Thursday, January 29, 2009

James Kendall Hosmer 175 Today


The Minneapolis Public Library (merged with the Hennepin County Library in 2008) had the good fortune to have three exceptional directors at the beginning of its history. James Kendall Hosmer (1834-1927) was the second of those directors serving from 1892 to 1904. He followed Herbert Putnam and preceded Gratia Countryman. Hosmer, Putnam, and Countryman all served as President of the American Library Association, Hosmer in 1902-1903. Hosmer was born on January 29,1834 and today is the 175th anniversary of his birth. Happy birthday James.
Ralph Adams Brown author of Hosmer's entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography had this to say about Hosmer: "He also believed that a library must aggressively seek to expand its appeal, to increase its service. Books that merely sat on shelves were unimportant; they must be circulated and read. He rejoiced that his Library not only had many branches but that it supplied books to 35 different public schools within the city." When Hosmer retired from the Minneapolis Public Library it had the largest per capita circulation of any public library in a city over 200,000.
Hosmer was also a prolific author of of novels and articles on a wide range of topics. Hosmer was named Librarian Emeritus of the Minneapolis Public Library in 1925 and in 1926 the 36th Street Branch was renamed the James K. Hosmer Branch. The James K. Hosmer Special Collections Library of the Hennepin County Library, the source of the photo above, is named in his honor.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oldest Public Library?

The Darby Free Library in Darby Borough, Pennsylavania which claims to be the oldest public library in continuous existence is, by recent accounts,in jeapordy of closing if it doesn't receive additional financial support. While I sympathaize with the plight of this historic library, I would challenge its claim of being the oldest public library.

The Darby Library Company was founded by a group of Quakers in 1743 just 12 years after the founding of the Library Company of Philadelphia (which also remains in existence), the nations's first subscription lending library. From its founding up to an unknown point, the Darby Library, was supported by paid subscriptions from the members of the library and could only be used by its
members. It was only at the point that it became free to use by anyone in Darby Borough that it met the first criteria for a library to be considered a public library. It was not until it started receiving public tax support for serving the Darby Borough that it met the second major criteria for being considered a public library. This was also at some unknown point, but probably not until the 1990s. So for much of its history the Darby Library was a subscription library and therefore cannot legitimately claim to be the oldest public library.


The Peterborough Town Library in Peterborough, New Hampshire is the oldest public library in continuous exhistence to meet the two conditions of being free to the residents of the community it serves and to also receive public funding.

The Boston Public Library which also sometimes claims to be the oldest public library is the oldest city or large public library.


Of course, the Darby Free Library remains a unique and historic library and hopefully will receive adequate funding from Darby Borough.

For more on the early history of the Darby Library check out pages 219 to 222 in the 1918 volume of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography which can be found in Google books at this location on the Web.

The Straight Dope website does a good job of answering the question "How Did Public Libraries Get Started?"


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rudolph's Continuous Indexer

Two fellow library history buffs, Richard Douglas and Sharon McQueen, recently alerted me to the existence of a world class library history artifact at the Newberry Library in Chicago. That artifact is the Rudolph Continous Indexer which was invented by Alexander J. Rudolph, Assistant Librarian of the Newberry Library from 1894-1911.

Rudolph introduced his continuous indexer in 1893 at the meeting of the American Library Association at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Rudolph Continuous Indexer was marketed as a less costly alternative to the card catalog. Competition from Melvil Dewey's Library Bureau and its card catalog products was too great, however, and the Rudolph Continuous Indexer was short lived. The major drawback to Rudolph's indexer was that only one person could use it at a time.

It is wonderful that the Newberry Library has preserved an example, perhaps the only example of a Rudolph Continuous Indexer. The photograph above was taken by Richard Douglas. For more on the Rudolph Continuous indexer click here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ALA Denver 1895


The American Library Association will be holding its Midwinter conference in Denver on January 23-28. When the proceedings of the early meetings of the American Library Association were published they usually included an article on the social side of the conference. For the 1895 meeting in Denver, Colorado, Mary Emogene Hazeltine wrote the section entitled "Social and Travel Features of the Conference". I recently discovered a minature book (3.75 inches by 2.5 inches) which turned out to be an invitation to the participants of this conference to a reception hosted by the Colorado Library Association. The title of the little book was "An Adventure in the Far West" and the author was given as C. L. A., Author of Good Intentions. Hazeltine writes: "...a jolly band of comrades we, quite ready for the Adventure in the Far West which next befell us. If it took a "whole book" by C. L. A., author of Good Intentions, to summon us to this adventure, surely it needs a book to tell of it; to tell how th High School building [where the reception was held] by some magic became a reception hall, where we were most cordially received by the good people of Denver; and of the gay scene, where music and flowers, milk and honey, talk and laughter mingled."

