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Lillian López Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS 45

Scope and Contents

These papers reflect on the life of library administrator Lillian López, her activist sister, Evelina Antonetty, and librarian and folklorist, Pura Belpré. They are a valuable source of information on the programs developed by The New York Public Library to address the needs of its Puerto Rican and Latino constituents. Notable among the materials are those related to the South Bronx Project and to the puppet theater directed by Pura Belpré.

The bulk of the documents focus on the 1970s and 1980s. The folders are alphabetical and the materials organized in chronological order. Types of documents included are letters, news clippings, photographs, audio and videocassettes, scrapbooks, and play scripts.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1970-1980
  • Creation: 1928-2005


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers.

Biographical / Historical

Lillian López was among the first Puerto Rican librarians in the New York Public Library system and a pioneer in her efforts to create library services and programs for Puerto Ricans and other Latinos. In her role as coordinator of the Office of Special Services and in other leadership positions, she sought ways to make the library more responsive and accessible to all sectors of New York City.

Born in Salinas, Puerto Rico in 1925, Lillian López spent her early childhood in Ponce. In 1935, she left Ponce with her widowed mother and a younger sister for New York City. There they were reunited with an older sister, Evelina, who had arrived two years earlier. Joining a growing number of Puerto Rican migrants in New York City, they settled in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem). In keeping with a family tradition of activism, they became involved in the political life of El Barrio. As teenagers Lillian and Evelina joined the Young Communist League and would both remain active in social causes throughout their lives. Evelina went on to become a fiery community organizer while Lillian worked for change as a professional librarian.

After graduating from Washington Irving High School in 1944, López postponed college in order to work to help support her family. In 1952, she enrolled at Hunter College attending evenings or days depending on her financial situation, earning a B.A. degree in 1959. While in college she worked in private industry and labor unions, but finally decided to pursue a library science degree from Columbia University. She applied for a job as a trainee at the New York Public Library (NYPL), but feared that because of her labor activism she would not be hired. However, in 1960, she became a library trainee and remained with NYPL for twenty-five years until her retirement in 1985.

López quickly moved up in the library system to become the first Puerto Rican to hold important supervisory administrative positions, which allowed her to help set policies and change the way the library related to minority communities. From the start, she was an advocate for better library services to the Spanish-speaking residents of New York City. She says in an interview that her role was to get the library to “come down to earth and serve the needs of the every day person.” She labored to recruit bilingual library staff, and to attract young Latinos into the library profession. Early on, she managed to get the branches serving large numbers of Latinos in Manhattan and the Bronx to acquire sizable collections of books and other materials in Spanish.

In 1967 she was instrumental in establishing the innovative South Bronx Project and became the administrator of this model library outreach project. “The goal of the project,” she explained, “was to break down barriers between the library and the community.” The project operated in nine neighborhoods, which had become predominantly Latino. Spanish, English and bilingual programs of diverse types were presented to people in all kinds of settings - schools, churches, playgrounds – beyond the library walls. The programs were carefully geared to the cultural and social needs of each group being served in keeping with López’ belief that everyone should have access to all types of information.

After five years with the project, López went on to become coordinator of the Special Services Office, which allowed her to implement programs like the South Bronx Project throughout the boroughs served by NYPL. In 1979, she became Bronx borough coordinator with responsibility for the 33 branch libraries in the Bronx and worked toward strengthening the role of libraries in the revitalization of the area.

For much of her library career, Lillian López was critical of national organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA) for their lack of responsiveness to the needs of Latinos, and believed that it was her professional responsibility to do something about it. She became involved and held positions both in ALA and the New York Library Association. Between 1980 and 1982, she was appointed to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Sciences’ Minorities Task Force. She retired from the NYPL in 1985 and in 1986 The National Association to Promote Library Services to the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA) honored her for her contributions to the New York Latino community. Lillian López died in New York City on July 28, 2005.

The Lillian López collection is an important complement to the Pura Belpré Papers also in the Centro Archives. Both collections offer insight into the workings of a large public institution and how it negotiates change in order to meet the challenge of new population needs. The papers also reflect the close friendship and collaboration that existed between these two pioneering librarians and their efforts to enrich the lives of the Latino community of New York. References / Referencias:

Ayala, María S. “Lilian (sic) López Interview.” 1978. Wilson Library Bulletin. (November).

Guereña, Salvador and Erazo, Edward. 2000. “Latinos and Librarianship.” Library Trends, 49:1 (Summer): 138-181.

Josey, E.J. and Peeples, Kenneth E. 1977. Opportunities for Minorities in Librarianship. New Jersey: Scarecrow Press.

Mapp, Edward. Puerto Rican Perspectives. 1974. New Jersey: Scarecrow Press.

Oral History Interviews, 1997, 2001 (with Nélida Pérez).


2.67 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


Library administrator, among the first Puerto Rican librarians in the New York Public Library system (NYPL) and a pioneer in providing services and creating programs for underserved communities. Collection contains information on the programs developed by NYPL to address the needs of its Puerto Rican and Latino constituents, her activist sister, Evelina Antonetty, and librarian and folklorist, Pura Belpré. Consists of letters, news clippings, photographs, audio and videocassettes, scrapbooks, and scripts for puppet theater.


The collection is divided into the following series: I. Biographical and Personal Information

II. Correspondence

III. Writings

IV. Scripts for Puppet Theater

V. Subject Files

VI. Photographs

VII. Scrapbooks

VIII. Oral Histories

Other Finding Aids

English / Spanish bilingual finding aid available, see External Documents.

Related Materials

The collection relates to the Pura Belpré Papers in the Centro Archives and highlights how closely the two women worked together.

Lillian López Papers
Ismael García with the assistance of Izzy De Moya, Damary González and Yosenex Orengo
March 2003
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processed with a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Funding was also provided by a congressional directed initiative sponsored by Congressman José Serrano and administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

Revision Statements

  • 2005: Guide was revised in 2005 by Pedro Juan Hernández and Nélida Pérez.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository

Silberman Building, Hunter College
2180 Third Ave. Rm. 122
New York New York 10065

About the Collections

Our collections consist of personal papers from prominent Puerto Rican artists, elected officials, social activists, writers, as well as the records of community-based organizations. Our largest collection, the Offices of the Government of Puerto Rico in the United States (OGPRUS) Records, measures approximately 2,900 cubic feet and contains an extraordinary amount of information regarding Puerto Rican migrants and the government institutions established to assist them. The collections date from the 1890s to the present, and document Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, California and Hawaii.