Skip to Content

University Libraries

The Augusta Baker Collection of African-American Children's Literature & Folklore

The Baker Collection brings to the library over 1600 children's books, together with papers and illustrative material reflecting her pivotal role in the field of children's librarianship. 

This collection was acquired in the summer of 1997 by a generous donation by Dr. Baker's son, James H. Baker III of Columbia, with the support of other family members. Most of the books are in fine condition, and many bear inscriptions from the authors or illustrators. The Baker Collection brings a unique educational and research resource to the library.

The Baker Collection continues to grow by gift and purchase.  Check the online catalog to search holdings.


Augusta Baker, 1911-1998

Augusta Baker's extraordinary career spanned more than fifty years as storyteller, librarian, and authority on children's literature. Born in 1911 in Baltimore, she was the only child of parents who were both educators. To them and to her storytelling grandmother she attributed her lifelong love of books. Baker attended the University of Pittsburgh and graduated from Albany (New York) State Teacher's College with a degree in Library Science in 1934.

Dr. Baker's first professional position was with the New York Public Library's 135th Street Branch in Harlem in 1937. Although she was initially reluctant to take a full-time job, she was persuaded by Anne Carroll Moore to help in the children's department until a permanent replacement could be located.

Augusta Baker remained with the New York Public Library for thirty-seven years. For the first seventeen year of her career, she stayed at the 135th Street Branch, perfecting her storytelling skills. While at the Harlem Branch, Baker founded the James Weldon John Memorial Collection of children's books, a collection of books accurately portraying black children.

From 1954 to 1961, Baker served as Assistant Coordinator and Storytelling Specialist for the entire New York Public Library System, and in 1961 she became Coordinator of Children's Services for the New York Public Library. She would remain in this position until her retirement in 1974.

As Coordinator of Children's Services, Baker used her position to promote children's literature through radio, television, lectures, and workshops. She served as a consultant to "Sesame Street" and as an advisor to Weston Woods Media. She met and influenced uncounted numbers of children's authors and illustrators, including Ezra Jack Keats, Maurice Sendak, John Steptoe, Lee Bennet Hopkins, and Madeleine L'Engle. Baker served the American Library Association and the ALA Children's Services Division in various capacities including as chair of the Newbery/Caldecott Awards Committee.

In 1980 Baker was offered a position as Storyteller-in-Residence at the University of South Carolina, the first such position at any university. The College of Library and Information Science, in conjunction with the Richland County Public Library, established the annual Augusta Baker's Dozen Storytelling Festival in her honor.

Among Baker's many honors were two honorary doctorates, the Grolier Foundation Award, the Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association, and the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award from the Women's National Book Association. She retired from her USC position in 1994 and died 23 February 1998.

The Collection

The Augusta Baker Collection reflects her deep interest in storytelling, children's literature and librarianship, and is comprised of titles from her personal and working libraries. Among these are significant twentieth-century children's authors and illustrators, such as Madeleine L'Engle, Uri Shulevitz, Lee Bennett Hopkins, James Haskins and Hardie Gramatky. Many books are presentation copies. The collection also contains important works by authors like Virginia Hamilton and Tom Feelings, emphasizing the African-American experience in twentieth-century children's literature, and numerous anthologies of folktales and stories from many cultures, used by Augusta Baker during her career as a storyteller. The booklists prepared by Mrs. Baker in her work at the New York Public Library and her professional journals are also part of her collection.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.