Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Gettysburg College’s Student Literary Societies (1831-1924)

Cover mailed by Philomathean Society, circa 1850s

Cover mailed to the Phrenakosmian Society, circa 1880s

As I noted in a previous post about Dartmouth’s student literary societies, early academic libraries were not very friendly to students. As a result students sometimes formed their own libraries as part of student literary societies. Two such literary societies were created at Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College) in Gettysburg, PA. They were the Philomathean and Phrenakosmian Societies. I have in my collection of postal librariana covers (envelopes) related to both of these societies (see above). The very attractive cover from the Philomathean Society was mailed sometime in the 1850s (the postage stamp is on the back of the cover), and the Phrenakosmian Society cover was mailed in the 1880s. Both societies were formed at Pennsylvania College in 1831 and both were disbanded in 1924. At some point, as occurred with other student society libraries, their libraries were probably merged with the college library. The archives of the two societies are now part of Special Collections & College Archives of Gettysburg College. The Philomathean and Phrenakosmian Societies existed at other colleges and there is a Philomathean Society still in existence at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Philatelic Gold (and Vermeil) in St. Louis



Each year I enter one or two philatelic exhibits in national level stamp shows with various library history related topics. I’ve been doing this every year since 2003, and I find the development of these exhibits to be both enjoyable and challenging. This year I developed a five frame exhibit on “America’s Membership Libraries” and a one frame exhibit on “Hiram E. Deats – The Life of a Jerseyman”. The debut of these two exhibits was at the Saint Louis Stamp Expo last month. Philatelic exhibits are judged by a panel of experts accredited by the American Philatelic Society. They are judged against a set of criteria that varies depending on the division in which the exhibit is entered. My exhibits are entered in the Display Division which allows the inclusion of ephemera as well as postal artifacts. Each exhibit is eligible to receive one of the following medal level awards (in ascending order): bronze, silver bronze, silver, vermeil, and gold. Exhibits are also eligible for a number of special awards. In St. Louis my “America’s Membership Libraries” exhibit received a gold award, and the “Hiram E. Deats – The Life of a Jerseyman” exhibit received a Vermeil award.  For both exhibits I was also recognized by The Ephemera Society of America for the use of ephemera in my exhibits. My primary motivation in exhibiting is telling the story of America’s libraries, but it's always nice to receive recognition for my efforts.  Incidentally, Hiram E. Deats was a world renowned philatelist and also a big supporter of libraries. Click Here for more information about Deats.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

St. Louis Mercantile Library


Last week while in St. Louis for a stamp show and a family visit I had the opportunity to visit the St. Louis Mercantile Library, one of our nation’s most unusual libraries. Because of my interest in membership libraries, I was already aware of the history of the Mercantile Library (click HERE to see previous post). I just had not had the opportunity to see it firsthand. I was very impressed. Fee based membership libraries in America had their heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries, and all but a few did not survive after the first couple of decades in the 20th century. Those that did survive did so by substantially revising their missions. In regard to its current mission this statement appears on the website of the St. Louis Mercantile Library: “The task of the Mercantile Library as a research library is to make its collections, which have come to concentrate on Western Expansion and the history, development, and growth of the St. Louis region and of the American rail and river transportation experiences, available to the widest number of local and national users.” The Mercantile Library has also entered into an arrangement with another institution to ensure its survival well into the future. The Mercantile Library is now part of the Libraries of the University of Missouri – St. Louis and shares a building with the Thomas Jefferson Library of the University. In addition to its extensive general historical collection the Mercantile Library is home to the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library, the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, and an extensive art collection. I had the privilege of participating in one of the excellent docent led tours of the Mercantile Library which take place on Saturday and Sunday each week. If you are ever in St. Louis I highly recommend a visit to the St. Louis Mercantile Library. A few pictures from my visit appear below.

A memorial for Clarence E. Miller who worked at the library for 67 years and was Librarian from 1941-1958.
One of the locked rare book cases.

A vintage card catalog no longer in use which contained the "Harvard size" catalog cards.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An Aluminum Library Postcard, Manitowoc, WI, 1905



To my collection of unusual library postcards I have added an aluminum postcard that depicts the former Carnegie building of the Manitowoc (WI) Public Library. Manitowoc received a $25,000 Carnegie grant in 1902 and the new Carnegie building opened in 1904. It housed the public library until it was replaced in 1967, and unfortunately was razed after that. A brief history of the Manitowoc Public Library is located HERE. The postcard was mailed on Dec. 5, 1905 from Manitowoc to Sacramento, CA. In the first decade of the 20th century when postcards were in their heyday there were some pretty unusual postcards that made their way through the postal system. I've previously written about leather postcards and wooden postcards. There is an interesting aspect to this aluminum postcard. It doesn't have a stamp or a postmark cancellation. That is because when it was mailed it was enclosed in a clear outer envelope on which the stamp was placed and cancelled. There is a statement on the address side of the postcard which reads: "Not Mailable Except Under Cover". All of these unusual postcards were probably a huge headache for the mail clerks that had to deal with them.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Extraordinary Women of ALA’s Washington Office


