- The New Woman as Librarian: The Career of Adelaide Hasse
In December 1999 American Libraries published a list of important library leaders of the twentieth century. Edwin Anderson, longtime director of the New York Public Library, did not make the cut.
Somewhere, Adelaide Hasse must have been smiling.
I never knew of Hasse until I read this book. In fact, the text for my class in government documents, the 1996 edition of Morehead's Introduction to United States Government Information Sources, does not mention her. Yet Hasse deservesto be known by all library historians as well as Progressive Era and women's history scholars. Recognized as a minor deity among government documents librarians,Adelaide Rosalia Hasse (1868–1953) gathered publications from the bowels of federal agencies in the 1890s, brought them to the newly established Government Printing Office, and compiled finding aids for them. Importantly, she deviseda classification scheme that William Leander Post credited as the foundationof his SuDoc system. Hasse is also notable for making more accessible (and thus drawing attention to) the range of publications produced by state and localgovernments.
"Addie" Hasse's career began in 1889, when she was hired as an assistant to Tessa Kelso and helped open the Los Angeles Public Library. Hasse quickly became an authority in the region, operating a training school out of LAPL and establishing [End Page 334] libraries in Santa Monica and other communities. Her interest in government documents led her to Washington, D.C., then to New York, then back to the nation's capital. Over the course of a half-century she used her talents in "social bibliography" to support the efforts of Ida Tarbell, Louis Brandeis, Bernard Baruch, and other reformers. Hasse's work, along with her copious writings (many critical of the profession), earned her a spot as one of American Libraries' most important leaders.
In The New Woman as Librarian Clare Beck expands on a chapter she wrote for Reclaiming the American Library Past (ed. Suzanne Hildebrand [Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1996]), chronicling Hasse's many achievements and frustrations. Although she focuses on Hasse's professional life, Beck includes personal events when they shed light on Hasse's character. For instance, one can foresee Hasse's strength and independence as a librarian when reading about her as the "Champion Fast Lady Bicycle Rider" (13) of Los Angeles. Indeed, Hasse flouted many social conventions of her time, choosing to adopt a son though she was unmarried, being unapologetically pro-German during World War I, and having a live-in relationship with a union activist.
Interestingly, Adelaide Hasse was a New Woman while part of the first missionary wave of women librarians. Ironically, as they aged, Hasse and other women without college degrees were supplanted by men like Keyes Metcalf and Charles Williamson, who replaced women as directors of library schools and heads of municipal library departments. Hasse was undeterred and sometimes belligerent in countering male colleagues, who believed she was "ineffectual" when she was "friendly and kindly and diplomatic." But despite her fire, obvious talent, and twenty years of service she was removed from her job for the "good of the service" (254, 338). This contradiction illustrates a problematic fact: libraries can be quite reactionary while the rest of the world seems to be advancing.
The story of Hasse's productive and turbulent years in New York form the bulk of Beck's text. During twenty years at the Astor Library and NYPL Hasse built a government documents collection that became a model for others. Yet she clashed with coworkers over matters great and small, down to placing "dummies" in the stacks when volumes were taken for in-house use. Though some of her problems were due to "the club of men whose status depended on keeping women in their subordinate place," Beck rightly points out that discord is part and parcel of working in large libraries, even today:
[T]here was the conflict between the catalogers and the reference librarians and...