#LibrariesTransform: Helen Keller in the Perkins Library

How Helen Keller used the libraries at Perkins School for the Blind when she visited and how she felt about books.

An adolescent Helen Keller reading an embossed book, circa 1894.

This year, the American Library Association’s theme for National Library Week is Libraries Transform.

Spending time in the Library

Helen Keller spent a lot of time in the Library during her visits to Perkins School for the Blind. In the 1891 Annual Report, Perkins Director Michael Anagnos observes, “she spends much of her time in the library.” One day, as they left the Library together, Keller told Anagnos that she was thinking about “how much wiser we always are when we leave here than we are when we come.” Throughout her life, Keller wrote about the role that libraries, and the books within them, played in her life.

In a 1908 article in the Boston Transcript, Helen Keller described the overwhelming experience of visiting the libraries of “well known men” as a child:

An excerpt from a 1908 Boston Transcript article. Full transcription available in blog text.

Transcript of exerpt from 1908

But to the true lover of books what inexhaustible delight there is in a fine library! When I was quite a child I had the privilege of visiting the libraries of some well known men. I remember how I went with Dr. Holmes from bookcase to bookcase, fingering the volumes and smelling that most beguiling of odors–old print and leather. Now and then he took down a volume and put it into my hands as if he loved it.I also visited the library of Mr. Laurence Hutton in New York and later at Princeton. His shelves were full of the treasures of many minds, and he was never so happy as when he showed his books to an appreciative visitor. A great many of these books were the gifts of distinguished writers who were his personal friends, and it was delightful to hear him read aloud the brilliant thoughts and happily worded autographs written in them. Truly there is no solitude for the mind of him who loves a book!

Loving books

When she was asked why she loved books so much, she once replied: “Because they tell me so much that is interesting about things I cannot see, and they are never tired or troubled like people. They tell me over and over what I want to know.” A quote from a 1927 Boston Transcript article further describes her relationship with books as Keller recalls an interaction that she had with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, while they read in a library: 

 An excerpt from a 1927 Boston Transcript article. Full transcription available in blog text.

Transcript of exerpt from 1927

I had been sitting quietly in the library for half an hour. I turned to my teacher and said: ‘Such a strange thing has happened! I have been far away all this time, and I haven’t left the room.’ ‘What do you mean, Helen?’ she said, surprised. ‘Why,’ I cried, ‘I have been in Athens!’

The Perkins Archives collections relating to Helen Keller are listed on our website. The 1891 Annual Report is digitized and available on the Internet Archive. 

Works cited

Anagnos, Michael. “Helen Keller.” Sixtieth Annual Report of The Trustees of the Perkins Institution and Massachustts School for the Blind, Boston MA. 1891. Available on the Internet Archive.

Chamberlin, J.E. “The Listener.” Boston, Mass Transcript, Boston MA. September 24, 1927. Available on the Internet Archive.

“Helen Keller’s Message: She Writes in a Magazine for the Blind.” Boston Transcript, Boston MA. December 19, 1908. Available on the Internet Archive.

Suggested citation

Coit, Susanna. “#LibrariesTransform: Helen Keller in the Perkins Library.” Perkins Archives Blog, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA. April 10, 2017.

Examples of digitized materials on Flickr

Digital collections on the Perkins Archives Flickr site

Helen Keller as a young girl, sitting and reading. She is in a high-back cushioned chair, and has one hand resting on a table with the index finger extended. Her feet are propped up on a small ottoman. A vase and framed photograph are on the table. She is wearing a white lace dress.

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