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California Library Hall of Fame: Tessa Kelso
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California Library Hall of Fame

Tessa Kelso (1863-1933)

Originally a journalist from Dayton, Ohio, Tessa Kelso was appointed director of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) in 1889. Though her public library career lasted merely six years, during that time she transformed LAPL from a small reading room into a progressive, city-funded public library, located in city hall. She also expanded the collection from six thousand to over forty thousand volumes. A forceful advocate for unencumbered public access to library collections, Kelso abolished subscription fees, opened the library on Sundays, ended the policy of closed stacks, and inaugurated interlibrary loan. Moreover, she established the first “delivery stations,” which eventually evolved into LAPL’s current branch system. In 1890, Kelso introduced civil service for library employees, more than a decade before citywide adoption. The following year, she established a library-training program, one of the first in the nation. Despite these accomplishments, Kelso left LAPL in 1895 and moved to New York, where she joined Baker & Taylor as the head of their library department. She remained active in the American Library Association, attending conferences and avidly participating in professional debates. When she died in 1933, Library Journal published an affectionate obituary, calling Kelso one of the profession’s most progressive and influential pioneers.


Tessa Kelso was inducted into the California Library Hall of Fame in 2017. For more information about her, please see:

 

Photo credit: American Libraries, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25620310?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents