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Herbert Putnam

Herbert Putnam
Herbert Putnam
Born George Herbert Putnam
(1861-09-20)20 September 1861
New York City, USA
Died August 14, 1955(1955-08-14) (aged 93)
Alma mater Harvard University
Columbia University
Organization American Library Association
Title Librarian of Congress
Spouse(s) Charlotte Elizabeth Munroe
Children Shirley Putnam, Brenda Putnam
Awards Knight of the Royal Order of the Polar Star, Roosevelt Distinguished Medal

George Herbert Putnam (20 September 1861 – 14 August 1955)[1] was an American librarian. He was the eighth (and also the longest-serving) Librarian of Congress from 1899 to 1939.[2] He implemented his vision of a universal collection with strengths in every language, especially from Europe and Latin America.[3]


  • Biography 1
  • Early career 2
  • Library of Congress 3
    • Induction 3.1
    • The systemization of a public institution 3.2
    • War-time service 3.3
  • Retirement 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


George Herbert Putnam was born in

External links

  • Bronze Gallery. (1998–2010, January 1). Brenda Putnam. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from Bronze Gallery: 19th and 20th Century Bronze:
  • Knowlton, J. D. (Ed.). (2005). Herbert Putnam: A 1903 Trip to Europe. Lanham, Maryland, USA: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
  • Lewis, H. L. (1939). A Tribute to Dr. Herbert Putnam. Washington: United States Government.
  • Rosenberg, Jane Aiken. (1993) The Nation's Great Library: Herbert Putnam and the Library of Congress, 1899–1939 (University of Illinois Press, 1993), the major scholarly biography


  1. ^ "(George) Herbert Putnam." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977. Biography In Context. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.
  2. ^ Jane Rosenberg, The Nation's Great Library: Herbert Putnam and the Library of Congress, 1899–1939 (1993)
  3. ^ John Young Cole, "The library of congress becomes a world library, 1815-2005." Libraries & culture (2005) 40#3: 385-398. in Project MUSE
  4. ^ Lewis, 1939, p. 3
  5. ^ a b Lewis, 1939, p. 4
  6. ^ a b c d e f Rosenberg, 1993, p. 25
  7. ^ a b c d Previous Librarians of Congress, 2008
  8. ^ Bronze Gallery, 1998 - 2010
  9. ^ Rosenberg, 1993, pp. 25, 26
  10. ^ Knowlton, 2005, p. xx
  11. ^ a b c Lewis, 1939, p. 5
  12. ^ Rosenberg, 1993, p. 28
  13. ^ Rosenberg, 1993, p. 29
  14. ^ Lewis, 1939, pp. 7,8
  15. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter P". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  16. ^ Rosenberg, 1993, p. 85
  17. ^ Rosenberg, 1993, p. 86
  18. ^ Rosenberg, 1993, p. 87
  19. ^ Rosenberg, 1993, p. 90
  20. ^ a b Rosenberg, 1993, p. 153


Herbert Putnam was succeeded in 1939 by Archibald MacLeish, who served from 1939 until 1944.

Herbert Putnam’s administration as Librarian of Congress lasted for forty years, from 1899 until 1939. It was clear Putnam was not willing to withdraw completely from the world of librarianship, stating “I would willingly surrender the administration, if that course would serve the interest of the library and I could feel assured as to my successor.” [20] Putnam provided the suggestion of “Librarian Emeritus” be developed as his new official title, with an honorarium of one-half of his original salary.[20] On October 1, 1939, Putnam retired as the 8th Librarian of Congress with that title, and he “continued to contribute to the Library, keeping regular office hours for the next 15 years.” [7]


Initially, Putnam was not interested in the wholesale distribution of books to American troops simply due to the lack of interest. However, when attention arose that the British War Library Service in London were performing similar duties to their troops, measures were quickly devised by Putnam, the ALA, and Congress to enact such a program to the American military branches.[17] “Aided by a grant of $320,000 from the Carnegie Corporation, the War Service built thirty-six libraries, completing the majority by February 1918. But with so much invested in buildings, little money remained for books or administration…Putnam took the matter up directly with the War Department and obtained assurances that the government would provide utilities. He appealed to ALA members to donate books and volunteer for service, and by June 1918 the association had purchased 300,000 books, sent 1,349,000 gift books to camps, and distributed 500,000 magazines.” [18] In the time after World War I, the services of the Library of Congress towards the war effort provided a new outlook for the American public on the possibilities of what a successful library could accomplish. In other words, the contributions made by the Library of Congress in that time gave “librarians ‘a new conception of what a truly national library could be' and added one more item ‘to the long list of benefits for which American libraries have to thank the Library and the Librarian, of Congress.” [19]