Hazeltine's recounting of the Loop Trip during the Denver conference was far more interesting. Here are a few exerpts "We had not been in Denver very long before it began to be whispered about that certain members of the A. L. A. were going to run off for a day and take the trip over the 'Loop.' The whisper became a more distinct utterance, and finally it was announced that the regular sessions for Thursday would be postponed, that all might take the loop-trip if they desired without having any unattended sessions on their consciences. Consequently at 8:30 o'clock on the morning appointed, most of the party were to be seen comfortably seated in an observation car ready for the short journey into 'the heart of the Rockies' over the famous loop. ...The goggle boy diverted our attention for a few brief moments, as he passed through the train and made us all believe that our eyes would seriously suffer from the ever present cinder if we did not provide ourselves with the ugly blue things he had for sale; so we purchased his wares, adjusted them with the feeling that if we did look like a new species of human being, we were at least doing the proper thing, and prepared for the worst - or best. ...The loop is indeed 'a railway on a bender, the apotheosis of gyration, the supreme luxury of entanglement' and makes one feel that there is a great deal of human ingenuity in the world, and that railroad engineering skill is something to be mightily respected."

At the time of the A.L.A. meeting in Denver Hazeltine was librarian of the James Prendergast Free Library in Jamestown, New York. She later became head of the library school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In 2008 she was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame. Many of the proceedings of the American Library Association conferences can be found on Google Books. A collection of the proceedings of the 1893, 1894, 1895, and 1896 conferences can be found here. I have also compiled a collection of primarily library history publications which link to ALA Conerence Proceedings at Google Books here. Click on "ala conf proceedings" in the left column.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Library Day


Envelope mailed in 1893 promoting
"Readers in Every Home and a Library in Every School".


I was recently made aware of a post to the American Association of School Libraries listserv concerning a newspaper article in a 1915 Tennessee newspaper about "Library Day". The article concerned the declaration of October 1, 1915 by Sate Superintendent Sherrill as "Library Day". According to the article "On that day every public school in the State is expected to raise funds to establish or supplement the school library." I had never heard of "Library Day" so I went to one of my favorite Internet resources Google Books and did a search using "Library Day". The reseults were enlightening. The concept of a library day dates back at least to the 1890s and was part of a movement to put a library in every public school.

In the September, 1910 issue of American Education, pages 118-119 there is a brief history of library day in Nebraska. The Nebraska State Teachers'Association passed a resolution establishing library day on December 29, 1892. The purpose of the day was "to enlist the active cooperation of school authorities and the school children in building up and enlarging of local school libraries."

It is always good to be reminded of our library heritage and that the idea of promoting libraries is not new. In a previous blog post, I discussed the fact that although the current National Library Week started in 1958, the idea of a library week dates back at least to 1916 and that an ALA publicity committee recommended a national library week in 1922.

I have proposed another library day, "Library Heritage Day".

Thursday, January 15, 2009

National Archives 75 in 09


This stamp was issued in 1984 on the 50th anniversary of the National Archives. To see other postage stamps related to archives around the world click here.


The National Archives is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It has established a special 75th anniversary website to aid in the celebration. A press release on the celebration can be found here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Anne Morris Boyd (1884-1969)

Today (January 13, 2009) is the 125th anniversary of the birth of Anne Morris Boyd. Boyd served on the faculty of the University of Illinois Library School from 1918 to 1949 and was an authority and an advocate for government publications. She was the author of the landmark publication United States Government Publications As Sources of Information for Libraries in 1931. She was also author of the one act play Exit Miss Lizzie Cox: A Bibliotherapeutic Tragedy published in 1926 which she wrote for the Library School faculty. She was President of the Association of American Library Schools in 1945. In 1949 she became the first full time faculty member of the University of Illinois Library School to achieve the rank of full professor. Prior to her tenure at the University of Illinois Library School she held a variety of library posts including that of Librarian of the State Normal School at Whitewater, Wisconsin (now the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater). She is listed in the Dictionary of American Library Biography. More on Boyd can be found here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Nation of Readers

We are celebrating the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth this year. There have been many stamps issued to commemorate Lincoln and there will be another set of stamps issued this year. My favorite Lincoln stamp and one which is library related is the 1984 "A Nation of Readers" stamp. I like it because creating a nation of readers is one of the most important missions of America's libraries and because it is simply a beautiful stamp. It is the third of three library stamps approved by Postmaster General William F. Bolger and designed by Bradbury Thompson, one of the world's greatest graphic designers. This stamp was issued on October 16, 1984. The other two stamps (the America's Libraries stamp and the Library of Congress stamp) were issued in 1982. The photograph on which the "A Nation of Readers" stamp is based is located in the Library of Congress and was taken by Anthony Berger, Mathew Brady's assistant, on Feb. 9, 1864. Although it appears that Lincoln is reading to his son Tad, they are actually viewing a collection of Brady's photographs. "With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition" opens at the Library of Congress on Feb. 12, 2009. It will include the photograph on which the stamp is based. "A Nation of Readers" was the theme for National Library Week in 1985. For more on the stamp click here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Suquamish Library Association


