This post was written by Sarah Rose, archival intern from Queens College on the Institutional Archives Project.
Since February, I have been working with the papers of former N-YHS Librarian Dorothy C. Barck. Barck was hired as an assistant in the library in 1922 by Librarian Alexander Wall and remained at N-YHS for 32 years. She became Librarian in 1942, when the expansion of the building had been completed and open to the public for three years and the staff size had more than doubled. Alexander Wall was promoted to the newly-created position of Director in 1937, and the Librarian post vacant until Barck was appointed to it, the first woman to hold this position, now called Director of the Library.
I came to N-YHS as a library science student reaching the end of my educational career and working through the Barck papers has been a particularly interesting experience as a soon-to-be “official” librarian processing the papers of a former librarian. Even though her career was different than the one I am pursuing myself, it has been fascinating to get a glimpse into her daily operations and that of the N-YHS library. One of the most striking components of Barck’s papers has been the overwhelming amount of material related to her involvement in professional organizations.
She attended the first annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists, a group I participate in myself, several decades later. Barck was a founding member of the American Association for State and Local History, and acting secretary/treasurer during its first year. As a representative of N-YHS, Barck presented on the set-up of archival displays at N-YHS for SAA in 1951 and on how reference problems were handled by the N-YHS in 1948.
Barck was also an active participant in committees, serving as both a member and chairman. She was Chairman of the Museum Group of the Special Libraries Association in 1948, and Chairman of the Librarians Section of the American Association of Museums in 1947, to name a couple of her leadership positions. As a member, she was involved in SLA’s Committee on Microfilming and Documentation in 1944-45, AASLH’s Committee to Publicize American History in 1943, and several more in these and other organizations.
Barck clearly felt that it was important to be an active participant in professional organizations and she is described as a “progressive” by Pamela Spence Richards in her book Scholars and Gentleman: The Library of the New-York Historical Society 1804-1982. In her time as Librarian Barck organized meetings of these organizations at N-YHS and attended events with her employees. She seemed to value her role in these organizations nearly as much as her work. As a student I do not have as much time as I would like to participate in professional organizations, but when I graduate this May, I hope to be able to devote more time to these pursuits.