Anne Carroll Moore & the New York Public Library
Anne Carroll Moore and her work in the New York Public Library was groundbreaking. She brought literacy and literature to children in a public library setting by introducing children’s libraries to the New York Public Library System. Born in Limerick, Maine in 1871, Anne Carroll Moore was always opinionated and ambitious. As a child, she had seven older brothers and a horse named Pocahontas. Initially, Moore wanted to be a lawyer like her father, but following the untimely death of both her parents to influenza, and the loss of her sister-in-law, she dropped out of school to care for her brother’s children.
Eventually, “ACM” as she was called behind her back, was to find schooling at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Mary Wright Plummer was in charge of the librarian program at Pratt, and she implemented a children’s room at their library. In The New Yorker article, “The Lion and The Mouse,” Jill Lepore writes, “In 1896, Anne Carroll Moore was given the task of running…the Children’s Library of the Pratt Institute” (Lepore). Moore worked at the Pratt Library for 10 years, running their children’s library and learning about children and literacy before being hired on by the New York Public Library in 1906. ACM was appointed Superintendent of the Department of Work With Children and oversaw the creation and opening of the shiny new New York Public Library in 1911. “[ACM] not only oversaw the children’s programs at all the branch libraries but also planned the Central Children’s Room. [It] became a pint-sized paradise, with its pots of pansies and pussy willows and oak tables and coveted window seats, so low to the floor that even the shortest legs didn’t dangle” (Lepore). The level of thought and care that ACM put into planning the space for the children is self-evident. There were many factors that contributed to Moore’s ascension to greatness.
The time period when Moore lived was key to her success as a librarian. When she was growing up, libraries were beginning to spread like wildfire, but most of them still didn’t let in children. “Between 1881 and 1917, Andrew Carnegie underwrote the construction of more than sixteen hundred public libraries in the United States, buildings from which children were routinely turned away, because they needed to be protected from morally corrupting books, especially novels” (Lepore). But Moore worked hard to change all that. “In each of the library’s branches, Moore abolished age restrictions. Down came the “Silence” signs, up went framed prints of the work of children’s-book illustrators” (Lepore). She created a warm and welcoming environment for the children, and sought to have them feel comfortable and wanted. Unlike before, the space was geared toward enticing children to read, not shunning them from books.
Anne Carroll Moore brought literature to children, and not just any books. She had a high standard and critical eye for new works, ensuring that the books were of good quality and engaging content. In “Moore Than Meets the Eye” published by the School Library Journal, Julie Cummins writes, “Moore’s name was associated with the standards of excellence she brought to children’s books–standards that laid the foundation for the newly emerging fields of children’s librarianship and children’s publishing” (Cummins). It was only natural that spending so much time among children’s literature that Moore would become a book critic. She had opinions and was unafraid of sharing them with the world. “From 1924 to 1930, Moore reviewed children’s books…[Moore] could be a tough critic, especially of books that violated her rules…but merely in bothering to regularly criticize children’s books Moore was ahead of everyone” (Lepore). Not only was she a critic, she was the first children’s book critic, ever. “The year 1918 also saw Moore join the staff of the Bookman, the chief American literary journal of the day. Moore wrote a regular column of criticism of children’s books, the first sustained criticism of its kind in any journal and the very first modern children’s book reviews” (Cummins). Unafraid of failure and undaunted by the times, Moore was truly a literary pioneer.
While ACM’s contributions to the literary world are unmistakably important, she also was in the right place, at the right time, and around the right people. She had inspiration coming from all directions. On the final pages of Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, Jan Pinborough lists some of her inspirations. “Anne Carroll Moore did not singlehandedly create the children’s library. A group of strong pioneering women librarians around the country also helped blaze the trail:
- 1887, Minerva Sanders creates a children’s area in a public library in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
- 1894, the Milwaukee librarian Lutie Stearns gave a speech calling for children of all ages to be allowed in libraries.
- 1896, Pratt Institute, Mary Wright Plummer opened the first library room designed specifically for children and gave Miss Moore free rein to implement her ideas, including the first version of the famous library pledge.
- 1904, Caroline M. Hewins, who had campaigned for free libraries, opened a children’s library room in Hartford, Connecticut.
- 1914, the Brooklyn librarian Clara Hunt designed a branch library just for children” (Pinborough).