In July 1916, “former LC staff member Elizabeth West, director of the Carnegie Library of San Antonio, Texas, suggested to Putnam that the Library of Congress cooperate with other libraries to send books to American soldiers.” [16]

War-time service

Putnam's former house in Washington, D.C.
[15] in 1902.American Academy of Arts and Sciences system, and expanded the Library of Congress's role and relationships with other libraries, through the provision of centralized services. He was elected an Associate Fellow of the interlibrary loan. He also established an Library of Congress classificationPutnam during this time also introduced a new system of classifying books that continues to this day, known as the

[14] Putnam’s request was granted by the

Upon the confirmation of Putnam to his appointed duty of Librarian of Congress, one daunting task Putnam faced from the onset was the sheer volume of materials that had to be reorganized for the newly opened Thomas Jefferson Building – the newly appointed library for the Library of Congress. However, Putnam was well aware of what needed to be done. “In October 1899 Putnam requested a $190,000 increase in the budget for fiscal 1901. If Congress consented, the 1899 LC budget would nearly double and that for 1900 would be increased by 60 percent. Declaring that the collections were deficient in many respects, [Putnam] asked for $50,000 to purchase new material, more than twice the 1899 appropriation.[12] In summation, the first task of Putnam's administration was to organize all materials of the Library of Congress so they may be used efficiently by the public.

The systemization of a public institution

Putnam’s activities with the American Library Association led him to join with Justin Winsor and Melvil Dewey as official delegates to the International Conference of Librarians in London in 1897 [6] When Winsor died shortly thereafter, Putnam served the remainder of his term as President of the ALA.[6] When John Russell Young died in January 1899, President William McKinley asked requested Congress to appoint Putnam. He was officially confirmed December 12, 1899.[7]


Library of Congress

In 1891, Putnam resigned his Minneapolis post due to his mother-in-law’s ill health, and promptly returned to Boston to be near her. Putnam “was admitted to the Suffolk bar, and practiced law in Boston until the 18th of February 1895” [11] when he was appointed Librarian of the Boston Public Library. During his tenure at the Boston Public Library “there were 9 branches and 12 delivery stations. At the end of his four years there were 10 branches, 5 minor branches, called ‘reading rooms,’ and 56 deposit stations…the library grew from a total of 610,375 volumes at the close of 1894 to 716,050 at the close of 1898.” [11] Another contribution made by Putnam towards the Boston Public Library was the addition of a room devoted to juveniles, “believed to have been the first room wholly devoted to the service of children in any of the larger libraries of the country.” [11]

After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1883, Putnam spent the following year at Columbia University Law School.[6] Eventually, however, his interest in administrative work led him to the Minneapolis Athenaeum where he served as librarian in 1887, until it merged into the Minneapolis Public Library in 1888.[6] Putnam was elected city librarian of the Minneapolis Public Library at that time and served while simultaneously being admitted to the Minnesota bar of Law.[6] According to the Honorable Lawrence Lewis of Colorado at a Tribute for Putnam in 1939, Putnam at this time “modernized antiquated methods, revised the charging records of books on loan, inaugurated a new system of cataloging and classification, opened the alcoves to readers, [and] insisted that ‘there are two great problems of library management – one to get the books for the readers, the other to get the readers to the books.’” [5]

Early career

He died at his home in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on August 14, 1955.[7]

In 1886, Herbert Putnam married Charlotte Elizabeth Munroe of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and together they had two daughters, Shirley and Brenda Putnam.[7] Brenda Putnam grew up to become a celebrated sculptor in the early 20th century, highly known for her “children, cherubs, and garden ornaments.” [8] Throughout Herbert Putnam’s career, he was described by his colleagues as maintaining “an impenetrable dignity…formal manner, invariable gracious and cordial, covered shyness and a deep reserve. He had few intimates, even among his closest colleagues, but he was fond of good company and good conversation” [9] as well being “painfully modest, a family man who had an unreciprocated view of his staff as family.” [10]

[6].G. P. Putnam's Sons known previously as the Putnam Publishing house, but now known as [5]

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