Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Carnegie Library Correspondence Destruction

This week is Preservation Week and the theme is again "Pass it On".  It is a theme that is very appropriate for library history and the archives and artifacts that record that history. In the late 1940s the Carnegie Corporation of New York which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year chose not to pass on the paper files relating to the Carnegie grants for library buildings made and not made to more than 1,400 U.S. communities. Instead, it microfilmed the files and destroyed the originals. I doubt that historians and archivists would condone such a drastic action in light of the historic importance of those files. As a collector of postal and other paper artifacts related to library history, I know that I cringe at the thought of this action. The good news, of course, is that the documents were microfilmed. Since 1990 the archives of the Carnegie Corporation of New York including the microfilmed library grant documents have been maintained at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University. There are two copies of the microfilmed documents making it possible to loan one set through interlibrary loan. These microfilmed documents made possible George S. Bobinski's landmark publication Carnegie Libraries: Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development (ALA, 1969). They also make it possible for individual libraries that received Carnegie grants to document an important part of their history. I came across a good example of this at the Loutit Library District (Grand Haven, Michigan) website.  An action which would make these records far more useful would be their digitization and placement on the web for convenient access by all. That sounds like a great project for the Carnegie Corporation as part of its 100th anniversary celebration. Individual communities and libraries that received Carnegie grants may or may not have preserved their side of the correspondence relating to their grant request. If they did, those documents also need to be digitized and made available. The envelope above with an Andrew Carnegie return address is from my collection. Envelopes are among the most ephemeral of all objects. This one was passed on when far more important artifacts were not.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Exhibit of Public Library Photographs

Tulare County Free Library, Allensworth, CA by Robert Dawson

"Public Library: An American Commons", an exhibit of public library photographs by Robert Dawson, is on display at the San Francisco Public Library through June 12. Dawson has been photographing public libraries across the country since 1994 focusing on their role as public commons.  Places, an online architecture journal, has just published a slide show of some of the images in the exhibit. The exhibit demonstrates the enormous diversity of of America's public libraries. As someone who takes every opportunity to visit and photograph libraries, I'm greatly impressed with Dawson's work.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ohio Traveling School Libraries

We're coming to the end of School Library Month and I thought this would be an appropriate time to do a post about school libraries.  Approaches to providing books to school children in the 19th and early 20th century varied and they fell far short of the modern school library media center. One approach was to implement the traveling library concept in schools.  This involved the scheduled rotation of small collections of books to multiple locations.  Ohio had a particularly robust traveling library program to schools which they promoted through the use of postcards. I have several of these postcards in my collection, one of which is shown above. The postcards depict a traveling library location along with a statement that information concerning this program could be obtained from the Ohio State Library in Columbus. The postcard above shows a library in Union Township High School in Union County, Ohio. The postcards I have are undated but one depicts a horse drawn wagon delivering the libraries. Ohio's traveling library program started in 1896 and continued until 1973. It is a tragedy that after coming so far our school libraries of today are in serious jeopardy because of budget constraints at all levels of government.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Library Book Perforating Device

Throughout the history of libraries they have taken steps to protect their collections from theft. Some early libraries actually chained their books to the bookshelves to avoid theft. A more low key approach has been the use of ownership markings in library books. One method for inserting ownership markings in books was the use of an embossing device such as the one used by the Suquamish Library Association in Washington State. Another method involved the use of a perforating device. One of those devices was marketed by Melvil Dewey's Library Bureau around the turn of the twentieth century. I was recently contacted by Stan Schulz, Director of the Kilgore Memorial Library in York, Nebraska, to let me know about their vintage perforating device which came from the Library Bureau. In addition to the perforating device, the Kilgore Memorial Library has the 1900 edition of the Library Bureau supply catalog which depicts the device. Schulz has posted some photos of the Library Bureau catalog and the perforating device on Flicker. One of the photos is shown above. Interestingly, Bernadette A. Lear, Editor of the Library History Round Table Newsletter, included a short piece in the Fall, 2010 issue of the newsletter about the Library Bureau perforating device. Bernadette also has a 1900 edition of the Library Bureau supply catalog, as do I. Bernadette speculates on the origination of the idea for using a perforating device for marking library books, and notes that they were also used to mark postage stamps. The Early Office Museum website includes a section on Antique Check Canceling Machines which provides a more direct connection to the Library Bureau device. Schulz has identified the Library Bureau device as being manufactured by the B. F. Cummins Company of Chicago and links to the patents for the device. The Early Office Museum website in turn illustrates check canceling machines from the Cummins Company. It is great that the Kilgore Memorial Library has preserved one of the tools used by libraries in the past, and thanks to Stan Schulz for sharing images of the perforating device. This is one approach to creating a virtual library museum much like the Early Office Museum has done for office artifacts.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Molesworth Institute News

