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The History of Orange County Library System: Olive Brumbaugh and the Albertson Public Library

In the spring of 1923, the library board was in need of an experienced librarian to organize and administer the newly established Albertson Public Library. After a lengthy search, they received an application from Miss Olive Brumbaugh, librarian of the Public Library of Frankfort, Indiana. On April 20, 1923, the position was offered to her, and she relocated from Frankfort to Orlando to begin her tenure as head librarian. Beginning her service on May 1, 1923, Olive’s first order of business was to convert the large collection of books from Captain Albertson’s private library into a well-organized public library. Her first annual report showed that she had classified and catalogued 21,190 books.

As head librarian, Olive prepared reports and created materials about the library’s work. In a pamphlet written in 1923, she declared the library’s slogan to be “The right book to the right person at the right time.” In 1928, Olive wrote an open letter to the mayors and city commissioners challenging them to fund the library to meet the needs of the community. She stated, “a public library is a necessary part of the educational equipment of every city. It is not a building, nor a collection of dead books, but a living, active agent of service.”

Throughout her career, Olive led her staff and guided the library through successes and challenges, including the Great Depression. As a result of the financial crisis, the library board cut the operating budget by 25 percent. Olive gave her full cooperation to the board, agreeing to reduce her own pay. In addition, it was deemed necessary to close school library stations and the Grand Avenue Branch. A local newspaper reported that “although deeply distressed about it, neither the librarian nor library staff in any way criticized the board for the action it had taken. They wish to express their willingness in every way to cooperate in the present emergency.”

Olive was an active member of the Florida Library Association where she served as president from 1927–1928. This role allowed her to make meaningful personal connections and to travel. In 1931, after attending the American Library Association conference in New Haven, Connecticut, she went sightseeing with her friends in New York and wrote about her lively experience.

“After all New York is New York, and if I had my way, I’d certainly be a New Yorker … We went to [a couple of speakeasies] – one in the Village called “The Annex,” where we sat on beer kegs and had some kind of liquor and bread and cheese. Then we went to one where the ritzy people go on Park Avenue … swank is the word and don’t forget it.”

Through her professional associations, Olive became acquainted with Dr. Melvil Dewey, inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. In December 1926, the Albertson Public Library hosted a birthday luncheon for Dr. Dewey at the Florida Library Association meeting in Orlando.

Olive Brumbaugh was 41 years old when she was hired as head librarian. She faithfully served the community until her retirement nearly 20 years later. On November 10, 1942, she notified the board of her resignation to marry William G. Morris of Key West. At the request of the board, she remained in her position until January 15, 1943.

Grateful for her years of service, the board included a testimonial of appreciation in the 1942 annual report.

“During her twenty-year residence in Orlando, Miss Brumbaugh endeared herself to the people by her interest in the civic life of the community. Her fine personality enriched the social and intellectual life of Orlando. Through her untiring effort to interest young and old in the library and its resources, she has developed a large number of library patrons in the City Beautiful.”