Mary Virginia Gaver

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Mary Virginia Gaver
President of the American Library Association
In office
Preceded byRobert Vosper
Succeeded byFoster E. Mohrhardt
Personal details
Born(1906-12-10)December 10, 1906
Washington, D.C., US
DiedDecember 31, 1991(1991-12-31) (aged 85)
Danville, Virginia, US

Mary Virginia Gaver (December 10, 1906 – December 31, 1991) was a United States librarian. She was considered by one source to be one of the most important leaders in library science in the 20th century.[1]


Mary Virginia Gaver was the oldest of three children born to Clayton Daniel Gaver and Ruth Lydia Clendenning Gaver. She was born on December 10, 1906, in Washington, D.C.[2] Her siblings were brother, Perry, who died of an injury while attending Virginia Tech, and Lydia, a history teacher at Stratford College. Mary's father relocated the family to the mill town of Danville, Virginia located in Pittsylvania County. Her father's family had owned and operated Gaver Woolen Mill in Hillsboro, Virginia in the 1800s. She arrived in Danville in 1912 and lived there for much of her life. It was her life in the impoverished area that influenced her and shaped much of what she did later in her career as an educator, author and a librarian.

Gaver's interest in books was displayed when she was very young. Since her mother was a teacher, she had grown up in a family where books were an important component to education and enrichment. While still a young child, she discovered that many of the local school children in Schoolfield, Virginia, which is a suburb of Danville, did not have access to books. To help alleviate this situation, she convinced her mother to help collect money to start a school library in this nearby town. Mary Gaver and her mother solicited donations door-to-door and gathered $100 that was then graciously matched by executives at Dan River Mill, where her father was executive secretary to the president, for a total of $200.[3] This was enough to get a good start on a school library for the area children.


Gaver attended the local public schools until she enrolled in fifth grade at the Randolph-Macon Institute, which was a private girls school.[4] After graduation, her mother wanted her to attend the prestigious Trinity College which is currently known as Duke University. Although she had earned a scholarship to cover the cost of her education at Trinity, she chose to further her education at Randolph-Macon Women's College.[5] At the age of 21, she received a B.A. with a major in English and two minors that included Bible and the organ.

Gaver's education continued while she was employed full-time and often took classes during the summers. She earned a B.S. in library sciences in 1932 from Columbia University and went on to earn an M.S. in library sciences, also at Columbia in 1938.[6] Miss Gaver did take additional classes later in her career and was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by Columbia.


She followed in her mother's footsteps and became an English teacher at a local high school. She quickly found out that it was not the job for her. While having an extensive background in English, she encountered problems with the management of her classroom. Her principal recommended that she transfer to a position in the school's library the following school year.[7] That summer she not only worked in a library, but she also got some training at George Washington University to help improve on the fact that she had no formal schooling in library sciences. This unplanned job transfer, led to a long career as a librarian and advocate for the development of school libraries.

She worked at George Washington High School for 10 years before she earned her degree in library science. While working as a librarian during The Depression, she became aware of the funding problems of the library systems. Due to this, Gaver decided to dedicate her life not only to improving funding for the library systems but to get training in the schools to help improve the skills of the staff as well as the library skills of the children.

Gaver taught at many different schools and colleges, including 12 years (1942–1954) at the New Jersey State Teachers College. In addition, she was an associate professor, then a professor, at Rutgers University for the Graduate School of Library Services for which she held that position for 17 years from 1954–1971. In 1970, while at Rutgers University, Gaver served as a committee member of the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature.[8] She also embarked on an international mission to assist other countries improve their library systems, worked as a visiting professor at the University of Teheran, and became an advisor to Iran in 1952–1953.[9]

During her time at Rutgers, she worked on several projects to help improve the library system. She was passionate about her work and wanted others to realize the importance of a well trained library staff and the benefit it had on the students' educational outcomes. Her work included, but is not limited to, the following projects: Every Child Needs a School Library, 1957; Effectiveness of Centralized School Library Services (Phase I), 1959–1960; Standards for School Library Programs, 1960; Are You Ready?, 1960; Creative Elementary School Library, 1962; Effectiveness of Centralize Library Service in Elementary Schools, 1963; and Libraries for the People of New Jersey, 1964.

