Lola Szladitz standing next to Dickens' desk and a portrait of Albert A. Berg

Photograph courtesy of the Grolier Club of New York.

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of Literary Delights presents highlights of her curatorial achievements through her acquisitions, exhibitions, and unpublished memoir, Journey of a Heart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.”

Explore Lola Szladits's Exhibitions

Determined that the collections in her care should reach a wider public, Lola Szladits mounted several exhibitions during her tenure as curator. Drawing on a lesson she learned in childhood that “one can play and think at the same time,” she crafted imaginative displays united by a central theme. This section explores six of her most memorable exhibitions drawn from their accompanying publications.   

Explore Lola Szladits's Acquisitions

Acquiring books and manuscripts was among the most important of Lola Szladits’s curatorial responsibilities. She reflected: “Exhibitions fade, especially in New York, with the speed of flowers”—but “purchases . . . are lasting, a hopeful gift to the future.” These items are among the many notable acquisitions Lola made for the Berg Collection during her tenure as curator.

Poster including two men in military gear and underneath them the text: "Our manpower. 1/5 of our strength must not be lost through discrimination. 12,900,000 Negroes, 4,800,000 Jews, 11,400,000 Foreign Born"
Muriel Rukeyser and Ben Shahn, Our Manpower, ca. 1943
Acquired for the the Muriel Rukeyser collection of papers in 1977
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Holograph of poem titled "In Schrafft's"

© The Estate of W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden, "In Schrafft's," ca. 1947–49
Acquired for the W. H. Auden collection of papers in 1974
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lock of blonde-gray hair
Lock of Walt Whitman's hair, 1891
Acquired for the Walt Whitman papers in 1972
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Image of two women wearing white masks, and dressing gowns. One is standing and holding a hand mirror, and one is sitting on a chair by a dining table, resting her head on her hand. A clear studio light can be viewed above them.
Photograph of the production of Sweeney Agonistes, 1934
Acquired for the Group Theatre archive in 1977
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Poster titled: New Irish Books by Irish Writers
New Irish Books, ca. 1905–09
Acquired for the Abbey Theatre records in 1970
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Portrait photograph of woman in winter coat, sitting on a bench, petting a cat that is sitting on her lap.
Photograph of May Sarton, ca. 1935-1939
Acquired for the May Sarton collection of papers in 1979
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long paper manuscript of poem
Walt Whitman, "The Ox Tamer," 1876
Acquired for the Walt Whitman collection of papers in 1972
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Picture of woman in summer clothing by the beach, pushing a boulder.
Photograph of Jean Garrigue pushing a boulder up a hill, ca. 1932–62
Acquired for the Jean Garrigue collection of papers in 1980
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Illustration of roses accompanied by a note

Permission for the use of the Marianne C. Moore watercolor of roses sent to Hildegard Watson (undated) is granted by the Estate of Marianne C. Moore, David M. Moore, Esq., Successor Executor. All rights reserved.

Marianne Moore, Watercolor of roses sent to Hildegard Watson, undated
Acquired for The Dial papers in 1986
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Large Print Labels

Large Print Logo

Access the exhibition's large print labels here:

Lola L. Szladits: Devoted Guardian of Literary Delights

A physical copy can be found at the information desk in the McGraw Rotunda.

Learn More about the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature

Interior of the Berg Reading Room

The Berg Collection is one of the world’s most celebrated research collections of English and American literature. It contains some 35,000 printed volumes, pamphlets, and broadsides, and 2,000 linear feet of literary archives and manuscripts, representing the work of more than 400 authors. The Berg’s most extensive manuscript holdings date from the period 1820–1970, particularly in collections related to Modernism and the Bloomsbury Group; the Irish Literary Renaissance; the Beats; and New York School poetry; and the countercultural poets of New York’s Lower East Side (1960–1980). British, Irish, and American authors represented by significant and/or extensive manuscript holdings include Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Joseph Conrad, W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, T. S. Eliot, Muriel Rukeyser, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Adrienne Rich, Vita Sackville-West, Christopher Isherwood, Louis Zukovsky, Julia Alvarez, and Clark Coolidge. The Berg also contains the world’s largest manuscript holdings of Virginia Woolf and W. H. Auden, as well as the archives of Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, May Sarton, Laura Riding Jackson, Alfred Kazin, Kenneth Koch, Paul Auster, Annie Proulx, Philip Levine, Terry Southern, Meena Alexander, and Bruce Jay Friedman. Institutional papers found in the Berg include those of the Abbey Theatre, the publishers A. P. Watt & Son and James B. Pinker & Son, The Dial, and the Gotham Book Mart.

Explore more items held by the Berg Collection:

Learn more about the history of the Berg Collection:

Curatorial Acknowledgements

This exhibition celebrates the life and legacy of the intrepid Lola Szladits: one of the many extraordinary bookwomen who have—and continue to—shape New York City’s literary community as librarians, curators, collectors, booksellers, and more. Anniversaries were important to Lola, who, without fail, honored the memory of her curatorial predecessor John D. Gordon through annual donations to the Library on his birthday. I thought it was only fitting, then, that we should commemorate Lola and her contributions to the institution to which she dedicated her life in the year that would have marked her 100th birthday.

This exhibition would not have been possible without the incredible dedication of my colleagues at The New York Public Library.

My most sincere thanks to Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions; Becky Laughner, Manager of Exhibitions; and Carolyn Vega, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Curator of English and American Literature; who have supported this exhibition from the beginning, as well as to Brent Reidy, Tony Marx, and colleagues across the administration who make all of our collection displays and outreach efforts possible. 

Special thanks are due to my colleagues in Exhibitions: Tereza Chanaki and Petra Dijur for their diligent dedication to this website; and to Carl Auge, Ryan Douglass, and Jake Hamill for their expert installation.

Thanks are also due to the registrars and conservators who oversee the care of the Library’s collections: Caryn Gedell, Addison Lu, and Emily Muller; to Kiowa Hammons and Dina Selfridge for ensuring the images in this online exhibition can be made available to the public; to Charles Arrowsmith, Laurie Beckoff, Sara Beth Joren, Rosalene Labrado-Perillo, Maya Sariahmed, and Julia Joseph for the impeccable polish you put on everything and the work you do to present the Library’s collections to the public.

I would also like to thank my colleagues in the Berg Collection: Emma Davidson, Patrick Kingchatchaval, and Madison Wilson for their enduring assistance and support; and my colleagues in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, especially Julie Golia, Michelle Mccarthy-Behler, and Tal Nadan, for their help and guidance along the way.

Additional thanks are due to the Library's Security and Facilities teams, whose careful stewardship of the library make all of our work possible.

Finally, I would like to thank Jamie Cumby and Scott Ellwood at the Grolier Club and Simi Best at the Bancroft Library for their generous assistance to this project.

—Julie Carlsen, Assistant Curator, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature