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California Library Hall of Fame: Gretchen Knief Schenk
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California Library Hall of Fame

Gretchen Knief Schenk (1901-1989)


Gretchen Knief worked for several public libraries throughout California before becoming county librarian in Kern County, where the board of supervisors ordered her, in 1939, to remove all copies of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. She complied; but, instead of discarding the books, offered them to other county libraries around the state. The offer was eventually rescinded when the board, under public pressure, reconsidered its position and requested that Knief return the book to the library’s shelves. From Kern, Knief moved on to Washington, where, as state librarian (1942-5), she helped establish that state’s first county libraries. Though she retired in 1945, she did not leave the profession altogether. As the now married Gretchen Knief Schenk, she became a freelance consultant, conducting statewide library studies in New York, Mississippi, Nevada, Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas, and even consulted abroad. She served as president of the Alabama Library Association in 1949/50. Schenk was also a prolific author, contributing countless articles to library journals, plus for 21 years published a regular column, called “Extending Library Service,” in the Wilson Library Bulletin. Her book, County and Regional Library Development, was released by ALA in 1954.


Gretchen Knief Schenk was inducted into the California Library Hall of Fame in 2013. For more information about her, please see:

  • Who’s Who in Library Science (3rd ed.). NY: Grolier, 1955, p. 431.

  • Rick Wartzman, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. NY: Public Affairs, 2008.