Miss Gaver also held many prominent positions including serving as president for not only the New Jersey Library Association (1954–1955) but for both the American Association of School Librarians (1959–1960) and the American Library Association (1966–1967). In addition to her leadership roles in various organizations, she earned several awards throughout her lifetime. These awards include: Herbert Putnam Honor Award, American Library Association, 1963;[10] Rutgers's Research Council Award, 1962; Randolph-Macon Woman's College Achievement Award, 1964; Beta Phi Mu Award of Good Teaching, 1964; Constance Lindsay Skinner Award, Woman's National Book Association, 1973; Honorary Membership, American Library Association, 1976; President's Award, American Association of School Librarians, 1980.[11]

Her career and influence as a librarian and author did not end when she retired from Rutgers University. She continued to conduct research, write, edit and publish articles well after her career as an educator ended. She went on to hold several positions, including vice president at Brodart Industries, a wholesale book supplier. Gaver stopped working at Brodart Industries in 1975.

Mary Gaver never married and died at the age of 85 on December 31, 1991, while suffering from Parkinson's disease.[12] She left a lasting effect on how school libraries are run today.


  • Iranian Libraries (Library Journal, 1953)
  • Every Child Needs a School Library (ALA, 1957)
  • New Jersey Plans for Library Development (Wilson Library Bulletin, 1957)
  • Are You Ready? (Wilson Library Bulletin, 1960)
  • The Creative Elementary School Librarian (Wilson Library Bulletin, 1962)
  • Effectiveness of Centralized Libraries in Elementary Schools (Rutgers University Press, 1963)
  • Libraries for the People of New Jersey (NJLA, 1964)
  • Patterns of Development in Elementary School Libraries Today (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1963, 1965, 1969)
  • The Elementary School Library Collection (Brodart Foundation, 1965)
  • Librarians in the Academic Community—A New Breed? (Wilson Library Bulletin, 1969)
  • Good News From Iran (Top of the News, 1971)
  • "The Elementary School Library Collection"


  1. ^ Kniffle, Leonard; Sullivan, Peggy; McCormick, Edith:(1999). 100 of the most important leaders we had in the 20th century. American Libraries, Page 38
  2. ^ Pioneers and Leaders in Library Services to Youth: A Biographical Dictionary. (2009). Westport: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
  3. ^ Obituary (1992). [obituary]. Wilson Library Bulletin, 66(February).
  4. ^ Dictionary of American Library Biography, Second Supplement (2003). (3rd Edition). Westport: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
  5. ^ Pioneers and Leaders in Library Services to Youth: A Biographical Dictionary. (2009). Westport: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
  6. ^ Florence, B., & Jarvis, E. (2002). Celebrating the Contributions of Women in Youth Library Services Retrieved September 20, 2009, from "Outstanding Women in Children's Librarianship". Archived from the original on 2012-10-09. Retrieved 2012-05-23..
  7. ^ Pioneers and Leaders in Library Services to Youth: A Biographical Dictionary. (2009). Westport: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
  8. ^ About RUCCL and One-on-One Plus (2009). Retrieved September 23, 2009, from "Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature". Archived from the original on 2010-06-05. Retrieved 2010-04-26..
  9. ^ Marco, G. A. (1995). The Pioneers: A Few Good Men and Women, World Libraries (Vol. 6).
  10. ^ Honoring The Past...Striving For Dignity: A Resource Compendium of Labor History of New Jersey (2003). In N. J. E. Association (Ed.), NJEA 150th Anniversary Curriculum Project (pp. 18–19).
  11. ^ Florence, B., & Jarvis, E. (2002). Celebrating the Contributions of Women in Youth Library Services Retrieved September 20, 2009, from "Outstanding Women in Children's Librarianship". Archived from the original on 2012-10-09. Retrieved 2012-05-23..
  12. ^ Lambert, B. (1992). Mary Virginia Gaver Dies at 85; An Advocate for School Libraries. The New York Times, p. 18. Retrieved 9/11/2009.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mary Virginia Gaver. A Braided Cord: Memoirs of a School Librarian. Peggy Sullivan. (The Librarian Quarter, 1989).
  • School Library Journal's Best: A Reader for Children's, Young Adult & School Librarians. Thomas W. Domen, Marilyn L. Miller. (Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1997).
  • The Elementary School Library Collection: A Guide to Books and Other Media; Phases 1-2-3. Mary Virginia Gaver. (The Bro-Dart Foundation, 1973).

External links[edit]

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by President of the American Library Association
Succeeded by