Ruth (Kikue) Kumata, a Japanese American librarian born in Seattle, served as head librarian at Hild Regional Library from 1967 until 1979. Hild Library opened in 1931 and was the regional library serving Chicago's North Side until 1985, when Sulzer Regional opened. Kumata's twelve years at Hild make her Hild's second longest serving director, behind only Jesse E. Reed, who led the library from 1931-1953. Leah Steele, Hild's final director, began as director at Hild in 1979 and then continued in this role at Sulzer until 2001.
Early Career with CPL
Ruth Kumata earned her Master of Library Science from the University of Illinois in 1950 and then spent five years at the Brooklyn Public Library in New York. She joined Chicago Public Library in 1955. Prior to becoming head librarian at Hild, she worked at several other CPL branches and served as branch head at Portage-Cragin.
As head librarian at Hild, she managed the library and its collections while also staying involved in day-to-day work, where her duties ranged from making puppets for children's events to serving as secretary-treasurer for the Ravenswood-Lake View Historical Association. She also participated in the early stages of planning for the new regional library. In a 1979 interview with Lerner newspapers, Kumata emphasized that Hild served a diverse community "from all over the North Side" and offered resources in multiple languages to serve the many immigrants who made their homes on the North Side. She noted that Hild had the second highest circulation figures in the system, behind only the main library downtown.
Kumata's Impact at CPL
When Kumata departed Hild for an administrative position downtown in 1979, she was praised by her colleagues. William Ptecek, the head of CPL's Northeast area libraries, said in a news article that "she has done a fabulous job, is hardworking and fair and concerned with people. She is probably one of the best reference librarians there are." Another colleague wrote that "she believed in truly serving the public and in the library being involved in the community - not just a building set apart."
Upon her departure from Hild, Kumata looked to the future with sentiments that many of us might identify with today. She expressed hope that "the library will continue to expand its role in the community as the one institution which can bring together, without social or commercial bias, those dynamic forces which can cooperatively enhance the quality of life for everyone."
For more on Kumata, visit this StoryMap from Augustana College Special Collections in Rock Island, Illinois, created by former Augustana College librarian Emma Saito Lincoln. Learn more about CPL's Northside Neighborhood History Collection.