NYPL’s Augusta Braxton Baker: Fighting Stereotypes and Developing Diverse Collections

By Stephanie Anderson, Assistant Director
March 1, 2021

In honor of Women's History Month, the Library is taking a look back at some of the remarkable women who changed The New York Public Library—and the field of librarianship—forever with our new series, Foreword: Women Who Built NYPL. Each week this March, we will be sharing reflections from our current staff on how the impact of these trailblazing figures from the Library's 125-year history are still felt today. 

A Black woman, librarian Augusta Braxton Baker, shows a young Black girl a book titled Janie Bell, while both stand in front of bookshelves.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library.

About Augusta Braxton Baker

Baker began her career at The New York Public Library’s 135th Street Branch (now NYPL's Countee Cullen branch) in 1937 when she was hired as a children's librarian. There, Baker began and led the effort to collect children's literature that positively portrayed people of color (a practice the Library continues, as with the Schomburg Center’s Black Liberation List for Young Readers). Baker went beyond just collecting diverse books—she actively encouraged writers and publishers to create books depicting people of color and diverse communities in a favorable light. In 1953, Baker was appointed Assistant Coordinator for Children’s Services, making her the first African American librarian in an administrative position at The New York Public Library (she was later promoted to Coordinator of Children's Services).

Augusta Braxton Baker’s Legacy 

Reflections by Stephanie Anderson, Assistant Director, Selection; Libbhy Romero, World Languages Coordinator; and Yolande Shelton, Electronic Resources Coordinator

Augusta Braxton Baker’s impact is still felt today, 82 years after she started the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection at our Countee Cullen branch in Harlem (then called the 135th Street Branch). This collection, which sought to portray a diversity of Black children’s experiences beyond the racist stereotypes present in many books of the time, was a catalyst in public library collection development. The collection, and later her bibliographies of the titles on its shelves, pushed publishers to improve their offerings and encouraged the creation of books with better representations of Black life. Here are some selections from the bibliographies. 

Baker was also an author herself, the first Black woman to serve as NYPL’s Coordinator of Children’s Services, and even consulted on Sesame Street—so generations of New Yorkers have benefited from her work! In our department, we still strive to meet Baker’s ideal of a collection that represents and reflects all of the children we serve, mindful each day of the impact our choices have beyond the walls of the Library. 

This is part of the Foreword: Women Who Built NYPL series.  Find out  how the Library is celebrating Women's History Month with recommended reading, events and programs, and more.