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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

Gone But Not Forgotten
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books.. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.

Augusta Braxton Baker

Great Women in Library History
Augusta Braxton Baker, 1911-1998

Augusta Baker is one of those names that should be spelled out in dazzling lights in every single children's room in every single library in the United States. Storyteller, author, compiler, activist, and children's librarian, her influence on programming and collection development policies in public libraries cannot be underestimated. The stories in her collections (The Talking Tree, The Golden Lynx, etc.) are fine examples of "the tellable tale" and her book on storytelling (Storytelling: Art and Technique, with Ellin Greene) is arguably the most influential book on storytelling in libraries ever published.

In 1937 Augusta Baker was hired by Anne Carroll Moore, formidable supervisor of youth services for the New York Public Library, as a children's librarian at what was then the 135th Street Harlem Branch (now the Countee Cullen Regional Branch) of the New York Public Library. In 1939 she began assembling a special collection of titles that would fairly represent African-American culture and give children of all races a realistic picture of African-American life. This collection was ultimately christened The James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection. She published the first edition of her ground-breaking bibliography, Books about Negro Life for Children, in 1946. (A number of revised editions followed, and in 1971 the bibliography was updated, and the title changed to The Black Experience in Children's Books.)

In 1953 Baker was appointed storytelling specialist and assistant coordinator of children's services of The New York Public Library. She was the first African-American librarian to have an administrative position in the that system. Her love of traditional folktales and her desire to promote them among both children and other storytellers spurred Baker to compile four collections of stories: The Talking Tree (1955); The Golden Lynx (1960); Young Years: Best Loved Stories and Poems for Little Children (1960); and Once Upon a Time (1964). Two of these titles-The Talking Tree and The Golden Lynx-are recognized by library professionals as classic world folktale collections.

In 1961 Augusta Baker became the first African-American coordinator of children's services for the NYPL, a position that put her in charge of programming for youth and policies governing that programming in all eighty-two branches of the New York Public Library. Baker seized the opportunity to improve the quality of the library's collections for youth, emphasizing culturally inclusive books and audio-visual materials. Her growing influence did not stop at the library walls, but spread to schools, community groups, and professional organizations. Baker participated in high profile professional activities, serving the American Library Association's Children's Services Division in various capacities, including president of ALSC and chair of what was then the combined Newbery/Caldecott Awards Committee. Throughout a productive and respected career, the indefatigable Augusta Baker told stories, influenced public library policy, and altered the course of American publishing for children.

In 1974, Augusta Baker retired as Children's Coordinator of the New York Public Library; in 1977, with co-author Ellin Greene, Baker published Storytelling: Art and Technique (currently in its third edition); in 1980 Baker was named Storyteller-in-Residence at the University of South Carolinai; in 1986 The University of South Carolina College of Library and Information Science and the Richland County Public Library established the annual A(ugusta) Baker's Dozen: A Celebration of Stories in her honor. After Augusta Baker's death in 1998, her son James Henry Baker III donated her papers to the University of South Carolina. The Augusta Baker Collection of African-American Children's Literature and Folklore is located at the University of South Carolina's Thomas Cooper Library. The Baker Collection contains over 1600 children's books (many inscribed), together with papers and illustrated material that provide an in-depth, microcosmic look at the history of children's literature and librarianship in the United States.

--Janice M. Del Negor, Editor


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This page was last updated on October 1, 2000.