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Sat, 03.06.2021

Catherine Allen Latimer, Librarian born

*The birth of Catherine Allen Latimer is celebrated on this date in 1896.  She was a Black researcher and librarian.  

Catherine Bosley Allen was born in Nashville, TN, in 1896 to Minta Bosley and H. W. Allen. Although she and her family were Black, Catherine was light-skinned and listed in the 1910 and 1930 censuses as "White."  Her family moved to Brooklyn, NY, when she was a child, and she graduated from Brooklyn's Girls High School in 1916.  

She studied librarianship at Howard University, graduating in 1918, and was a fluent French speaker and could read German.  After graduating from Howard University, Latimer worked for a year (1919–1920) at Tuskegee Institute's library and then returned to Brooklyn.  In 1921, she married Benton R. Latimer, an United States Post Office accountant.  When the New York Public Library (NYPL) hired her in 1920 as a substitute librarian, she became NYPL's first Black librarian.  

She transitioned to a full-time librarian at the end of 1920 and remained at the 135th Street branch–termed "Harlem's cultural center" for 28 years.  In 1924, Latimer and Ernestine Rose (the branch's head librarian) started a drive to build a collection of reference books about black history.  She was instrumental in forming the library's Division of Negro History, Literature, and Prints, which she then headed.  A year later, the growing collection supported by community leaders such as historian Arthur Alfonso Schomburg and activists James Weldon Johnson and Hubert Harrison became the Division of Negro History, Literature, and Prints.  

The object of the new division was to "preserve the historical records of the race... [and] to give information to everyone about the Negro."  Latimer was named as its head.  In 1926, NYPL acquired Schomburg's collection of printed matter, which Latimer worked on integrating into the division.  She was not an expert in rare books, however, and a few years later, NYPL hired Schomburg himself as curator of the Schomburg Collection, with Latimer serving as his assistant.  Many authors give credit and thanks to the librarians Rose and Latimer for their work in the creation, intersectionality, and maintenance of this division.     Catherine Latimer, New York Public Library's first black librarian, died in 1948. 

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