She was born in New York City, the daughter of Benjamin Reeve and Mary E. Haines.
Haines published her first work at 19, a history of New Mexico. At 21, she worked as an editorial assistant for R.R. Bowker, who published Library Journal and Publishers' Weekly. In 1907, when she was 35 years old, she contracted tuberculosis. She then took a 6-year break from all work except reading.
She was a member of the Council of American Library Association and editor of its proceedings for ten years. From 1914 to 1926 she was a member of the faculty of the Library School of the Los Angeles Public Library; she gave courses in book selection for the School of Librarianship of the University of California. She was a contributor to the Saturday Review of Literature, The Bookman, New York Herald-Tribune, and more; she gave many annual series of lectures on books for the L. A. Public Library, Pasadena Public Library and Long Beach Public Library, and also for the Extension Dept. of the University of California. She compiled and edited various Bibliograph publications, including "American Catalogue" (1890-95) and "Annual Literary Index". She was a member of the American Library Association, California Library Association, Pasadena Library Club, Woman's Civic League of Pasadena, Friday Morning Club of Los Angeles.
Haines recovered her health and established herself as a library educator, writer, and activist in two key areas: support for popular fiction and for intellectual freedom. In 1935, she published Living with Books: The Art of Book Selection, which became a definitive library school text. One contemporary review, while praising Haines' "shrewd and discriminating observation, … acute and illuminating criticism," nevertheless complained that "there is a fearful lot of junk in some of her suggested lists of books". Perhaps the review was objecting to Haines' eclectic tastes; in a 1924 article, for instance, she advocated for "a rounded and representative collection, for readers of varied tastes, sophisticated as well as simple". In her annotated bibliography of Haines' work, Mary Robinson Sive notes that likewise, Haines' 1942 work What's in a Novel "did not receive unqualified critical acclaim because of its disregard of purely literary criteria".
She had a larger agenda that included everyone, even Black Americans, an idea that was controversial at the time of her writing. Haines’ “ideas about race relations and sex education were decades ahead of their time.” She believed a public library should indeed be public, and that they should promote education through reading. Haines was a strong believer and advocate for intellectual freedom, and “as a believer in the free exchange of ideas, she wore a bull's-eye on her back."
Haines continued to write widely and to advocate for libraries to feature modern fiction and a broad collection. Her career, however, became mired in controversy when she published a second edition of Living with Books in 1950. Initial reviewers were positive about this edition, which was explicit in its opposition to censorship. In the popular press, however, Haines was denounced as pro-Soviet; largely undefended by others in the profession, she withdrew into retirement. She received the Joseph W. Lippincott Award in 1951, but ceased publishing. She died in 1961.
She lived in Brooklyn, New York, and moved to California in 1908. She lived at 1175 North Mentor Avenue, Pasadena, California. What's in a novel (1942, Columbia University Press)
Living with books: the art of book selection (1935, Columbia University Press)
Glance again at the public libraries 1928)
New lamps for old... (1899, Pennsylvania Library Club)
Haines, H. E. (January 1, 1909). Library periodicals. Bulletin of Bibliography, 6, 2-5.
"From every book invisible threads reach out to other books, and as the mind comes to use and control those threads the whole panorama of the world's life, past and present, becomes constantly more varied and interesting." -Living With Books: the art of book selection (1935, Columbia University Press)