The octogenarian librarian

Rochester woman has lasting impact on classifications

By Heather J. Carlson

Staff at Golden Living Center Rochester East always knew 89-year-old Margaret Moody was an avid reader who had worked at Harvard Law Library.

But no one had any idea the accomplishments of this former librarian. It turns out the soft-spoken woman is responsible for helping revolutionize the way the library catalogued foreign law materials. The system was even named the "Moody Classification."


The story came to light thanks to Trinie Thai-Parker, a reference librarian at the Harvard Law School Library researching the lasting impact that Moody and her sister, Myrtle Moody, had on the library.

"I don’t feel there is a lot of recognition for the work that they did," Thai-Parker said.

Thai-Parker is putting together an oral history about the Moody sisters’ contributions to the law library. Myrtle Moody died, but when Thai-Parker learned that Margaret Moody was living in Rochester, the librarian booked a ticket to Minnesota during the university’s spring break.

Margaret Moody was born in Rochester in 1918 and graduated from Rochester High School. She attended the University of Minnesota, studying foreign languages and library science. She was proficient in nine languages, including French, Latin, Russian, Turkish and Old English.

The Moody sisters in 1943 ended up at the Harvard Law Library. While working as assistant librarian, Margaret Moody helped create the Moody Classification — a way for cataloging foreign law literature that is still used at the Harvard Law School Library today. Thai-Parker said the system is important because it gives people an easy way to find foreign law information.

Besides helping come up with this cataloging system, Margaret Moody also edited several prestigious publications, including the Catalog of International Law and Relations.

Ask Moody about her time at Harvard and she remembers working as a librarian during World War II, with frequent blackouts. She also alludes to the challenge women faced in the professional world. Asked if she thinks the glass ceiling still exists, she replied, "I suppose so."

Moody moved back to Rochester a year ago to live in an elderly care facility.


As for Thai-Parker, she is planning to continue researching her oral history project to help highlight the work of the Moody sisters at an important time in America’s history.

"In America after (World War II), there was a great interest in helping understand foreign legal systems," Thai-Parker said. "There was an increased interest in foreign materials, and what Margaret and Myrtle both had were foreign language skills."

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