For Women’s History Month I’m writing about a group of women who collectively made an enormous contribution to the improvement of library service in America. These were the women who served as director of the Washington Office of the American Library Association from 1950 through 1999. They were the lobbyists for America’s libraries, and they carried out this role exceptionally well. The ALA Washington Office was established in October of 1945 and celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Paul Howard became the first director of the office when it opened in 1946 but left in 1949 when ALA closed the office due to lack of funding. It reopened in 1950 under the leadership of Marjorie Malmberg, the first of the women featured in this article. Malmberg had relocated to Virginia with her husband after she had led a successful effort to get state funding for libraries in Wisconsin. Malmberg is credited by her successors for laying the foundation for a politically effective Washington Office and for playing an important role in the effort to secure federal legislation for libraries. Malmberg was followed as director by Alice Dunlap who served a short term (Sept, 1951-Jan 31, 1952), but continued efforts toward federal legislation. Julia Bennett Armistead headed the Washington Office from 1952 through 1957 and helped to finally secure the passage of the Federal Library Services Act (LSA) in 1956. It fell to Germaine Krettek (1907-1994) who became director of the Washington Office in November 1957 to secure the actual funding for rural library service which was authorized under LSA.  President Eisenhower recommended initial funding for LSA of only $3 million, but Krettek led efforts that resulted in an appropriation of $6 million. Also under Krettek leadership, LSA was expanded in 1964 to become the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) and included support for urban as well as rural libraries. When Krettek retired in 1972 federal funding for libraries under all federal legislation had increased to $200 million. For her legislative efforts Krettek was honored by ALA with the Joseph W. Lippincott medal in 1969 and was elected to Honorary Membership in ALA (ALA’s highest honor) in 1973. Eileen Cooke who had worked under Krettek in the Washington Office starting in 1964 became director in 1972. Cooke was presented with a major challenge when for fiscal year 1974 President Nixon recommended zero funding for ESEA II, LSCA, and HEA II. Librarians responded to calls from the Washington Office for action and their efforts led to $151.2 million in funding for library programs. Throughout her tenure Cooke fought for the reauthorization and funding for federal legislation that benefited millions of American. Carol Henderson, Cooke’s assistant and successor, called her boss, “the legendary library lady of Capitol Hill”. When ALA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Washington Office in 1996, Cooke was given Honorary Mermbership in ALA for her distinguished career. Cooke retired in 1993 and was succeeded by Henderson who served until 1999. Under Henderson the Washington Office established the Office of Technology Policy and successfully worked for the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Emily Sheketoff became director of the Washington Office in 1999 and is the current director. Sheketoff has continued to build successfully on the efforts of her predecessors. The entire library community can be thankful that these enormously talented women were drawn to serve in a leadership role in the Washington Office of the American Library Association.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Gilbert H. Doane’s Book About Collecting Bookplates

I have written a previous post about Gilbert H. Doane who served as Librarian of the University of Wisconsin – Madison General Library from 1937 to 1956 and was one of the World War II “Monuments Men”. Doane was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2014. In doing research on Doane I discovered that he was a collector of bookplates, and that he had written a book about collecting bookplates. I lucked out and was able to purchase a copy of his book at one of the online used book sites. Its title is About Collecting Bookplates: A Letter from Gilbert H. Doane, and it was published in 1941 by a small press named Black Mack. The book which is in the form of a long personal letter came about after a visit from Doane’s friend Bill who showed interest in his collection of bookplates. In his book Doane writes: “Were there a small book on the subject [bookplates] easily accessible to your hand, I’d recommend it to you; but, alas, most of the literature, aside from checklists of designers and engravers, is forty or more years old, out of print, and obtainable only through the medium of secondhand book dealers and not always quickly found at that. So here’s the story of bookplates put as briefly as I can put it, but told, I fear, in rather a haphazard way, with, I know, far too many references to examples I’ve been lucky enough to acquire. Do forgive me if, as a collector, I cannot curb my pride in an occasional bit of good luck. God knows, I’ve paid for some of my mistakes in other ways – as you will, Dear Chap, if you get this fever!” As Doane indicates his book/letter is illustrated with bookplates from his collection which any serious bookplate collector would appreciate. The one shown to the left was designed by bookplate designer Edwin D. French (1851-1906) for his own use.  Doane’s book is in itself a valued collectible. It is a small book in size (5” by 4”) and length (78 pages) and has its own case. The printing on special paper consisted of 360 numbered copies of which mine is number 30. As with Doane, “I cannot curb my pride in an occasional bit of good luck” in finding a copy of his book.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Major Addition To My Bookplate Collection



