographies, arranged supplementary indexing, and organized a bibliographic advising assistances. She is known mostly for her 1951 publication Qu’est-ce que la documentation? This helped lay the foundation for documentation science, arguing that documentation goes beyond a text and she redefined the word “document” to mean any physical form of evidence.