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Guide to the New-York Historical Society Librarian Dorothy C. Barck Records
1921-1954
 NYHS-RG 19

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Sarah Rose

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on June 07, 2018
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical/Historical Note

Dorothy C. Barck was hired as an assistant in the library at the New-York Historical Society in 1922 by Librarian Alexander Wall. She did not have a background in librarianship, but a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and a master’s in American history from Cornell.

By the early 1930s, when this record group begins, Barck had responsibility as the head of reference and research and in 1936 took over from Wall as Editor. In this capacity she managed the editorial responsibilities for the publications of the library and also the Quarterly Bulletin. She edited several publications, including  Letters from John Pintard to His Daughter (1816-1833). When Charles Baker was hired as full-time Editor in 1944 Barck retained the editorial duties surrounding the  Bulletin, but only for a short time. As the head of reference and research, Barck answered many research and genealogical inquiries and managed Photostat orders (a type of early copy machine).

During the late 1930s, the N-YHS underwent major construction on its building, which was not completed until 1939. While construction was underway, some of the collection was put in storage and the library was closed to the public, but Barck continued to manage the reference inquiries as best she could. In 1937, Wall became Director, a newly-created position, and the library staff increased substantially. In the early years of Barck’s tenure, the staff was quite small, but when the building reopened it grew into several departments and staff members, including a curator of manuscripts, a chief of the reading room, map and print room staff, and several others. For a time, Wall managed the library as Director, but in 1942 Barck was named Librarian, taking over management of the day-to-day operations of the library. In this capacity, Barck was manager of the entire library, and the first woman to hold this position.

During World War II, Barck helped oversee the transport (and subsequent retrieval) of materials from N-YHS to safe locations. She was active in acquiring war-related materials for the collection and sent out several requests for current and older war posters, including recruitment posters. After the war she sent letters to several members of the government in order to ensure that the naval collection remained current.

Barck was very active in professional organizations during her time at N-YHS. She was a member of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), and others. Beyond being a member, Barck was active as a leader in these organizations. She presented at the annual SAA conference in 1951 on the presentation of archival displays at the N-YHS, the AASLH annual conference of 1948 on how reference problems were handled at the N-YHS, and was part of a panel about the magazine American Heritage at the AASLH annual meeting of 1952. Barck served as Chairman of the Museum Group of SLA, the Archives Group of SLA, the nominating committee of the AASLH, the Librarians section of the American Association of Museums, and was vice-Chairman of the New York Chapter of the Steamship Historical Society of America. Additionally, Barck was in attendance at the first annual SAA meeting and was acting-secretary/treasurer and council member when the AASLH was first established.

During Barck’s time at N-YHS, the library changed drastically. Barck was an advocate for allowing youth and college-age students to use the library, and a 1948 statistic estimated that only one in twelve users was a member. In 1940, the library began to implement the Library of Congress classification system for new acquisitions, and in 1941, the curator of manuscripts Susan Lyman published a Survey of the Manuscript Collections in the New-York Historical Society. Barck also organized the microfilming of one of the largest collections at N-YHS, the American Fur Company Papers. The finished product was 37 reels, with the cost split between several cooperating libraries.

Dorothy Barck left N-YHS in 1954 after 32 years of employment. When she left she was managing seventeen staff members, the largest staff to date. She went on to become the Historic Sites Supervisor at Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh, New York, and later the librarian and editor of the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown, New York.

(Principal sources for this note include the Dorothy C. Barck records themselves and Pamela Spence Richards’s Scholars and Gentleman: The Library of the New-York Historical Society 1804-1982.)