Justin Winsor was born January 2, 1831 in Duxbury, Massachusetts.
His father was a shipping merchant who had established the “Winsor Line,” one of the first regular lines of clipper ships between Boston and San Francisco.
Justin graduated from the Boston Latin School and entered Harvard in 1849.
His interest in history led him to publish his first book during his first year at Harvard, a book about his hometown titled “A History of the Town of Duxbury.” Today, his grandfather’s home, the Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House, is now the headquarters of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society.
Justin left Harvard before his senior year and left for Paris and then Heidelberg to finish his studies.
In 1855, Justin married Caroline Tufts Barker. The couple would eventually have two daughters.
Justin Winsor soon became one of the creators of the librarian profession in America when he became a trustee of the Boston Public Library in 1867.
He then became superintendent of the Boston Library in 1868.
As a member of Boston’s upper-class, the so called “Boston Brahmins,” Justin had found his opportunity to engage in social reform while pursuing his intellectual interests.
He reflected his own families belief in self-help, uplift, and social progress, espousing the Socratic idea that knowledge creates virtue and he viewed libraries as a way to educate common people so that the traditional order of the republic would be maintained.
At Boston Public Library, Justin Winsor undertook many projects used to track and help library use. He employed innovative statistical analysis of the library’s use and used the finding to promote the idea that libraries were not just institutions and repositories of books, but were a process. He also dedicated a great deal of attention to the compilation of bibliographies and guides to public reading. Justin also annotated the library catalog to give it an educational character. In an effort to increase book use, he even worked for the establishment of branch libraries, extended hours, and relaxed restrictions on use.
American Library Association
Then on October 4, 1876, during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Justin Winsor along with 90 men and 13 women, responded to a call for a “Convention of Librarians” held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
By October 6th, a resolution was passed around for all who wished to become charter members of a new organization they named the “American Library Association.”
The aim of the Association was “to enable librarians to do their present work more easily and at less expense” with the purpose of defining, extending, protecting, and advocating for the equity of access to information.
The new group then elected Justin Winsor as their first President.
In this position, he emphasized the need for trained professionals and provided a rationale for the need for libraries in combating attacks on American morals and social standards.
Then in 1877, following a struggle with Alderman Hugh O’Brien over the professionalism of library management, Justin left Boston Public Library to become librarian of Harvard University, where he served until his death.
In his dual career as librarian-historian, he became a prototype of the ideal academic librarian.
Justin Winsor came to Harvard at a time when research was gaining emphasis. Faculty and students assumed ready access to large collections. Winsor wanted to make the library the center of the university. In this effort, he pushed for more books and greater accessibility, improved the catalog, informed faculty of new acquisitions, liberalized the library use policy, instituted a reserve system, and wrangled with administration over the installation of electric lights for extended hours. During this time, he also influenced the field though reports when library literature was scarce.
Justin contributed to many periodicals, and, in addition to editing many smaller works, he edited some of the most important historical works of the 19th century, among them: Reader’s Handbook of American History (1879), The Memorial History of Boston (4 vols., 1880–1881) and the Narrative and Critical History of America (8 vols., 1884–1889). The latter became a standard history reference for decades.
Justin Winsor died October 22, 1897 in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the age of 66.
The American Library Association is now headquartered in Chicago and its 62,000 members promote libraries and library education internationally.
Today the Library History Round Table of the American Library Association awards to “Justin Winsor Prize” for exceptional library history essays.
Now WE know em