Recently I received in the mail a note thanking me for my "Continuing Membership" in the American Library Association along with a very nice pin saying that I am a "Continuing Member". My ALA Member I.D. Card says I have been a member for 42 continuous years. When I sent my dues in for the year 2011, I got a rebate which was the first point that I learned that if you are a retired librarian with 25 years of continuous service you become a member for life without having to pay dues for your basic membership. I joined ALA in 1969 after my career had been interrupted by involuntary service in the Army. When I attended my first ALA conference in Atlantic City, NJ in 1969 there was a major call for reform in the Association by a vocal segment of the membership. It was an exciting time to be a member of ALA. There was not a point in my library career that I ever considered not being a part of the nation's largest and most important library association. I dislike bureaucracies and ALA is a bureaucracy whose units often move at a frustratingly slow pace. However, for many years I actively participated in the committees, sections, round tables, and divisions of that bureaucracy. I did so because ALA is an effective voice for America's libraries and has helped make me a better librarian. As a library history buff I also feel a strong sense of community with all those ALA members who have come before me starting 135 years ago in Philadelphia. American Libraries, ALA Conferences, and the Washington Office of ALA are just a few of the things that have justified my continuing membership in ALA. I will wear my new pin with pride.
When the War Service Committee of the American Library Association mailed out Vol. 1, No. 1 of the War Library Bulletin in August, 1917, plans for ALA's Library War Service in World War I were well underway. A major announcement in the bulletin was ALA's intent to erect library buildings in 32 cantonments and National Guard training camps. The buildings designed by New York architect Edward L. Tilton were to be 40 x 120 feet in size, one story high, and have the ability to house eight to ten thousand books. They also were designed to provide living quarters for the staff. The first War Library Bulletin was full of information targeted at libraries and their staffs about what they could do to assist in ALA's war effort. It included information on fundraising as well as a "Volunteer Responsibility Pledge". A librarian could volunteer for a wide range of activities all the way from collecting books to actually staffing a camp library. Men only were asked "Could you give personal service in a Camp Library for traveling expenses only?". It was stated that War Department rules prohibited women in camp libraries. Female librarians were later able to work in hospital libraries sponsored by ALA. One of the members of the War Service Committee was Matthew S. Dudgeon, Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. Dudgeon later took a leave from the Commission to administer the camp library program. June 18 was the 140th anniversary of his birth. I just added this issue of the War Library Bulletin to my collection of ALA Library War Service ephemera. I previously wrote about another issue of the War Library Bulletin. More posts related to ALA's Library War Service can be found HERE. Postcards showing some of ALA's camp libraries can be found HERE.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce a new library history blog. "Little Known Black Librarian Facts" is the creation of Michele T. Fenton and it is devoted to the history of African American Librarians and library services to African Americans. As noted in the introductory post to the blog: "Here you'll learn about the pioneers in the library profession, and the triumphs and struggles in making library services available to African Americans." Michele is also the editor and compiler of the publication Little Known Black Librarian Facts, 2nd Edition (Indiana Black Librarians Network, 2011) which is available in digital form on the blog site. Welcome Michele to the very small group of library history bloggers.
I'm a big fan of books that tell the story of a single library. I just obtained one of the best I've ever seen. It is Stacks: A History of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library by S. L. Berry with Mary Ellen Gadski (Indianapolis-Marion County Library Foundation, 2011). A blurb on the cover states: "The Library has always been more than a source of information: it has been a center of community life. Stacks tells the story of the IMCPL's evolution, placing it in a national context and emphasizing its role in the educational and cultural life of Indianapolis". Berry and Gadski were commissioned by the IMCPL Foundation to write the book, and they have done a great job. As a former public library director, I liked the descriptions of the challenges faced by each of the directors of the library and how they responded to them. Noteworthy was the chapter titled "The McFadden Years, 1944-1956" which described how Marian McFadden dealt with the McCarthy era. In addition to the quality writing I was highly impressed with the design of the book which according to a press release for the book was done by Jim and Jon Sholly. The book includes numerous visual images. As a collector of librariana, I especially liked the images of bookplates on the front and end pages of the book. A neat idea was an illustration of a book pocket for the library with a date due slip that just happened to include significant dates in the history of the library. A double page montage in the book includes a number of examples of postcards showing two of the former central libraries. Shown above are postcards from my collection featuring the two buildings. The first building was completed in 1893 and the second in 1917. The book is available for $25 from the IMCPL Foundation. Strangely, the library's website includes little information about the history of the library or even about this great book.
