Augusta Braxton Baker

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Augusta Braxton Baker
BornApril 1, 1911
Baltimore, Maryland
DiedFebruary 23, 1998(1998-02-23) (aged 86)
Columbia, South Carolina
 
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Augusta Braxton Baker
BornApril 1, 1911
Baltimore, Maryland
DiedFebruary 23, 1998(1998-02-23) (aged 86)
Columbia, South Carolina

Augusta Braxton Baker (April 1, 1911 – February 23, 1998)[1] was an African-American librarian and storyteller, renowned for her contributions to children’s literature.[1]

 parents worked, her grandmother, Augusta Fax (from whom she received her name) cared for and told her stories.  Baker delighted in these stories, carrying her love for them throughout her life.[2]  She learned to read before starting elementary school, later enrolling in the (racially segregated) black high school where her father taught, and graduating at the age of 16.[1]  Baker then entered the University of Pittsburgh, where she both met and married James Baker by the end of her sophomore year.[1] 

Relocating with her husband to New York, Baker sought to transfer to Albany Teacher’s College (now the State University of New York at Albany), only to be met with racial opposition from the college. It was then the wife of Franklin Roosevelt (who was then the Governor of New York), Eleanor, who was on the board of the Albany Interracial Council (now the Albany Urban League) and heavily advocated for Baker’s successful transfer. Though the college did not want to admit blacks, they also did not want to oppose the governor's wife, and Baker was admitted.[3] She completed her education there, earning a B.A. in education in 1933 and in 1934 became the first African American to graduate from the college with a B.S. in library science.[1][2]

Professional career[edit]

After graduation, Baker taught for a few years, until she was hired in 1937 as the children's librarian at the New York Public Library's 135th Street Branch (now the Countee Cullen Regional Branch) in Harlem.[1][4]

In 1939, the branch began an effort to find and collect children's literature that portrayed black people as something other than "servile buffoons," speaking in a rude dialect, and other such stereotypes. This collection, founded by Baker as the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Children's Books, led to the publication of the first of a number of bibliographies of books for and about black children. Baker furthered this project by encouraging authors, illustrators, and publishers to produce, as well as libraries to acquire, books depicting blacks in a favorable light.[5]

In 1953, she was appointed Storytelling Specialist and Assistant Coordinator of Children's Services.[4] Not long after that, she became Coordinator of Children's Services in 1961, becoming the first African-American librarian in an administrative position in the New York Public Library. In this role, she oversaw children's programs in the entire NYPL system and set policies for them.[4] During this time, Baker also figured prominently in the American Library Association's Children's Services Division (now the Association for Library Service to Children), having served as its president. Additionally, she chaired the committee that awarded the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal.[2] Furthermore, Baker influenced many children's authors and illustrators—such as Maurice Sendak, Madeleine L'Engle, Ezra Jack Keats, and John Steptoe—while in this position. She also worked as a consultant for the then newly created children's television series Sesame Street.[6]

In 1974, Baker retired from the New York Public Library.[4] However, in 1980, she returned to librarianship to assume the newly created Storyteller-in-Residence position at the University of South Carolina; this was also the first such position in any American university at the time. She remained there until her second retirement in 1994. During her time there, Baker cowrote a book entitled Storytelling: Art and Technique with colleague Ellin Green, which was published in 1987.[7]

Death and continued legacy[edit]

After a long illness, Baker died at the age of 86 on February 23, 1998. Her legacy has remained even today, particularly through the "A(ugusta) Baker’s Dozen: A Celebration of Stories" annual storytelling festival. Sponsored by the University of South Carolina College of Library and Information Science and the Richland County Public Library, this festival originated in 1987 during Baker’s time at the University, and is celebrated still to this day.[4]

Her legacy also continues through the Augusta Baker Collection of Children's Literature and Folklore at the University of South Carolina. The collection, donated by her son, James H. Baker III, contains over 1,600 children's books, including materials from her personal and working library, as well as papers, illustrations, and anthologies of folktales Baker used during her career.[5]

Awards and honors[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

From Janice M. Del Negro, former Editor of The Bulletin for Children's Books:[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Augusta Braxton Baker". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2008. Retrieved 2008-1-20. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Miller, Marilyn, ed. 2003. Pioneers and leaders in library services to youth: a biographical dictionary. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
  3. ^ a b Chepesiuk, Ronald. 1986. Special report: a master storyteller. Wilson Library Bulletin 60: 28–29.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "BCCB - Gone but not forgotten". The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science. 10-1-2008. Retrieved 2008-1-20. 
  5. ^ a b "The Augusta Baker Collection of Children's Literature and Folklore". Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of South Carolina. 2007-12-20. Retrieved 4-07-2010. 
  6. ^ "Augusta Baker: Storyteller and Advocate for African American Children's Literature". On-Lion for Kids at the New York Public Library. 1995–2008. Retrieved 4-07-2010. 
  7. ^ Hearne, Betsy and Graceanne A. DeCandido. 1988. To tell a story. Library Journal 113(8): 64
  8. ^ "ALA - Honorary Members". American Library Association. 2010. Retrieved 04-03-2010. 
  9. ^ "Catholic Library Association - Awards - Regina Medal". Catholic Library Association. 2010. Retrieved 04-03-2010.  [dead link]
  10. ^ American Libraries. 1987. Currents. American Libraries 18(4): 312.
  11. ^ "ALSC - ALSC Distinguished Service Award Past Winners". American Library Association, Association for Library Service to Children. 2010. Retrieved 04-03-2010. 

External links[edit]