Partner Martha Burt

Queer Places:
248-252 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009
Bywater Bed & Breakfast, 1026 Clouet St, New Orleans, LA 70117
127 E Lupita Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87505

taken by Liz Snyder in 2013, shows BC Sellen and Polly Thistlethwaite in New OrleansBetty-Carol “BC” Sellen (born March, 1934) was born in Seattle, WA. She is a librarian and a collector of American folk and outsider art and author of several resource books on the subject.

She attended the University of Washington for both her Bachelor’s (1956) and Master’s (1959) degrees, and she earned a second Master’s from New York University in 1974. She held positions of increasing responsibility in the profession, starting at the Brooklyn Public Library (1959-60), then with the University of Washington Law Library (1960-63), and finally at the City University of New York Brooklyn College Library from 1964 until her retirement in 1990 as Associate Librarian for Public Services.

Towards the end of the 1950’s, Chavela Vargas' reputation began to expand greatly — particularly in artistic circles. She was a popular performer in Acapulco, singing in the champagne room of La Perla, frequently in front of tourists from other parts of the world. She was so well regarded that she was hired to sing at the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd on February 2, 1957. Chavela would later claim that she slept with Ava Gardner at that wedding. She is known to have had numerous romances after this — including, apparently, with some very famous people, but she would never share their names. A few have stepped forward, including Betty-Carol Sellen, but Chavela was very careful to keep these things private.

As a library school student at the University of Washington, Sellen engaged with student government to pressure the university to concern itself with housing for students of color, with particular focus on students from Africa who struggled to find places to live. A media campaign called attention to discriminatory city housing practices and forced the university to support students impacted by them. Sellen’s librarianship provided a platform for wide-ranging activism, gaining particular notoriety for her work on feminist issues in the profession. Sellen was active in the founding of the ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table, a co-founder and 1982-3 chair of the ALA Feminist Task Force, and chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship following that. With a cohort of librarian feminists, she organized an American Library Association Preconference on the Status of Women in Librarianship sponsored by the Social Responsibilities Round Table Task Force on the Status of Women in 1974 at Douglass College, Rutgers University.

Sellen was also active in New York City library politics. She was President of the Library Association of the City University of New York (LACUNY) during the tumultuous years of 1969 – 71 and co-chair of the 1968 LACUNY Conference New Directions for the City University Libraries that laid the groundwork for the CUNY union catalog and growth of the productive coalition of CUNY libraries. Sellen’s engagement with library politics around the country introduced varieties of library organization, policies, and political concerns into CUNY library activism. Sellen was engaged in efforts to obtain and to maintain faculty status for CUNY librarians, to match the salaries, benefits, and prestige afforded other university faculty colleagues, achieved in 1965. In her role as president of the LACUNY Sellen encouraged librarians to publish in scholarly and literary journals as appropriate platforms for librarians’ work. She wrote Librarian/author: A Practical Guide on How to Get Published (1985) to further that concern.

Sellen was also a defender of academic freedom. When Zoia Horn, librarian at Bucknell College in Lewisburg, PA, was jailed for refusing to turn over library borrowing records regarding the Berrigan brothers (who were imprisoned for anti-American activities), Sellen organized NYC fundraising to support Horn’s legal defense.

Sellen valued collaboration and often co-authored her academic and professional work on library salaries, alternative careers, and feminist library matters. She was a prodigious author of letters-to-the-editor of library professional publications. She wrote brief, widely-read letters for American Librarians and Library Journal on topics such as librarian faculty status, the sexist underpinnings of the librarian image problem, intellectual freedom in Cuba, sexism and salary discrimination in the library profession, suppression of gay literary identities, and on unacknowledged incidents of censorship. In 1989 she criticized appointment of Fr. Timothy Healey to head the New York Public Library on the grounds that as a CUNY administrator, prior to his NYPL appointment, Healey had systematically undermined librarians and libraries. Sellen remembered publicly that Healey, in a CUNY meeting she attended, announced that “college librarians were about as deserving of faculty status as were campus elevator operators”, exposing a cluster of problematic biases held by a man appointed a leading NYC cultural administrator.

In the 1970s, Sellen convinced several other librarians, including Susan Vaughn, Betty Seifert, Joan Marshall, Kay Castle, to take up residence on E. 7th Street in New York City’s East Village. She resided at 248-252 East 7th St. Sellen joined with a multi-ethnic group of residents to rehab neighborhood buildings and establish them as self-governed cooperatives. Sellen was active in the same block association that battled the drug trade that flourished in the neighborhood as early as the 1970s and continued into the 1990s. In 1990 Sellen received the ALA Equality Award, commending her “outstanding contributions toward promoting equality between men and women in the library profession.” The commendation recognizes her tireless labor and sustained coalition building as a leader in several landmark conferences on sex and racial equality, and her “inspiration to several generations of activist librarians.”

Sellen’s eclectic expertise was reflected in her published works. She assembled and edited The Librarian’s Cookbook (1990). She co-authored The Bottom Line Reader: A Financial Handbook for Librarians (1990); The Collection Building Reader (1992) and What Else You Can Do with a Library Degree (1997).

In her retirement, Sellen became an accomplished collector of American folk art. She authored and co-authored several reference books on the topic, including 20th Century American Folk, Self-Taught, and Outsider Art (1993) and Outsider, Self-taught, and Folk Art: Annotated Bibliography (2002) with Cynthia Johanson; Art Centers: American Studios and Galleries for Artists with Developmental or Mental Disabilities (2008); and Self-taught, Outsider and Folk Art: A Guide to American Artists, Locations, and Resources (2016). The collection of Betty-Carol Sellen and her partner, Martha Burt, went on auction in 2021. Burt served on the board of directors for Art Enables in Washington DC, and as a member of the National Advisory Board for the Folk Art Society of America. She received the Folk Art Society’s Award of Distinction in 2002 for her work in the field.

Sellen resides in Santa Fe, NM, and also spends time in New Orleans, LA. Sellen and Burt owns The Bywater Bed and Breakfast, located in a private home in New Orleans, in a fully-renovated traditional late-Victorian "double-shotgun" cottage decorated with contemporary and antique furnishings and Louisiana folk art. The B&B is located in one of New Orleans' hottest "upcoming" neighborhoods, home of artists, galleries, music clubs, and the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, and a short distance from the French Quarter and other tourist attractions.

My published books:

See my published books