Bookplate collecting is a serious endeavor which is normally undertaken by serious collectors. I don’t consider myself a serious collector of bookplates so it is surprising that I have made 18 previous posts to this blog with the label “bookplates” (this one makes 19). I have also ended up with a fairly significant collection of bookplates for institutional libraries (as opposed to personal libraries). I added a major addition to that collection last year when I purchased an album of over 300 bookplates from a dealer at a stamp show.  The dealer who knew about my interest in library history had previously offered to sell the album to me, but the price was more than I was willing to pay. He finally got tired of lugging the album around and made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. The album includes only part of someone’s former collection. The bookplates are for libraries starting with A and going through libraries starting with M.  The bookplates are tipped or pasted into the album and I still need to safely remove them. Most of the bookplates are unused and were probably acquired by exchange with libraries or other collectors. The image of the page from the album for the Bangor (ME) Public Library shown above is indicative of that approach. A few of the bookplates in the album were removed from books. A bookplate from the library of the Bureau of Statistics and Labor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, also shown above, is an example of those bookplates. The Massachusetts  bookplate was added to the library on April 2, 1906.  I have no clue who compiled this collection of bookplates, but it is a fair assumption that it was a librarian. I previously obtained a collection of library bookplates that was assembled by Essae Martha Culver who was executive secretary of the Louisiana Library Commission and later Louisiana State Librarian.  Some examples from the Culver collection are located HERE. It is always nice to make a connection with a previous or current collector of librariana.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Wisconsin Library Bulletin 1905-1984

In addition to my contributions to the Library History Buff Blog I am also the primary contributor the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center blog. I'm re-posting below a contribution to that blog about the Wisconsin Library Bulletin. Publications of state library agencies and state library associations contain a wealth of library history source material. Many of these publications have been digitally scanned through the efforts of Google and the Hathi Trust. Much of that material is not available in full view, however. The Hathi Trust has a process for the holders of copyright to material still protected by copyright to provide permission for its full view. Doing so for state library and state library association publications would be a major contribution to a greater knowledge and understanding of library history in the United States. Wisconsin is working on doing that for the Wisconsin Library Bulletin. Other states should do likewise.

Post to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center blog for February 22, 2015:


In January, 1905, just over 110 years ago, the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC), the predecessor to the Wisconsin Division for Libraries and Technology, published the first issue of the Wisconsin Library Bulletin (WLB). The new monthly publication was described as "A Magazine of Suggestion and Information" and was devoted to the improvement of Wisconsin's libraries. It reported on library activities and development within the state and provided a wealth of  practical information primarily for public libraries. The WLB was edited by WFLC Secretary Henry E. Legler. The first issue of the magazine can be found on the Hathi Trust website. That issue contained a summary of library progress in Wisconsin and a variety of articles and news items written by leaders in public library development and extension in Wisconsin. These included Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame members Lutie Stearns and Cornelia Martin. The WLB ended with a special issue in 1984. A complete file of the WLB can be found on the Hathi Trust website but not all issues are available in "full view". Efforts are being by the Division for Libraries and Technology to rectify that situation. The image to the left shows the cover of the Sept.-Oct. 1909 issue.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Library Trustees Handbook 1902


Governance of public libraries by an independent board of trustees is a model that dates back to the establishment of the Boston Public Library in 1852. It continues to be the dominant form of public library governance today. The Massachusetts Free Public Library Commission was established in 1890. It was the first of many state level library organizations that had a primary mission of advancing public libraries and public library service on a statewide basis. Wisconsin established the Wisconsin Free Library Commission in 1895. Minnesota established the Minnesota Library Commission in 1899, and Iowa followed suit in 1900. These three library commissions were leaders in promoting the education of public library trustees. In 1902 they published the Hand Book of Library Organizations. I have a copy of that publication and it is available in digital form on the Hathi Trust website. The Introduction of the handbook states: "This handbook is addressed primarily to library trustees, and is not intended to give full directions for the technical work necessary in a public library. Its purpose is to give all the information which is necessary for the board of directors to have before the trained organizer or permanent librarian arrives, and to serve as a guide to the untrained librarian in the administration of a small library." Notwithstanding this disclaimer the 79 page publication contains a wealth of information prepared by some of the most experienced public library extension leaders in the nation. I've included a scan of the contents page of the handbook above. I worked for 23 years at the successor to the Wisconsin Free Library Commission and we developed and updated a public library trustees manual on several occasions. The latest version is online HERE. It represents a strategy for educating library trustees that dates back for more than a century. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wooden Library Postcard, Redlands,CA, 1905



Perhaps the most unusual postcard in my collection of library postcards is the one shown above. It is made of wood and depicts the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, CA. The postcard was mailed in 1905 when postcards were called "mailing cards" and only the address could appear on the non-picture side of the card. This wood "Souvenir Mailing Card" was copyrighted in 1903 by the California Souvenir Co. in Los Angeles, CA. To say wooden postcards are scarce is an understatement. Out of over two million postcards listed on eBay I could find only a few that were made of wood and none that depicted a library. There was one California Souvenir Co. mailing card similar to this one and it was unused and depicted grapes on the front. The building depicted on this postcard was dedicated in 1894 and was made possible by the generosity of A.K. Smiley. With additions it is still in use today. The story of how the library building came to be can be found HERE.