The most recent addition to Thomas Cooper Library's growing strength in Children's Literature is the Augusta Baker Collection of African-American Children's Literature and Folklore.
Generously donated by Dr. Baker's son, James H. Baker III of Columbia, with the support of other family members, the Baker Collection brings to the library over 1600 children's books, together with papers and illustrative material reflecting her pivotal role in the field of children's librarianship. Because most of the books are in fine condition, and many bear inscriptions from the authors or illustrators, the Baker Collection brings to the library a unique educational and research resource.
Following its transfer in summer 1997, the collection has been fully catalogued by Jamie S. Hansen, with the assistance of Mary Anyomi. Jamie Hansen also curated the mezzanine exhibition introducing highlights from the collection.
For additional information about Augusta Baker and an oral history interview, link towww.libsci.sc.edu/histories/oralhistory/bakerpage.htm.
Augusta Baker, 1911-1998
Augusta Baker's extraordinary career spanned more than fifty years as storyteller, librarian, and authority on children's literature. Born in 1911 in Baltimore, she was the only child of parents who were both educators. To them and to her storytelling grandmother she attributed her lifelong love of books. Baker attended the University of Pittsburgh and graduated from Albany (New York) State Teacher's College with a degree in Library Science in 1934.
Dr. Baker's first professional position was with the New York Public Library's 135th Street Branch in Harlem in 1937. Although she was initially reluctant to take a full-time job, she was persuaded by Anne Carroll Moore to help in the children's department until a permanent replacement could be located.
Augusta Baker remained with the new York Public Library for thirty-seven years. For the first seventeen year of her career, she stayed at the 135th Street Branch, perfecting her storytelling skills. While at the Harlem Branch, Baker founded the James Weldon John Memorial Collection of children's books, a collection of books accurately portraying black children.
From 1954 to 1961, Baker served as Assistant Coordinator and Storytelling Specialist for the entire New York Public Library System, and in 1961 she became Coordinator of Children's Services for the New York Public Library. She would remain in this position until her retirement in 1974.
As Coordinator of Children's Services, Baker used her position to promote childen's literature through radio, television, lectures, and workshops. She served as a consultant to "Sesame Street" and as an advisor to Weston Woods Media. she met and influenced uncounted numbers of children's authors and illustrators, including Ezra Jack Keats, Maurice Sendak, John Steptoe, Lee Bennet Hopkins, and Madeleine L'Engle. Baker served the American Library Association and the ALA Children's Services Division in various capacities including as chair of the Newbery/Caldecott Awards Committee.
In 1980 Baker was offered a position as Storyteller-in-Residence at the University of South Carolina, the first such position at any university. The College of Library and Information Science, in conjunction with the Richland County Public Library, established the annual Augusta Baker's Dozen Storytelling Festival in her honor.
Among Baker's many honors were two honorary doctorates, the Grollier Foundation Award, the Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association, and the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award from the Women's National Book Association. She retired from her USC position in 1994 and died 23 February 1998.
The Augusta Baker Collection reflects the interests and concerns of one deeply involved in children's literature and librarianship. Included in this group of titles from her personal and working library are significant twentieth-century children's authors and illustrators, such as Madeleine L'Engle, Uri Shulevitz, Lee Bennett Hopkins, James Haskins and Hardie Gramatky. Many books are presentation copies. The collection also contains important works by authors like Virginia Hamilton and Tom Feelings, emphasizing the African-American experience in twentieth-century children's literature, and numerous anthologies of folktales and stories from many cultures, used by Augusta Baker during her career as a storyteller. The booklists prepared by Mrs. Baker in her work at the New York Public Library and her professional journals are also part of her collection.