Starting in 2009 the American Library Association's Handbook of Organization has only been available online. The information contained in the online handbook tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the organizational structure of one of the world's most complex library organizations. The online handbook is not a consolidated document but a connected grouping of website links which originate at a Table of Contents page. A far cry from today's electronic version of the ALA handbook is my copy of the 1894 version of the handbook shown here. It was de-accessioned from the ALA Library. It is a handy 3 by 5 inch pocket size publication consisting 62 pages. Thirty of those pages list the entire membership of ALA at that time. Only five pages were needed to list the officers of ALA and the members of ALA's seven active committees. The list of members gives the date the member joined ALA and a registration number in order of the member's joining. Melvil Dewey joined in 1876 and was member number 1. Miss Ella Sites Wood, a library school student, joined in 1894 and was member number 1234. ALA's motto was on the front cover of the handbook: "The best reading, for the largest number, at the least cost". The dues in 1894 were $2.00 per year, but if you weren't willing to pay that amount you could send your name to Melvil Dewey and get on his mailing list "interested in libraries" and receive printed matter about libraries and librarianship. I've completed 42 years of continuous membership in ALA and my registration number is 63888. It is also interesting to note that my last printed copy of ALA's Handbook of Organization included 226 pages of information.
On a recent trip to the Washington, D.C. area I took a tour of George Washington's home Mount Vernon. On the way out of the main house I was able to view the room where Washington kept his personal library of around 900 books (see postcard above). The books that are currently in the room were not owned by Washington. After his death his collection was passed on to relatives and eventually widely dispersed. A collection of 359 volumes was sold to London bookseller Henry Stevens in 1848. All but five of the Stevens purchase were passed on to the Boston Athenaeum where they remain. The story of Washington's library and its final disposition is contained in the book The Library at Mount Vernon by Frances Laverne Carroll and Mary Meacham (Beta Phi Mu, 1977). Up until 1978 the archives and papers of a president were considered to be the personal property of the president. As a result they were often dispersed and not maintained as a single collection as they are in today's presidential libraries administered by the National Archives. Fortunately many of the early collections of American presidents have been acquired by the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress owns the most comprehensive collection of George Washington's papers. A major new library is under construction at Mount Vernon which is intended to serve as "the international headquarters for knowledge about America’s most famous founding father".
On this date (or around this date) 135 years ago, the first call for the conference of librarians that resulted in the creation of the American Library Association went out to librarians across the nation. This occasion is documented in Edward G. Holley's Raking The Historic Coals: The A.L.A. Scrapbook of 1876 (BETA PHI MU, 1967). The circular containing the call included the names of 28 prominent librarians including the young upstart Melvil Dewey. The call read in part: "The undersigned, connected with the library interest of this country, believing that efficiency and economy in library work would be promoted by a conference of librarians, which should afford opportunity for mutual consultation and practical co-operation, issue this preliminary call, inviting librarians and all interested in library and bibliographical work, to meet at Philadelphia, on the 15th of August next, or otherwise as may be found more generally acceptable." The second call to conference went out on July 28 in which the dates for the conference were changed to October 4-6, 1876, also in Philadelphia. A copy of the first conference call was contained in the A.L.A. scrapbook of 1876 which is now missing. There was an earlier conference of librarians in 1853 which did not lead to any formal organization. The men (no women were listed in the call to conference) who made the first call to conference would have undoubtedly been amazed at the ALA conference taking place in New Orleans later this month.