Last summer when I wrote about interesting RPI characters Pagie and Mrs. Warren, I intended to continue the series with a post about Miss Peck. Her bio file is a bit thin and I couldn’t find a student account of her, so I put the idea aside. I still think she was an interesting character and played a significant role in RPI history. She deserves a little highlight!
Miss Harriet Peck was the first RPI librarian. She was hired in 1912 just after the Pittsburgh Building was completed. Space in this building was designated for a library, which contained about 9000 volumes. Miss Peck had a degree in library science and experience working in public libraries. She immediately went to work creating the first card catalog for the book collection at RPI. She also got busy building the collection, largely based on faculty and student recommendations. She wrote a regular column in The Polytechnic that listed newly acquired books. The number of volumes quadrupled during her 34 year tenure. When plans were being made for a new library in Amos Eaton Hall, Miss Peck consulted on the specifications. Letters from President Ricketts to architect Joseph Lawlor include Miss Peck’s recommendations for the width of the library stacks, seating for patrons and her request for a glassed-in office off the reading area.
Miss Peck was apparently known as a pioneer in library science. She taught summer classes at well-known library schools such as Simmons College, McGill University, Columbia University and the University of Michigan.
Miss Peck was essentially forced to retire from RPI in 1946. She had already been allowed to work three years past the mandatory retirement age of 64. The Harriet R. Peck Prize for the best solution to an architectural design was established in her honor in 1954. In a memorial written after her death in 1969, it was noted that Miss Peck was “a patient and sympathetic counselor of students and faculty members intent on the research of source materials, she was a strict disciplinarian in the conduct of the library.” I imagine her as a stereotypical librarian — an old maid, who wore glasses and a bun and shushed anyone who made noise in the library!