Legendary librarian and curator Dr. Lola L. Szladits skillfully navigated the male-dominated book world of the mid to late 20th century at the helm of The New York Public Library’s Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature. During her 20-year tenure as curator, she expanded the relatively new collection through the addition of original manuscripts and papers belonging to titans of 19th- and 20th-century literature, including W. H. Auden, May Sarton, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, and W. B. Yeats. In celebration of her legacy in the year of what would have been her 100th birthday, Lola L. Szladits: Devoted Guardian of Literary Delights presents highlights of her curatorial achievements through her acquisitions, exhibitions, and unpublished memoir, Journey of a Heart.
Lola Leontin Szladits (née Abel) was born in Budapest, Hungary, on March 11, 1923. Her early years were marked by the turmoil of war and occupation; following the siege of Budapest, she resolved to leave Hungary, and, in October 1946, departed to live in exile for the remainder of her life.
Lola (she preferred to be addressed by her first name) immigrated to New York in 1950, determined to support herself as a librarian, vowing, “I would not fall back on what my husband earned.” She joined the staff of The New York Public Library in 1955 and would go on to be appointed the second curator of the Berg Collection, a position she would hold until her death in March 1990.
Considered fierce by some, formidable by others, and a friend by many, Lola was a force to be reckoned with. As curator, she forged relationships that secured the position of the Berg Collection as one of the most significant of its kind. In a resolution of appreciation issued after her death, the Library noted that she “brought a unique conviction to the role of curator and librarian, conceiving it as one of protector and promoter of the life of the mind, and in this spirit was the Library’s most ardent champion.”