It is clear that without Mary Wright Plummer’s mentorship, that Anne Carroll Moore would never have achieved the level of success that she did. Plummer took ACM under her wing, and the ten years of experience working in the children’s room was vital to her securing her position at the New York Public Library.
Opening up libraries to children was something new and innovative in the early 1900s, but Anne Carroll Moore took that idea several steps farther. “Much of what Moore did in [the children’s] room had never been done before, or half as well. She brought in storytellers and, in her first year, organized two hundred story hours (and ten times as many two years later). She compiled a list of twenty-five hundred standard titles in children’s literature. She won the right to grant borrowing privileges to children; by 1913, children’s books accounted for a third of all the volumes borrowed from New York’s branch libraries” (Lepore). The sheer amount of work undertaken by one person shows how dedicated and intelligent Moore was. She was always thinking of the children, first and foremost. “Miss Moore organized reading clubs and invited musicians, storytellers, and famous authors like Dr. Seuss to entertain the children” (Pinborough). The personal relationships that Anne Carroll Moore developed during her career as a librarian benefited the children of New York most of all. She wrote long letters to authors, illustrators, publishers, and when these people came through the city, they would inevitably stop by the library.
Not only did she create a space truly for children, that fit their sizes and tastes and interests, the way she appealed to them was unique, and the people she chose to serve them were, as well. “In 1924, [Moore] hired the African-American writer Nella Larsen to head the Children’s Room in Harlem” (Lepore). ACM also hired Pure Belpre, who was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. “Three writers whose books stemmed from their storytelling experiences as librarians at the New York Public Library during Moore’s time are Mary Gould Davis, Anna Cogswell Tyler, and Pura Belpre…[who] was also the first to record stories from her native land and was a pioneer in preserving its folklore” (Cummins). These tales of diversity do a lot to support the idea of Anne Carroll Moore being a forward-thinking and inclusive person. At a time when others were looking at race and ethnicity to divide, “[Moore] celebrated the holidays of immigrants (reading Irish poetry aloud, for instance, on St. Patrick’s Day) and stocked the shelves with books in French, German, Russian, and Swedish” (Lepore). Her focus was always on the children and their needs, what would make them more comfortable. “Often, Miss Moore would reach into her handbag and pull out a wooden doll named Nicholas Knickerbocker. Children who were just learning English felt less shy about talking when Nicholas was around” (Pinborough). The way she reached out to bring literacy to all children is something to be admired.
One important thing that the children gleaned from their library visits was a sense of responsibility and accountability. In addition to a ledger where children signed their name to check out books, Anne Carroll Moore also had them recite a pledge. “When I write my name in this book I promise to take good care of the books I use in the Library and at home, and to obey the rules of the Library” (Lepore). There were a lot of very poor families in New York in the early 1900s, and having the books to read and learn and grow from must have been an amazing new experience to many.
Perhaps ACM’s most famous innovation, among librarians, was her creation of the Four Respects. “First was respect for children. They were to be treated as individuals, not talked down to, and all their requests for books were to be considered seriously. Second was respect for children’s books themselves. They were to be well written, factually accurate, and sincere; and they were not to mix fantasy with reality. Third was respect for fellow workers. The children’s services staff was not to be considered as a separate (and lesser) entity, but rather as a vital part of the larger library. Cooperation among the departments was the key to success. Fourth was respect for the professional standing of children’s librarians. Their training and expertise in children’s books and reading merited recognition as a professional specialty” (Cummins). Moore recognized that everyone working together on equal footing, with the children on equal footing as well, would lead to a sustainable environment of learning.
In 1918, an enduring endeavor was undertaken. Anne Carroll Moore collaborated with Franklin K. Mathiews from the Boy Scouts of America and Frederic Melcher, editor of Publishers Weekly, in Room 105, a famous meeting place within the New York Public Library. “As a result of the three Ms’ collaboration, Children’s Book Week was founded as an annual event in praise of books and reading” (Cummins). Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country, according to the Children’s Book Council. Now over a hundred years old, it is impossible to quantify how much impact this book week has had on the youth of America.
