Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Annie Petty, State Normal's First Librarian

The library room in the Administration Building, circa 1895
When State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) first opened its doors in October 1892, it did not have a library or library books. Yet, founding president Charles Duncan McIver spoke adamantly of the “Library we are to have,” and he personally donated many of his books to begin the school’s first reference collection. Other faculty members followed suit, donating or lending books from their personal libraries in order to create a collection for student use. The school’s book collection continued to grow, and, in 1896, Annie Florence Petty was hired as State Normal’s first librarian.

Petty grew up in a Quaker family in the Bush Hill community, which is now part of Archdale, NC. Both she and her sister Mary received an early education at the New Garden Boarding School (although Annie graduated in 1894 after the school had already changed its name to Guilford College). Mary, who also completed a degree at Wellesley College, was the first of the Petty sisters to start work at State Normal, teaching chemistry at the school from 1893 through 1934. After a brief period teaching school in Red Springs in Robeson County, NC, her sister Annie arrived at State Normal in 1896 to manage the school’s burgeoning library.

Petty (second row, seated in front of tennis racket)
with other members of the Faculty Tennis Club, 1900
At the time of Annie Petty's arrival, the State Normal's library contained around 600 volumes and was housed in a small room across from the President's office in the Administration (now Foust) Building. Although her official title was “librarian,” Petty did much more than manage the book and periodical collection. She also received and sorted the campus mail, signed for package deliveries, and rang the campus bell to signal the change of classes every forty minutes.

After two years, Petty took a year’s leave of absence to attend the Drexel Library School in Philadelphia, where she gained additional professional training and developed a particular interest in reference services. Advanced professional training for librarians was not commonplace at the time. When Petty returned to her position at State Normal in 1899, she was the first professionally-trained librarian employed in the state of North Carolina.

State Normal's Carnegie Library building, 1905
Petty continued to develop the school’s book and periodical collection, and a dedicated library building was secured in 1905 when philanthropist Andrew Carnegie provided State Normal with a $25,000 grant to construct a campus library building (now known as the Forney Building). This was the first Carnegie grant to be given to construct a college library. Petty, her assistant, and a number of student workers continued to grow the collection and make the library a campus hub.

In addition to her work on campus, Petty was active professionally in the North Carolina Library Association (NCLA). She was a founding member of NCLA’s executive committee in 1904, and in 1908 she was elected as only the second president in the organization’s history. She served an additional presidential term from 1913-1915. She was also the first secretary of the North Carolina Friends Historical Society.

Mary and Annie (standing) Petty, 1952
In 1921, Petty left Greensboro for Raleigh, taking a position as Assistant Secretary of the State Library Commission. She continued her interest in reference librarianship, and was proud to be able to serve readers in her home county of Randolph by developing the state’s first traveling bookmobile. Petty remained at the State Library Commission for twelve years until her retirement. In 1933, she returned to Greensboro, where she shared a home with her sister Mary (who passed away in 1958).

After a long and successful career spent building libraries and library collections at State Normal and across the State of North Carolina, Annie Petty died in 1962 following surgery for a broken hip. She was 91 years old.

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