My collection of three dimensional library artifacts is somwhat limited, but I couldn't resist the opportunity recently to pick up a device that imprints the corporate seal of the Suquamish Library Association formerly of Washington State. I haven't been able to locate any information on the library, but it was undoubtedly one of the hundreds of membership libraries that preceded and for a time competed with free public libraries. Some of these libraries passed on their assets to a free public library, but most just went out of business. There are only about a dozen still in existence. One of these is the Library Company of Philadelphia that was founded by Benjamin Franklin. Another is the Mercantile Library of Fiction in New York City. The Suquamish area/community is now served by the Kitsap Regional Library.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Library Postcards


This postcard depicts the City Hall, Carnegie Library, Municipal Building, and Fire Hall in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. The message reads, "I understand that you have the library habit so send you this delightful combination which certainly is unusual." It was mailed to Anna Felt of Galena, Illinois who was a collector library postcards and was instrumental in the building of the Carnegie Library in Galena.


Picture postcards of libraries is one of the most common and most popular librariana collecting areas. This has also been the case in the past. Probably the most extensive library postcard collection of all time was that of Norman D. Stevens who donated his 25,000 plus collection to the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, Canada. There are several personal collections exceeding 10,000 postcards. The Library Postcard page on the Library History Buff website provides links to library postcard collections on the web. I also maintain a list of active and former library postcard collectors. Probably my favorite library postcard site is that of Judi Aulik. I recently became aware of a new library postcard site established by the architectural firm of J. Stewart Roberts Associates. The American Library Association Archives is in the process of digitizing the collection of Sjoerd Koopman of The Netherlands which includes over 4,000 postcards.

I have a fairly modest collection of around 1,500 library postcards. I focus my collecting around several special areas. These include Wisconsin libraries, the ALA Library War Service in World War I, bookmobiles, and postcards that have a message on the reverse that has a library connection.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Vernon Dale Tate (1909-1989)

One of the most useful and interesting set of publications to a library history buff is the Dictionary of American Library Biography and its two supplements. I was browsing through the Second Supplement in this set for significant birth anniversaries and I came across Vernon Dale Tate who was born on January 3, 1909. Tate made a major contribution to libraries and archives by researching, promoting, and utilizing microfilm media and technology. The entry in the DALB was written by Ellen Swain, an archivist at the University of Illinois Archives, and is very thorough. Tate was already an "expert" on microfilm when he was employed by the Library of Congress at age 21 to assist them in photostating documents relating to U.S. history in Mexico. He was hired in 1935 as chief of the Division of Photographic Reproduction and Research at the National Archives. In 1947 he became head librarian of MIT, a position he used to promote the use of microfilm to support academic learning. Tate became excecutive secretary and editor of publications for the National Microfilm Association in 1952. He became Librarian and Archivist of the Naval Academy in 1956. In 1966 he left the Naval Academy to accept full-time employment with the National Microfilm Association. He retired in 1973 but continued to care for the NMA archives. Ellen Swain writes: "Tate's contributions to his field are substantial. He challenged librarians to think beyond the printed book or document by adopting and adapting new media formats that would preserve, enhance access, and reduce the bulk of archival and printed records." To see an image of Tate at work at the Naval Academy click here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Library History Promotion 2008

The year 2008 was an active year for my efforts at promoting library history. The Library History Buff website continues to be my major effort in this regard. The most dramatic statistic related to the website is that if you do a Google search for “library history” it is the website that comes up number one out of 595,000 hits. In 2008 there were 218,015 successful requests for pages on the site, an average of 17,918 per month. This was an increase of 41% over 2007. In 2008 there were 49,679 distinct hosts served, an increase of 38% over 2007. The number one page, other than the home page, that was requested was the Card Catalog Cabinets page with 13,654 requests. It was great to have a number posts on the website to get featured in AL Direct, ALA’s electronic newsletter. For more Library History Buff website statistics click here.

Another big library history promotional effort in 2008 was my role in establishing the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center. There is a previous post on this blog about this effort.

Of course the establishment of the Library History Buff Blog itself was also a significant activity in promoting library history in 2008.

A fun 2008 activity for me and my wife Kathy was the setting up of the Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit in three Wisconsin public libraries (Lake Geneva, Ripon, and Pewaukee) and at the Wisconsin Library association Conference.

In 2008 I made a major revision of my postal librarian philatelic exhibit which is now entitled “The Evolution of the American Public Library”. The exhibit was displayed at national level stamp shows in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago. It received several awards including two gold awards. I also showed several different philatelic exhibits including “America’s Libraries – The Stamp”; “A Tale of Two Library Stamps”; and “America’s Presidential Libraries”.

The most disappointing effort in 2008 was my failed attempt to take over responsibility for the Library History Round Table website. I gave it my best shot but my limited web skills weren’t up to the major revision of the ALA website which occurred during my short tenure.

But all and all it was a good year, and I’m looking forward to 2009.