World Libraries, Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall 1992

The Pioneers: Marietta Daniels Shepard (1913-1984)

"A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?" - Robert Burns

Marietta Daniels Shepard and Eleanor Mitchell, her friend for more than forty years, were killed instantly in an automobile accident that occurred between Bedford, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C, in August 1984. Marietta is still very much with us, nonetheless. Like a sturdy rhizome, she flourished and sent out roots that sprout and spread year after year, often in unexpected places. She had a broad vision. Her generosity in sharing it made her an unparalleled mentor who launched those with whom she worked onto fascinating quests toward some small part of that vision. She set in motion events that continue to influence and change people and institutions throughout the Americas.

Born in Kansas on January 24, 1913, Marietta received degrees from the University of Kansas, Washington University (St. Louis), and the School of Library Service at Columbia University. She worked in a number of U.S. and Latin American institutions, including the Kansas City (Missouri) Public Library; Washington University; the Escuela Normal, Santiago, Panamá; and the Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País in Havana, Cuba. In 1947 she went to the Library of Congress as special assistant for the First Assembly of Librarians of the Americas, and in 1948 she joined the staff of the Pan American Union, the general secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS).

I first met Marietta when she lectured to the students at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin in 1964 or 1965; she was then a newly-wed, middle-aged, lively, approachable woman. The style of her hair and clothes were the same over the next twenty years that I knew her. Her unchanging outward appearance contrasted with her racing mind and ever-evolving goals. Marietta was an unchanging agent of change. The content of her lecture that day was the Inter-American Library School in Medellín, Colombia, with which she had worked for several years. The library school was one of a few at the time and is now but one of a great many scattered throughout Latin America. Medellín was famous then for its roses, climate and provincial grace. The change in its fame is representative of the great changes in Marietta's world from then to now. That her vision spanned this change and continues to have meaning reflects the strength of this firmly-rooted, unegotistical woman.

She was a political conservative but a social revolutionary, liberal and tolerant in her dealings with people, but impatient with pessimists. She cared deeply for the dispossessed and worked for free access to information and for public and school libraries in a region where they were hardly known-long before the personal computer was invented or the CD-ROM imagined. She saw information networks, databases, libraries, and government information service in every village ("If Coca-Cola can reach every village, books can too"), as well as the culture of Latin America, expressed through a variety of media, distributed throughout the world.

I worked in three organizations or programs that Marietta had created, each very different, but related to and reflective of her comprehensive world view: the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM), which is concerned with solving acquisition problems of university and research libraries; Books for the People Fund (BPF), which sought libraries for the dispossessed, and its Proyecto LEER, which evaluated and made available in the United States books in Spanish for children and at an easy-to-read level for adults; and the Library Development Program (LDP) of the Organization of American States, which has expanded to include a broad range of information programs in the fields of education, science and culture.

It was through SALALM that I first started working for her-as a volunteer in 1969-to help organize the meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which also saw the birth of the Association of Caribbean University and Research Institute Libraries (ACURIL). She believed that the problems of North American libraries in acquiring material from Latin America were linked to the problems of Latin American librarians and publishers, and that each could gain from the other if they worked together toward solution of their respective problems.

It was also at this SALALM in Puerto Rico that I learned a terrible truth about Marietta: she was a conference vampire. With each meeting and discussion her strength grew. By 3:00 a.m. her ability to draft resolutions was at its peak. While the weaker and younger around her drooped over typewriters or cut and pasted with unfocused eyes, she waxed eloquent. At 6:30 the next morning she was leading a heated discussion and so on through the week, eyes bright, mind aflame. The return to the office was even worse, because she was no sooner off the plane than she was drafting follow-up letters and summaries. There was no rest. This was repeated at every meeting I attended thereafter. In 1977 when she was 64 years old, the Director of Cultural Affairs at the OAS, Henry Raymont, recommended her for special commendation. He said,

This year the lot of "technical secretary" for CIDEC [Inter-American Committee of Culture] fell on Marietta Sheppard [sic], chief of the Technical Unit of Libraries and Archives. Not only did she perform admirably in those demanding duties, but she worked right through CEPCIECC [Permanent Executive Committee of the Inter-American Committee of Education, Science and Culture] and CIECC [Inter-American Committee of Education, Science and Culture] meetings disregarding physical exhaustion that overcame many younger members of the staff subjected to a grueling three-week schedule of meetings, proof-reading, formulation of charts, etc., connected with the program-budget process and the subsequent work of the three addition to the above, Mrs. Sheppard drafted resolutions requested by various missions, provided background information to the Committees and the Council and in general provided an invaluable support that greatly contributed to a more efficient performance.

My first paid job for Marietta was as a fundraiser for the Books for the People Fund, Inc. BPF-like SALALM and Proyecto LEER (a project of BPF)-was housed in her office with the OAS Library Development Program. In her mind they were all one. Marietta's husband, Jimmy, made fun of her non-profit organization, Books for the People Fund, which he called "Books for Brats." Proyecto LEER was established just as the Bilingual Education Act was passed. It pioneered selecting and making available materials in Spanish for use in the United States. It was typical of Marietta to have anticipated the need for books and to be ready to meet that need. One of Marietta's gifts, and one reason for her success, was that she was able to give free rein to someone to carry her ideas or programs to fulfillment and to build in variations she had not thought of. She hired Martha Tome to head Proyecto LEER and then, recognizing Martha's excellence, she backed off to let Martha develop it and carry it to national prominence. The goals of Books for the People Fund were broad and only partially reached; Proyecto LEER was its one big success. She wanted to save the world with books and information. She was not afraid of taking risks. Her reach often exceeded her grasp; but then, that is another reason why she accomplished so much.

