Herbert Putnam

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Herbert Putnam (20 September 1861 – 14 August 1955) was an American lawyer, publisher, and librarian. He was the eighth (and also the longest serving) Librarian of the United States Congress from 1899 to 1939.


He was born in New York City, where his father George Palmer Putnam was a noted publisher. He graduated from Harvard University in 1883, studied law at Columbia University, and was admitted to the bar in 1886.

Putnam was librarian at the Minneapolis Athenaeum, 1884–1887, and the Minneapolis Public Library, 1887–1891. He practised law in Boston, Massachusetts, 1892–1895, and was librarian of the Boston Public Library, 1895–1899 where he did much to improve that library's collection of photographs.

Putnam was elected president of the American Library Association in 1898 and again in 1904, and was appointed Librarian of Congress in 1899 by President William McKinley. He was the first experienced librarian to hold the post. He held the post until 1939 when he retired with the title of librarian emeritus to be succeeded by the poet Archibald MacLeish. Early during his administration, Putnam introduced a new system of classifying books that continues to this day as the Library of Congress classification. He also established an interlibrary loan system, and expanded the Library of Congress's role and relationships with other libraries, through the provision of centralized services.

Putnam became an overseer of Harvard University in 1902 and in 1925 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He held honoris causa degrees from Bowdoin College, Williams College, Yale University, Brown College[disambiguation needed], and other institutions.

Putnam died in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, aged 93. His daughter, Brenda Putnam (1890–1975), was an award-winning sculptor.


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