In her 1970 article “My Years as a Children's Librarian,” Augusta Baker summed up what she had learned in her long career: “Library work with children has had a great past and has a still greater future. Young black men and women have an opportunity to be part of this exciting future and for the sake of their children they should be.” From her appointment as assistant children's librarian in the New York Public Library system in 1937 to her retirement in 1974, Baker pursued a career of library service to children with enthusiasm, vision, and leadership. During the 1940s, while working at the library's 135th Street branch, she spearheaded the creation of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, whose purpose, she wrote, was “to bring together books for children that give an unbiased, accurate, well rounded picture of Negro life in all parts of the world.”Born in Baltimore, Maryland, the only child of teachers Mabel and Winfort J. Braxton, Baker was instilled with a love of learning at an early age. She had a close relationship with her grandmother, a former slave who recounted folktales from her plantation days. Baker enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh at the age of sixteen. She later married a fellow student and the couple moved to Albany, New York. Baker applied for admission to the Albany State Teachers College, which was reluctant to admit her because of her color, but Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband was then governor of New York, was instrumental in advancing her application. Baker decided, however, not to pursue a teaching career, and received a bachelor's degree in library science in 1934.Like her grandmother, Baker became an artful storyteller. After sixteen years as a library assistant in the Countee Cullen branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem, in 1953 she was promoted to the position of storytelling specialist and assistant coordinator of children's services. She directed the New York Public Library system's storytelling program for eight years, teaching and lecturing on oral narration and gathering folktales from different cultures—a pursuit that culminated in the notable story collections The Talking Tree (1960) and The Golden Lynx and Other Tales (1960).From 1961 until her retirement in 1974, Baker held the position of coordinator of children's services, managing children's services in eighty-two branch libraries and ensuring that the collections reflected the diversity of their readership. In 1971 she published a bibliography entitled The Black Experience in Children's Books widely considered a benchmark guide for librarians in creating minority representation in their collections. During this period she also worked as a consultant to Sesame Street, initiated a series of radio broadcasts called The World of Children's Literature, lectured at universities across the United States, and held senior positions at the American Library Association, including chair of the Newbery/Caldecott Awards Committee.In 1974 Baker retired to Columbia, South Carolina, where she became storyteller-in-residence at the University of South Carolina. Baker died in 1998 at the age of eighty-six, five years after the American Library Association cited her for a Distinguished Services Award, its highest tribute to a member.See also Literature, African American.
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