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Augusta Baker Papers

"Everyone who works with children and books will be forever in your debt," wired a group of colleagues and admirers to Baltimore native Augusta Baker (b. 1911), 5 February 1974, on the occasion of her retirement from the New York Public Library. For thirty-seven years she had served there sequentially as children's librarian in the Countee Cullen Branch, as assistant coordinator of children's services and supervisor of storytelling, and finally as coordinator of children's services. Since 1980 she has made her home in South Carolina, extending a lifelong commitment to children and books through her position as Storyteller-in-Residence at the University of South Carolina. This post was created especially for her by the university, whose College of Library and Information Science she became interested in through her friendship with the late Dean Emeritus Wayne Yenawine. Here her object has been to teach students, librarians, and educators "how to make reading more exciting for children" (Columbia Record, 20 November 1980).

One and one-half linear feet of manuscripts reveal the life and work of "America's First Lady of Traditional Storytelling" and demonstrate her pioneering efforts, among others, to identify and promote African-American works which did not portray the Negro in stereotypical terms. "When I started I couldn't find books that did not portray the Negro as a servant. They were always shown as racial stereotypes" (Negroes of Achievement in Modern America, 1970). She became determined "to find books and urge publishers to print stories which would strengthen the Negro child's pride in his race and, in turn, show the Caucasian child his Negro counterpart also has a background." She was further committed to finding ways of attracting all children into libraries and introducing them to the world of books. "My primary concern," she told the Columbia Record interviewer in 1980, "is the fact that libraries need to do strong, solid work with children. I think this is of equal importance to the work of providing information to adults, because when you get little children excited about books, you are building within them a lifelong habit of using the library."

Revealed here is the fact of her having won many honors and awards through the years, including the first Dutton-McCrae Award, presented in 1953 "for advanced study in the field of library work with children," and in 1966 a Parents' Magazine medal "for her contributions to the education of children--at school, at home, and in the community." In 1968 she received a Grolier Award from the American Library Association, given to a librarian in a community or school "who has made an unusual contribution to the stimulation and guidance of reading by children and young people."

While well known as a librarian, Mrs. Baker thus also became a writer and editor of numerous works for children and for adults interested in children's literature. The collection contains samples of her published writings. These include separate items, such as her bibliographies of African-American children's literature, as well as tearsheets and offprints of articles and book reviews she contributed between 1943 and 1977 to such periodicals as American Unity, Horn Book, Junior Libraries, Library Journal, Saturday Review of Literature, School Library Quarterly, and Wilson Library Bulletin.

Photographs, programs, and various printed items of all kinds attest to her national and international travels as a consultant, lecturer, and storyteller instructor at various conferences, workshops, and celebrations. These took her to Trinidad (1955), Australia (1973), Canada (1974), and Greece (1976), in addition to numerous American sites.

A few years ago Augusta Baker remarked about herself--"If people will remember me for my contribution to children and children's literature, as well as storytelling, I will be happy" (Portfolio, Summer 1987).

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