In Anne Carroll Moore: A Biography, by Frances Clarke Sayers (who was Moore’s successor at the New York Public Library) Sayers says “There was no wavering. Once [Moore] had arrived at an opinion or fixed her goals of accomplishment, nothing could shake the strength of her belief in her own infallibility” (Sayers, 120). This was to come back to haunt her. Moore’s influence grew and grew throughout her 35-year career as a librarian and children’s book critic, until she tried to interfere with Stuart Little. “The end of Moore’s influence came when…she tried to block the publication of a book by E. B. White. Watching Moore stand in the way of “Stuart Little,” White’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom, remembered, was like watching a horse fall down, its spindly legs crumpling beneath its great weight” (Lepore). But what happened?
E.B White and Moore were friends and pen-pals; she had been encouraging him to write a children’s book via letters for years. In fact, “Moore had come to think of recruiting E. B. White to the world of juvenilia as her final triumph…”Stuart Little” was to be Anne Carroll Moore’s lasting legacy to children’s literature. In her mind, it was her book” (Lepore). This controlling aspect of her personality showed up in other areas of her life once she retired, as well. “[ACM] still showed up for meetings at the New York Public Library; she still ran those meetings, dismaying her successor, Frances Clarke Sayers, who tried switching meeting places, to no avail: “No matter where you held them, she was there.” (In an oral history conducted at U.C.L.A. in the nineteen-seventies, Sayers admitted that she found it all but impossible to stand up to Moore, who made her life “an absolute hell” by refusing to cede control: “She hung on to everything.”)” (Lepore). In America, working is akin to identity for many people. Perhaps the idea of giving up her career was too much for Anne Carroll Moore, and she simply could not let go.
Or perhaps, she was always overbearing. “A certain amount of anxiety was entailed in working under ACM” (Sayers, 128). It is embarrassing, that “To the Whites she sent a fourteen-page letter, predicting that the book would fail and that it would prove an embarrassment, and begging the author to reconsider its publication” (Lepore). Not only did Moore discourage E.B. White from publishing Stuart Little, once it was written, she completely blackballed it. “The real blow came when Frances Clarke Sayers, presumably acting on Moore’s orders, refused to buy “Stuart Little” for the library, sending a signal to children’s librarians across the country: “Not recommended for purchase by expert” (Lepore). Having Sayers refuse to purchase or recommend the book was a horrible blow, but ACM went even farther. “Moore, in her rage, fallen but still kicking, seems to have used her influence to shut “Stuart Little” out of the Newbery Medal, a prize awarded by a panel of librarians, including, that year, Frances Clarke Sayers” (Lepore). Of course, many millions of people have read Stuart Little, so how did that come to be? Teachers saved the book, and of course, their young students. “Anne Carroll Moore tried very hard to ensure that schools would ban “Stuart Little.” Some did. But some schoolteachers decided, instead, to teach the book” (Lepore). After several letter-writing campaigns, many teachers began teaching E.B. White’s mouse novel, and over time, it’s popularity outgrew any dissent.
Anne Carroll Moore was at her best when she was encouraging children to read, and writers to write for them. The effect she had on her staff was amazing. Many of them went on to become “children’s book editors, authors, and illustrators” (Cummins). This mentorship of her staff was perhaps her best quality. Eventually, all careers must start to wind down. “When Miss Moore turned seventy years old, it was time for her to retire. Some people thought she should sit quietly at home. But Miss Moore thought otherwise. Her friends at the library gave her a set of luggage-with a small green suitcase for Nicholas- and she traveled across the country, teaching more people how to make good libraries for children” (Pinborough). ACM was a tireless warrior, fiercely bringing literacy to children around the country. “Her dedication to literary excellence and the legacy she left behind as the creator of children’s services at the library are unlikely to be surpassed” (Cummins). Anne Carroll Moore’s unique position of power within the literary community was legendary. Whatever else can be said of her, Anne Carroll Moore was a champion of literacy and that is her greatest legacy.
Cummins, Julie. “Moore Than Meets the Eye.” School Library Journal, vol. 45, no. 7, July 1999, p. 27. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.palomar.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lxh&AN=2082058&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Lepore, Jill. “The Lion and the Mouse.” New Yorker, vol. 84, no. 21, 21 July 2008, pp. 66-73. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.palomar.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lxh&AN=33250720&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Pinborough, Jan. Miss Moore Thought Otherwise. Houghton Mifflin, 2013.
Sayers, Frances Clark. Anne Carroll Moore: A Biography. Scribner, 1972.