‘A walking encyclopedia’: Late NYU librarian impassioned friends, family

Jennifer Steenshorne, a historian and former librarian, died from COVID-19 in early January.


Former NYU librarian Jennifer Steenshorne passed away in January 2022 after testing positive for COVID-19. Jennifer worked at Bobst Library from 1997 to 2000. (Photo by Yvonne Rode, courtesy of Brant Vogel)

Kayla Hardersen, Staff Writer

Jennifer Steenshorne, a former NYU librarian, died last month after testing positive for COVID-19. She was fully vaccinated and had recovered from the virus earlier in the pandemic, according to a tweet she posted on Dec. 28.

“I lost my big collaborator in life,” Brant Vogel, Steenshorne’s husband, said. “Hopefully she passed on enough knowledge to me that I can go on my own now.”

Steenshorne started her work at NYU as a clerk at Bobst Library’s business department in 1990 and worked as a Library Assistant at the Stephen Chan library at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts from 1991 to 1993. She then left NYU for a few years to work in other roles, including as a researcher for the African Burial Ground Project from 1994 to 1995, before returning to NYU as a manager at the Stephen Chan library from 1997 to 2000.

Duncan Elliott, a project manager for the Houston City Council, was a friend and colleague of Steenshorne during her time at the Stephen Chan Library as a library assistant. Elliott credits Steenshorne with introducing him to heavy metal. The two shared other musical interests, such as ‘70s women rock stars and ‘60s French pop.

“What was really special about Jenn was that even though she was one of the most educated persons I knew, she never made me feel that the difference between our education levels mattered,” Elliott wrote to WSN. “She was just herself around all different types of people. She was great that way.”

After completing her Ph.D. in history from the University of California Irvine, she went on to teach American history classes at Queens College, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, LaGuardia Community College and St. Francis College. 

Steenshorne also worked as a researcher for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a library assistant and bibliographic researcher for the New York Society Library. She joined the editorial ranks of the Selected Papers of John Jay project at Columbia University in 2005 and served as director of the George Washington Papers project at the University of Virginia in 2018.

Her other interests included New York City cemeteries, the closed culture of jockeys and how diplomatic relations were influenced in social settings like dinners or games of cards. She published a collection of articles on the James Bond franchise and its relation to the Cold War and post-World War II diplomacy. The work was translated into French and published in “James Bond (2)007: anatomie d’un mythe populaire.”

“She made topics come alive because she was constantly interacting with people in those fields so she could get better insight,” Robert Platt, one of Steenshorne’s friends and colleagues at NYU, said.

Steenshorne also worked for designer clothing brand Perry Ellis and jazz icons such as Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie. She was also an avid brewer of beer, a dedicated horse racing fan and she once followed Metallica to Iceland.

“Something would pop up and she would happen to know all about it,” Vogel said. “She was like a walking encyclopedia.”

Platt said that Steenshorne always stood up for herself and was never hesitant to correct someone who was wrong — even when it got her kicked out of her Girl Scout troop.

“They were taking their troop photo and she’s very tall — she’s 6 foot, 6-foot-1 — and she says, ‘No, we have to redo this. I have to be in the center because I’m the tallest, because the Rockettes always put the tallest in the middle,’” Platt said.

Shortly prior to her passing, Steenshorne was attending the City University of New York Graduate Center’s Biography and Memoir Program and was taking courses at the Rare Book School, a nonprofit institute focused on the study of rare and special book collections. Vogel hopes to complete some of his wife’s unfinished work in the future. 

“As she would’ve said, her best work is yet to come,” he said. “That’s about all, really, I can say about that.”

Contact Kayla Hardersen at [email protected].