Early Library Staff : George Watson Cole

The Huntington Library opened with a staff that already had some familiarity with the contents of the collection. Huntington had moved his entire staff from their cataloging location in New York to the Los Angeles area to continue working for the library. Well-known scholars filled early positions in the library. The first Head Librarian position was filled by George Watson Cole, the first Director of Research was Max Farrand, and the first Resident Scholar position was given to Frederick Jackson Turner.

George Watson Cole

George Watson Cole

George Watson Cole “was born in Warren, Connecticut on September 6, 1850, the only son of a moderately well-to-do Yankee businessman and inventor” (Dickenson, 1990, p. 3). After attending boarding schools for a brief period, he began teaching at a rural school in Connecticut. While teaching he discovered an interest in law, and by his twenty-sixth birthday he was accepted to the Connecticut bar (Dickenson, 1990, p. 3). Discontent with his law practice he began spending time at the library in Torrington, Connecticut, where he would eventually sit on the board of directors. While working with the library, Cole helped to produce an extensive catalog of the library’s contents.

Through his work with the Torrington library, Cole became acquainted with Melvil Dewey. Dewey helped to convince Cole to give up law altogether and begin working in libraries. He recommended Cole for a few temporary cataloging positions. The first job was in Massachusetts, where he created a 700-page author, title, and subject listing of the library’s inventory, and then in New York, where is did cataloging work for the Pratt Institute. While working in New York he joined the first class of students at Dewey’s school of Library Economy at Columbia College (Dickenson, 1990, pp. 3-4). With his certificate from Dewey’s school, Cole landed a position as Director of the Jersey City, New Jersey, public library, where he also began working as the treasurer for the American Library Association. (Dickenson, 1990, p. 4).

While conducting research in New York, George Watson Cole became familiar with one of the librarians, Wilberfore Eames. Recognizing Cole’s bibliographic talent, Eames recommended him for the position of cataloger for the Elihu D. Church rare book collection. Cole was given the position and spent the next seven and one half years cataloging the collection of Americana and English literature (Dickenson, 1990, p. 7). This catalog would be the catalyst for his final cataloging job. When Henry E. Huntington purchased the Elihu D. Church collection he knew that Cole was an excellent choice for the librarian and cataloger role in his own library. In 1915 Huntington offered the job to Cole (Dickenson, 1990, p. 7). In his acceptance letter, Cole requested “$6000 a year, the assistance of one competent stenographer and typewriter, and two or three young women assistants” (Dickenson, 1990, p. 8). Cole served as Library Director for nine years before stepping down in 1924. He finished his work with The Huntington by writing a 200-page report on the development of the Huntington Library during his tenure.

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About Brandon Werts

I am a musician, a record collector, a lover of movies, and a student of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University.
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