Born October 20th,1867 in Florida, Orange County, New York, Sarah Havens Harlow received her Bachelor of Science in Botany at Wellesley College in 1891 and in 1901 obtained her Master's Degree from Columbia University.
She arrived to New York Botanical Garden to work as a library assistant in 1911 and with her botany background, conducted Mycorrhiza and Pteridophytes research with NYBG's notable botanists, Daniel T. MacDougal and Lucien M. Underwood. Upon studying at New York Public Library's library school, Harlow succeeded librarian, John Hendley Barnhart and became Mertz Library's librarian in January 1913. (1)
Submitting an annual library summary report to the Garden's Director, Nathaniel Britton, Harlow provided information about library projects, hours, staff personnel and activities, such as accessioning, library stack maintenance, acquisitions, and cataloging new publications received and added to the library’s collections. Her thorough reports gave insight into the inner workings of library staff's daily tasks and the need for essential library supplies, making the workload more manageable.
In 1914, Harlow recommended the library purchase a typewriter stating that, “It is earnestly hoped that the library may soon be supplied with a typewriter, in order that the hundreds of books and pamphlets awaiting cataloging may be made more readily available to our readers”.(2) The recommendation to typewrite library catalog cards was made due to the handwritten card cataloging method creating challenges amongst library schools and librarians. By February,1915, a typewriter was purchased, permitting more books to be easily and swiftly cataloged by staff.(3) At the end of the year, 6,446 library catalog cards were typewritten, doubling the number of handwritten catalog card entries from the previous year.(4)
After recognizing the library’s overcrowded shelves, Harlow also recommended a preventive care solution for books, additional shelving space. Implementing this option in the library, preserved the books, prevented potential book damage, and further enhanced space for collection growth. Harlow, too, noted the installation of electric lights and “...reading lamps upon the tables and smaller lights for the consultation of the catalogues…", paying keen attention to the physical upkeep of the library space and collections.(5) Today, with appropriate lighting, item retrieval in the library stacks, shelving, and weeding materials are viable services administrated by staff to assist researchers and visitors meet their informational needs.
October,1937, Sarah Havens Harlow retired and during her 25-year tenure, Mertz Library's collections doubled in size.(6) As the second, female librarian to take on a leadership role at Mertz Library, Harlow's efforts and influence to the library has contributed to making it one of the largest botanical and horticultural libraries in the world.
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