Though the name Genevieve M. Casey may not be a household word, there are many beholden to her for her lifetime of contributions to her chosen profession of librarianship. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, she spent much of her youth in Detroit, returning to St. Paul to receive a Masters Degree in Library Science at the College of St Catherine (now St. Catherine University.) After a year of service in many roles Genevieve Casey retired from Wayne State University as Emerita Professor, where she was honored with special tributes including a scholarship in her honor. She died in 2012 at the still vibrant age of 96.
More important than the statistics is her legacy in a changing profession.
Her first professional position was in the early 60’s with the Detroit Public Library where she introduced the idea of an urban bookmobile. Though bookmobiles were originally designed to provide library service to rural communities, the bookmobile idea caught the fancy of Casey who saw the potential of a mobile library to share books and library service with urban readers in neighborhoods throughout the urban Detroit area.
Casey’s commitment to flexibility – meeting the needs of a changing population – was at the core of her professional service, a commitment she demonstrated when she was appointed by the Governor to serve as the State Librarian of Michigan. Those must have been some turbulent years for Casey. Two of the Governor’s budget recommendations that year were for the construction of buildings, one that would house the Law Library Division in a new Supreme Court building; the other, a new facility for the State Library. His vision was years in fulfillment.
In 1963 a state reorganization moved administration of the State Library from the State Board of Libraries to the Department of Education. That same year a former manufacturing building was remodeled as the headquarters to house offices for the State Library. In four months, library staff moved over one million volumes…. The new facility housed the Library for the Blind, a resource that continued to serve a public demand that rose from 635 items in 1960 to 280,347 six years later.
Looking to the future, Casey collaborated with Western Michigan Library to sponsor a professional trainee program through which library students could earn an accredited degree for working at the State Library, with the proviso that they would continue to work at the library for two years after graduation. During her tenure Casey was also called upon to deal with internal problems, including a pervasive rift as school and public libraries were pitted against each other, to the certain delight of others at the public trough.
Casey resigned from the State Library Agency in 1967 to join the faculty at Wayne State University in the Center for Urban Studies. The 70’s saw a more inclusive approach to meeting the information and recreational needs of the nation’s library users. Once again ahead of the clock in 1974 Casey published The Pubic Library in the Network Mode, a prescient study on the possibilities.
As a faculty member at Wayne State Casey rose to the expanding opportunity to “reach out.” A priority for her was libraries’ inattention to the specific needs of an aging population. In a scholarly piece written in 1973 Casey lamented the fact that there had been scant involvement of libraries in the 1971 White House Conference on Aging. She raised the question: “What is the reason for the indifference on the part of libraries to the aging who constitute 10 percent of the present population, and whose number and percentage are generally believed will increase in the future?” Responding to her own question she quotes the National Survey of Library Services to the Aging, conducted by Booz, Allen and Hamilton:
The absence of special programing for the aging is a result of the traditional philosophy of library service held by most librarians – namely, that the library should provide services of universal scope and appeal. The result of this approach has been to submerge the needs and requirements of a particular group or segment of the population that might have a unique claim on the resources of the library.
That did not satisfy Casey who went on to write a major piece on “Staffing Library Services to the Aging”. It remains a hallmark study. Her ideas about the topic are best preserved in Library Services for the Aging, published in 1984 by Library Professional Publications.
Casey decried the fact that “library services to the aging have not developed at a pace consistent with the increase in the number of 65+ persons in the nation and commensurate with the increase in national interest in the needs and problems of the aging.” Always a systemic thinker Casey envisioned and offered concrete recommendations to train new professionals and to retrain existing staffing and administrators, basically to restructure public institutions.
Though times and technology have changed, Casey’s vision matters today as public institutions address 21st Century challenges. Genevieve M. Casey made a difference for her profession, for her students, and for the needs of a changing population.