The Soldier Librarian
In fall of 1958, the State University of New York at Geneseo was a bustling academic hub, just starting to make a name for itself on the scholarly stage with its growing student body and departments, rigorous academic standards, and internationally recognized faculty members. For being a small university nestled in the rural valleys of western New York, Geneseo was proving itself to be a big-time collegiate player. 1958 was also the year that forty-year-old Dr. Leslie Poste joined the faculty as a professor of the Library and Information Science department. This unassuming but passionate bibliophile settled into both the college and town life seamlessly, accustomed to adjusting to new and unfamiliar places easily, so long as there were books.
Monuments Man: Although he may not have seemed so when he arrived in Geneseo, this salt-and-pepper haired, mustachioed and bespectacled man spent four years of his adult life – from 1943 to 1947 – in the United States Army during World War II. Already a certified and trained librarian, just starting out in the career of his dreams, a young, not-yet-Dr. Leslie Poste was called to service when he was twenty-five years old. He began his career as a soldier in the Military Intelligence sector of the American Army. For two years, Poste utilized the skills honed by the study of library and information science to aid him in translation, interpretation, and interrogation for the United States. He gathered and interpreted information, making it available and accessible to those seeking it – all characteristic of an effective librarian. After the end of hostilities in 1945, Poste earned the rank of Lieutenant as he was selected to serve in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (MFAA) of the Allied command. After returning to the States in 1947, Poste was a committed member of the U.S. Army Reserve.
During his time with the MFA&A, Lt. Poste’s mission was to travel Europe with his team and work to assess, rescue, and restore any and all books, manuscripts, and archives that had been affected by the destructive havoc of war. In addition to salvaging art that was in peril, Lt. Poste was essential in creating comprehensive plans for archival relocation and storage, as well as in investigating archival sites claimed to have been ransacked. For more information about how Poste maneuvered incidents specific to these responsibilities, as well as more information on the men who served in the MFA&A in general, please visit the Monuments Men Foundation website.
SUNY Geneseo: While Lt. Poste returned from service in 1947, he did not arrive at SUNY Geneseo until 1958, after he had earned his doctorate in Library and Information Science from the University of Chicago. At Geneseo, Dr. Poste taught as a professor of Library and Information Science, one of the largest and most popular departments at the time, before it was dissolved in 1983. While Dr. Poste was not an officer on the Faculty Senate, he would often be mentioned in its bulletin as he attended MFA&A related events and commemorations, and was praised for his contributions and achievements. In 1964, Dr. Poste published his doctoral dissertation titled The Development of U.S. Protection of Libraries and Archives in Europe during WWII to serve as a reference book for the U.S. Army Civil Affairs School in Fort Gordon, Georgia.
Horatio Alger Society: Aside from a genuine love of books themselves, Dr. Poste was also an avid reader, with a particular admiration for the work of Horatio Alger Jr. (1832-1899), 19th century American author. As with any passion of his, Poste became actively involved in this interest, serving as a trustee of the Horatio Alger Society, and putting Geneseo on the map, so to speak, as another Alger appreciation center. As shown on a page from the Newsboy – a Horatio Alger Society monthly publication – published for March-April of 1974, Dr. Poste arranged an exhibit dedicated to Alger and his novels, garnering much praise from the society.
Timeline: Explore this Timeline JS representation of the chronology of Dr. Poste’s life!
Dr. Poste in Print:
“Poste, Lt. Leslie I,” Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, accessed 16 April, 2017. http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/the-heroes/the-monuments-men/poste-lt.-leslie-i.
“Faculty Senate Bulletin,” 19….