My appointment to the Molesworth Institute in 2009 by Norman D. Stevens, the Institute Director, was a distinctive honor for me. A major goal of the Institute is to promote library humor, and it is only by chance that I have been included in this august group. I have previously cited Stevens as being one of the two "world's greatest librariana collectors". I recently received a report from Norman on the 40th Annual Symposium of the Institute which took place this month. He indicated in the report that: "This year’s symposium was devoted exclusively to a consideration of the future of The Molesworth Institute in terms of the steps needed to insure that it will continue to serve as an alternative to the hide-bound traditions and, more recently, to the new-fangled technology that pervades Our Profession. We continue to find the library world, like the real world, impossible to understand on a rational basis. As advocates of disjunctive librarianship, we turn to the outer reaches of our mind and treat Our Profession with the irrationality that it deserves."  The most important outcome of the symposium was the designation of Katie Herzog as the Director Pro-Tem of the Molesworth Institute. Herzog is a Reference Assistant and Artist-in-residence at the Whittier Public Library in California. In May/June of this year Katie will be representing the Molesworth Institute in Cycling for Libraries, which involves 100 librarians from around the world cycling from Copenhagen to Berlin. Norman has been designated as Director Emeritus of the Molesworth Institute. Good luck to Katie in her new capacity, and thanks to Norman for his role in creating and sustaining this highly unorthodox library organization.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


National Bookmobile Day is next Wednesday, April 13, so I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some bookmobileana. The item shown above is a paper cutout assembled as a bookmobile.  It was given out to children by the Winding Rivers Library System in La Crosse, Wisconsin several years ago. I have a "Tribute to the Bookmobile" on my Library History Buff website which features several of the items in my collection of bookmobileana.  I especially like the 1952 Maryland State Library brochure.  I collect postcards that picture bookmobiles and one of my favorites  shows people using a bookmobile that is part of a county library service demonstration in Kentucky. ALA's 1937 publication on "Book Automobiles" is a valued part of my library history book collection. Also of note is my comprehensive collection of bookmobiles on postage stamps. It would be nice to add this historic book wagon which is for sale on eBay to my collection, but it is a little out of my price range.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Best Library Cover Story Ever

On May 8, 1952 two Spaniards from Bilbao, Spain sent a letter to the Los Angeles Public Library in hopes of winning a bet. The bet was based on the envelope (shown above) in which the letter was enclosed. The envelope was addressed only with a drawing, and the bet was that this would be sufficient to get the envelope and enclosed letter delivered to the library. The letter (English on one side and Spanish on the other) requested that the director of the library respond if it arrived safely. The letter did arrive safely, and Harold L. Hamill, City Librarian, sent an acknowledgement of this on May 23, 1952, along with two library brochures. Hamill indicated that the library staff was impressed by the quality of the drawing, and that everyone who had seen it had commented on its interest. I recently acquired the envelope and its contents along with a copy of Hamill's response. They make nice additions to my postal librariana collection. As I noted in a previous post, for several years I featured a monthly "library cover story" on my Library History Buff website. Philatelists refer to envelopes that have been sent through the mail as covers. This is the best library cover story ever.     

Friday, April 1, 2011

Augusta Baker, Master Storyteller

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Augusta Braxston Baker (1911-1998).  Baker began working at the New York Public Library (NYPL) in 1937 where she developed into one of our nation's greatest children's librarians and storytellers.  Her first position was as an assistant children's librarian at the Countee Cullen Branch (at that time it was the 135th Street Branch) in Harlem. She retired from NYPL in 1974 after a 13 year stint as Coordinator of Children's Services. Among her many contributions was the raising of awareness about the detrimental nature of stereotypes in children's literature, and the need to include positive images of minority children. Baker's storytelling specialty was telling folktales from Haiti and Africa. In 1980 she became the first storyteller-in-residence at the University of South Carolina's School of Library and Information Science (SLIS). SLIS along with the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, S.C. began sponsoring an annual storytelling festival in 1987 called "A(ugusta) Baker's Dozen". SLIS has an Augusta Baker page and oral interview on its website (source of the photo above). The storytelling festival this year will occur on April 14-16 and will make special recognition of Baker's 100th birthday. Because of Baker's contributions to children's services, she was one of the library people I thought would be worthy of a United States postage stamp. The source for much of the information in this post is Julie Commins' entry for Baker in the Dictionary of American Library Biography, Second Supplement (Libraries Unlimited, 2003).