John Cotton Dana
John Cotton Dana
(b. August 19 1856 in Woodstock,
Vermont — d. July 21 1929 in New
Jersey) was a highly influential American librarian and museum
director whose main objective was to make the library relevant to
the daily lives of the citizens and to promote the benefits of
He was a public
for forty years and achieved a great deal in his
Dana graduated from Dartmouth College where he studied law.
In 1880 he
went to Denver,
Colorado where he
passed the Colorado bar and began to practice. In 1889 became
director of the Denver Public
Library until 1898.
While there, he pioneered the patron's
right to open stacks
, allowing them
to browse for themselves instead of having a librarian monitoring
their every request. He wanted to update libraries into the 20th
century by making them vibrant community centers instead of
collections of relics that only appealed to a small segment of the
community. He also organized the first-ever children's library
room. He was personally opposed to the concept of storytime,
preferring for his children's library to focus on the continuing
education of school teachers.
Dana moved to New York where he was admitted to the New York Bar in
1883. In 1885, Dana moved to Minnesota, to take up a position as
the editor of the Ashby Avalanche and practice law. Soon after
arriving in Minnesota, however, Dana returned again to Colorado to
do more surveying and construction work. Because of the reputation
he cultivated as a learned man and his connections in the Denver
Public Schools, the superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Aaron
Gove, nominated Dana as the director of the Denver Public Library
upon its inception in 1890. In 1895, Dana left the Colorado Library
when the city began discussing the lowering of his salary.
Apparently, public controversy had arisen over a city tax levied
for the school district and, by extension, the library. Dana also
drew criticism for circulating "gold bug" literature at the
library. Colorado was economically dependent on mining silver and
the gold standard was a political issue. Dana felt that library
patrons should have information on both sides of an issue.
again, he served as a librarian at the Springfield,
Massachusetts public library from 1898 - 1902.
continued many of his Denver policies there. One of the changes
Dana implemented at the Springfield library was to the physical
building itself. He had workers tear down many of the railings and
generally open the floor plan. Although these terms were not
invented until nearly a century later, Dana concerned himself
heavily with the ergonomics and usability of his collections and
facilities. He left Springfield after refusing to become involved
in a power struggle with the library's patrons.
Dana became employed at the Newark
Public Library in Newark, New Jersey from until his death in 1929.
foreign language collections for immigrants
and also developed a special
collection for the business community. This "Business Branch" was
the first of its kind in the nation.
founded the Newark
Museum in 1909, directing it until his death.
Museum was exceptional because it included contemporary American
commercial products as folk art. John C. Dana personally did not
like modern art, but he believed in the principle of a universal
museum and thus ordered purchases of art associated with the
. Cotton also began the
Newark Museum's notable Tibetan collection.
After his death, his successor at the Newark Public Library
referred to him as “The First Citizen of Newark”. Six years after
his death, the city of Newark appointed October 6 1935
Cotton Dana Day
. Rutgers-Newark's main library is named
for John Cotton Dana.
Dana was quoted as saying, “A great department store, easily
reached, open at all hours, is more like a good museum of art than
any of the museums we have yet established” (Hadley, 68).
Dana served as president of the American Library Association
which today gives out the John Cotton Dana Public Relations
to libraries with exceptional public relations. The
NJ Associations of Museums has an annual award in his name,
presented to an individual "for outstanding contributions to the
New Jersey museum profession." John Cotton Dana was also the first
president and founder of the Special Libraries Association
Dana is a member of the Library
Hall of Fame
. Also, New Jersey Law School renamed their college
when it transitioned from a two year to a
four year school (Watkins 2006, 2).
John Cotton Dana married, but his wife (Adine Rowena Wagener), whom
he married in 1888 was not healthy, and they had no children.
One of his biographers said of him, “He would have found a library
school curriculum intolerable, and doubtless a library school would
have found him intolerable” (Hadley, 12).
- A Library Primer, 1896.
- The New Museum, by John Cotton Dana. ElmTree Press,
Woodstock, Vermont, 1917.
- The Gloom of the Museum, by John Cotton Dana, ElmTree
Press, Woodstock, Vermont, 1917.
- Installation of a Speaker, by John Cotton Dana,
ElmTree Press, Woodstock, Vermont, 1918.
- A Plan for a New Museum by John Cotton Dana, ElmTree
Press, Woodstock, Vermont, 1920.
- American Art: How it can be made to Flourish by John
Cotton Dana, ElmTree Press, Woodstock, Vermont, 1929.
- "The Museum as an Art Patron" by John Cotton Dana. Creative
Art, March 1929.
- "Art is all in Your Eye" by John Cotton Dana. The
Museum, January 1927.
- "In a Changing World Should Museums Change?" by John Cotton
Dana. The Museum, September 1926.
- John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award at
- John Cotton Dana: The Centennial Convocation, Rutgers
University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1957.
- Cahill, Edgar Hoger, "The Life and Work of John Cotton Dana".
Americana Illustrated, January 1930, volume XXIV, Number
1, pages 69-84, The American
- Hadley, C. (1943). John Cotton Dana: A Sketch. Chicago:
American Library Association.
- Hanson, C. A. (Ed.) (1991). Librarian at Large: Selected
Writings of John Cotton Dana. Washington DC: Special Libraries
- Chalmers Hadley. John Cotton Dana — A Sketch
- Mattson, Kevin. 2000. The librarian as secular minister to
democracy: the life and ideas of John Cotton Dana. Libraries
& Culture. Volume 35, Number 4.
- The Museum, Volume II, Number 10: October 1929, tribute to John
Cotton Dana. (Various authors.)
- Grove, Richard. Pioneers in American Museums: John Cotton Dana.
Museum News, Volume 56, Number 5, May–June 1978, pages
32–39 & 86–88.
- Watkins, Ann. John Cotton Dana — Newark's First Citizen.
 (accessed March 12, 2008).