I next worked with her through the Organization of American States. The technical assistance functions of the OAS had expanded greatly with the Alliance for Progress, created under President John F. Kennedy, who used the OAS as a vehicle for multilateral assistance to many countries by providing expertise to solve problems. Needless to say, no technical assistance program could have been created without libraries while Marietta was near. Through hounding, explanatory memos to ambassadors, charm, and persistence, Marietta created and expanded the Library Development Program from 1959 to her retirement in June 1978. If she had not been there, I am sure that the OAS involvement in libraries for the past 32 years would have been minimal at best.

She worked in the highly political man's world of an international organization without compromising herself. She flooded the political bodies that govern the OAS with information to educate the decision-makers to understand that without libraries, archives, and information networks there could be no true development-indeed that development can be measured by a country's ability to organize and access its own information. She tried to make everyone see the links between publishing, legislation, free flow of information, libraries, upward mobility and democracy. She drove them mad with her acronyms (pronounceable in English and Spanish to stick in diplomats' heads)-e.g., LILIBU (Lista de Libros para Bibliotecas Universitarias en América Latina), CATACEN (Catalogación Centralizada), MARCAL (MARC Cataloging for Latin America). They would make jokes about the acronyms and complain about her long documents, but the acronyms did catch their attention, and they funded her growing program.

The Library Development Program (LDP) had been created by Marietta in 1959 as part of the Columbus Memorial Library, which was then in the Department of Cultural Affairs. Marietta worked in the Library and from that vantage point began helping libraries in Latin America. In the early 1960s, she brought in Carmen Rovira, author of a list of subject headings in Spanish, to provide expertise in standardizing technical processes. When the Library was removed in 1969, LDP remained in the Department and in that year added school and university libraries to its responsibilities. Shortly thereafter Marietta hired Martha Tome to handle those areas. In 1973 the name changed to Library and Archives Development Division, to reflect its expanded scope to archives, public and national libraries, for which I was hired. After Marietta retired, her creation underwent a series of reorganizations that have expanded its scope to come closer to her vision through programs in three departments of the OAS: Culture, Education, and Science and Technology.

In the 1960s and early 1970s the assistance was primarily vertical, North-South. Emphasis at this time was given to strengthening key institutions and the library schools of the region, especially in Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Brazil, and Jamaica. One of the projects for which Marietta labored with dedication was the Inter-American Library School (EIBM); during one "time of troubles," she practically commuted between Washington and Medellín. As president of the School's International Executive Council, she worked tirelessly as liaison between the School and the University of Antioquia, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the OAS. She arranged for scholarships for Latin Americans to attend the EIBM and other library schools; in addition, she saw to it that there were four or five fellowships each year for graduate studies in librarianship in the U.S. (These graduate fellowships have continued for over 30 years and have had an enormous impact on the region.) LDP met the need for basic technical works to process information and to promote standardization by producing at headquarters a variety of milestone works and such series as Cuadernos bibliotecológicos, Inter-American Library Relations, and Estudios bibliotecológicos, but gradually Latin American institutions took over the role of publishers.

In the 1980s, new fields that had been introduced in the late 1970s by Marietta gained more prominence in the OAS programs: popular communication, mass media, post-literacy material, children's literature, paper and film conservation, computer technology, and bibliographic networks.

Many considered Marietta a workaholic, but she was not. Work was not her drug. It was her love, to which she joyously gave her unusual energy and intelligence, imagination and vision. As if the whole field of information were not enough, she became the business partner of her husband Jimmy, whom she married in late middle age. Her weekends were filled with big schemes that concerned coal mines, alternative energy for automobiles, and plantation agriculture. He opened up new avenues for her energy, which actually helped her gain more perspective on her first love. When she retired, most people said that she would either go crazy with boredom or drive her colleagues crazy. Neither happened. She became involved in the lore and arts of Bedford, Pennsylvania; took up landscaping (especially development of a rock garden); had a deer-feeding station; created a Friends of the Library; and engaged in a hundred other activities. She would stop by the LDP office to show photos of her landscaping projects, bring in copies of articles she thought would be of use, or share professional gossip, then be on her way to something interesting that she was involved in. As she had before she retired, she always pulled a luggage cart stacked with memos and articles-projects she would do, and some she would never get to. She was creating until the day she died.

None of Marietta's many projects carries her name, but she would not have minded, because she did not work for glory. The files of information she generated and her publications are discarded or out-of-print. Most of the administrators of the OAS, the diplomats, government ministers and library leaders who knew her have retired.

What is left officially with her name on it? What would a stranger learn of her from the OAS files? The fat envelope in the OAS archives labeled "Marietta Daniels Shepard" contains 35 years of leave slips and in-step pay increases, her designation of beneficiaries, Henry Raymont's letter of commendation, and the announcement made to the staff when she was hired in 1947. The file is so dead for someone who seems so alive. Bureaucracies miss the point, but she knew that. What mattered to her was that she could work through this bureaucracy to accomplish so much that still thrives. The arm twisting, the memos, the acronyms were not in vain. The imagination, the vision, the generosity of spirit in her character have triumphed through the work that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people do every day.

About the Author

Susan Shattuck Benson is Senior Specialist, Department of Cultural Affairs, Pan American Union, Washington.


Benson, S. S. "The Pioneers: Marietta Daniels Shepard (1913-1984)." Third World Libraries, Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall 1992

© 1992 Susan Shattuck Benson