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Edith Tobitt

Miss Edith Tobitt has the distinction of holding the post of Omaha Public Library Director the longest – for thirty-six years (1898-1936) and was employed by the library for forty-seven years.

She was born in Hawkhurst, Kent County, England in 1868 and came to American with her parents in 1873. She was a graduate of Omaha High School and taught school for two years at St. Edwards and Newman Grove, Nebraska, before joining the staff of the Omaha Public Library in May1887 as an attendant. Her higher education consisted of a two year correspondence course in English from the University of Chicago and one year at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where she also was employed for nine months. It is believed that she attended Pratt’s librarianship program around 1896 as when she returned to Omaha Public Library in October 1897 she was hired as a cataloger and appointed assistant librarian. In 1898, she became “librarian” or director.

Miss Tobitt was nationally known in her field. She served as president of the Nebraska State Library Association, as a member of the Nebraska Public Library Commission, and for two four-year terms on the executive board of the American Library Association. She was one of the librarians participating in the establishment of the Children’s Library Section of the American Library Association in 1900.

During her tenure, she directed the growth of the main library and four branches in South Omaha, North Omaha, Benson and Florence. Probably the best tribute to her was given by the Omaha World Herald in 1924 in its series, “The Men who Built Omaha.” Miss Tobitt was included in the series because she had contributed to the city’s intellectual and cultural life. The editor’s note said “A city cannot be built by men alone.”

She retired on June 1, 1934 because of ill health. At the time she stated: “I shall visit the library often and put into practice my ideas on the use of the library. I have always said that people who use the library should have a definite schedule of time for reading. Reading should be a recreation and should be informal. It should be determined by moods just as other recreation is.”

During retirement she traveled through the east for about four months and in 1936 drove to Canada with Miss Jeanette McDonald, former dean of girls at Technical High School. Miss Tobitt died after a six-week illness at her home she shared with Miss McDonald at 3848 Cass Street on July 4, 1939. She was survived by three sisters and a brother.

Text written by Joanne Ferguson Cavanaugh, November 2004

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