A True Politician

Rebecca Browning Rankin, Municipal Reference Librarian of the City of New York, 1920–1952

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About the Book

Rebecca Browning Rankin was a politician in the best sense of the word. She supervised the New York Municipal Reference Library for 32 years until her retirement in 1952. Serving in many key policy-making positions, both on mayoral committees and in professional organizations, Rankin was an excellent lobbyist for the role of information in educating the electorate. She published over fifty articles and books on aspects of city government and libraries, and delivered weekly radio speeches on WNYC from 1928 to 1938.
Her career as a librarian, author and radio commentator demonstrates the use of research in the formation of public policy decisions and provides a unique perspective on politics in New York. Rankin also served as president of several library organizations including the Special Libraries Association, which she led to national status during her tenure. During the Depression, she established the Association’s employment service and worked with Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and other library officials to provide pensions for public librarians in New York City. Rankin and La Guardia shared the belief that government should carry out the will of the people and care for their needs, and the two worked together to make this a reality.
Quotations from primary sources in the archives of the New York Public Library and the City of New York give the book a strong narrative style. Focusing on Rankin’s efforts to document New York City’s past as its unofficial historian, the book examines the city’s political history during the first half of the twentieth century and illuminates the relationship of the local government with one of its great cultural institutions, the New York Public Library.

About the Author(s)

Barry W. Seaver is a librarian at the Durham County (North Carolina) Public Library. He is the editor of Civic Duty: The Newsletter of the North Carolina Civic Education Consortium.

Bibliographic Details

Barry W. Seaver
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 224
Bibliographic Info: photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2004
pISBN: 978-0-7864-1634-9
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8158-3
Imprint: McFarland

Book Reviews & Awards

“Seaver recounts the truly fascinating professional life of Rebecca Browning Rankin…highly recommended”—Library Journal; “recommended”—The Australian Library Journal; “meticulously documented”—Libraries & Culture; “In his edifying book, Barry Seaver not only calls attention to a special kind of public intellectual, but also illuminates the history of New York City at a time of dramatic political change.”—William E. Leuchtenburg, William Rand Kenan Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Barry Seaver’s careful research brings to life the career of a librarian, politician, and prolific author. His book will be must reading for historians, librarians, political scientists, and politicians interested in drawing on this crucial period of American city government.”—Roger W. Lotchin, Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.