Thursday, September 29, 2011

ALA's Dodranscentennial, 1951

To celebrate its seventy fifth anniversary in 1951the American Library Association chose to use this occasion not to reflect on its past but to increase its relevancy to the present. It selected the theme "The Heritage of the U.S.A. in Times of Crisis" for its anniversary celebration and for the annual conference which took place in Chicago. It sought to engage the American public and America's libraries in a discussion of this theme. The 75th Anniversary Committee of ALA which was chaired by Ralph E. Ellsworth was able to get three books published to support its anniversary theme. One of those books This American People by Gerald Johnson (Harper Brothers, 1951) was also excerpted in the July 31, issue of Look Magazine. Look Magazine also distributed 2,000 posters to libraries to promote the theme. ALA received a $150,000 grant from the Fund for Adult Education of the Ford Foundation to conduct a follow-up library discussion project which it called the "American Heritage Project".

Also part of the seventy fifth anniversary was National Library Day which occurred on October 4, 1951, on the anniversary date of the start of the meeting of librarians in Philadelphia which resulted in the founding of ALA. Although special observances of this day were held in Philadelphia, National Library Day was promoted as a day to promote libraries throughout the nation and was a precursor to National Library Week which began in 1958. In the ALA Bulletin for September, 1951 Ellsworth told ALA's members: "It should be made clear that the ultimate purpose of all activities concerning observance of ALA's 75th anniversary is to get more books read by the public. Observance of National Library Day in each community, therefore is a challenge to the librarian to further this purpose." In addition to President Harry Truman's proclamation of National Library Day, the governor's of 27 states and Puerto Rico officially proclaimed October 4, 1951 as National Library Day.

Throughout 1951 the ALA Bulletin (the source for most of the information in this post) kept ALA members informed of anniversary activities with frequent updates by Ellsworth. A special cover for the ALA Bulletin with a seventy fifth anniversary motif was used on all issues. In honor of the seventy fifth anniversary of ALA, the Library Journal identified forty individuals for a "Library Hall of Fame" in its March 15, 1951 issue. It is also noteworthy that there was an unsuccessful attempt to get a postage stamp in honor of ALA for this occasion. The ALA Archives maintains the conference records for the seventy-fifth conference.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September Birthdays of Former Library Leaders

September has some significant birthdays of former library leaders.

Julia Wright Merrill (1881-1961) born on Sept. 11, 1881 (130 years ago). Wright was a national leader in the extension of public library service and was the first Executive Secretary of the Public Library Association of the American Library Association. She has been inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame and the Ohio Library Hall of Fame.

Lutie Eugenia Stearns (1866-1943) born on Sept. 13, 1866 (145 years ago). Stearns was a state and national leader in the promotion of public library service. While at the Wisconsin Free Library Commission she tirelessly traveled the state establishing traveling libraries and free public libraries. In 1951 she was one of 40 of America’s most significant library leaders selected by the Library Journal for inclusion in a “ Library Hall of Fame". She was in the first group of library leaders inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame.

Margery Closey Quigley (1886-1968) born on Sept. 16, 1886 (125 years ago). While Director of the Montclair (NJ) Public Library, Quigley developed nationally acclaimed programs that served as a model for other libraries. Her book Portrait of a Library (1936) and later a documentary film of the same name helped make the Montclair Public Library "the best known American suburban library in the world". She taught courses on library publicity at Columbian University and other library schools. She is included in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978).

George Herbert Putnam (1861-1955) born on Sept. 20, 1861 (150 years ago). Putnam was the eighth Librarian of Congress (1899-1939). In that capacity he reorganized the Library and greatly expanded its national role especially in relation to the national library community. Under his leadership the library instituted an interlibrary loan program and produced printed catalog cards for the nation's libraries. The United States has not honored a librarian on a postage stamp. Putnam was one of my possibilities for this honor.

Edwin Hatfield Anderson (1861-1947) born on Sept. 27, 1861 (150 years ago). Anderson's entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) written by Phyllis Dain reads in part: " Through quiet but forceful leadership of several of the foremost library institutions of his day, Edwin Hatfield Anderson exerted a powerful if indirect influence over librarianship. As the first librarian of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, he shaped it into a many-faceted agency embodying the latest ideas and ideal of community service; as New York state librarian and director of the New York State Library School, he revitalized the State Library and stabilized the school; as director of the New York Public Library, he guided one of the great libraries of the world through a time of prodigious growth." Photograph of Anderson in ALA Archives.

Joseph Green Cogswell (1786-1871) born on Sept. 27, 1786 (225 years ago). Cogswell is best known for his role in building the collection of the Astor Library in New York City, one of the institutions that merged to form the New York Public Library. I have a couple of postal items in my collection related to Cogswell which I have written about previously. One is an 1855 letter written by Cogswell which contains his philosophy of library service. The other is an 1848 letter introducing Cogswell to Anthony Panizzi of the British Museum.

Monday, September 26, 2011

ALA's Jubilee, 1926

Drexel Institute, Philadelphia, site of ALA's 50th anniversary sessions 
The leaders of the American Library Association recognized the significance of its fiftieth anniversary in 1926 and celebrated accordingly. The primary site for ALA's annual conference, October 4-9, 1926 was Atlantic City, New Jersey, but arrangements were also made to have commemorative sessions in Philadelphia on October 6, the date that ALA was founded in 1876.  The attendance in Atlantic City was 2,224, the largest ever for an ALA conference. Of that number 1,200 traveled to Philadelphia for the commemorative sessions which took place at Drexel Institute (see postcard above).  They were treated to presentations by Richard R. Bowker and Melvil Dewey, two of the founders of ALA. America was also celebrating the sesquicentennial of the American Revolution with an International Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926 .  As it had at some previous world expositions, ALA sponsored an exhibit which was located in the Palace of Education and Social Economy at the exposition. Included in the exhibit was an eighty-foot map of the Cleveland Public Library system which was intended to demonstrate how a large public library served the public. Also in the exhibit was a printing press which printed out book lists and brochures which were distributed to exposition attendees. A model library included 2,000 adult books, 500 juvenile books, and 100 reference books. The ALA conference sessions in Atlantic City had an international theme with presentations by foreign librarians. It was at this conference that the concept of an international organization of library associations was brought forth resulting in what is now the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). Also at this conference ALA elected George H. Locke of the Public Library as its new president, the first and only time a Canadian has been elected president of ALA. The source for much of the information in this post is A History of the American Library Association 1876-1972 by Dennis Thomison (ALA, 1978).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

ALA's 25th Anniversary, Waukesha, WI, 1901

ALA's 1901 meeting took place in this hotel
1901 ALA conference attendees in front of State Historical Society, Madison, WI
Next month will mark the 135th anniversary of the founding of the American Library Association in Philadelphia in 1876. I thought I would take a look back at some of ALA's previous significant anniversaries in a lead up to that important milestone. ALA was 25 years old when it met at the Fountain Spring House (see postcard above) in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1901. There wasn't a lot of hoopla at ALA's 23rd annual conference (there were no meetings in 1878 and 1884) related to its silver anniversary.  President James Carr did make note of the anniversary in the president's annual address and reported that there were now a thousand members of the association. That number included sixty-nine of the original charter members of ALA.  The Waukesha conference had the second largest number of attendees at a conference up to that time, a total of 454. The conference ran from July 3-10 and overlapped the Fourth of July which was kept free of general sessions. Monday, July 8th, was designated as "Madison day" and more than 300 attendees boarded a train for the Wisconsin Capital where they were met by carriages that took them on a tour of the city. A highlight of Madison day was a visit to the recently completed building of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin which housed both the Society's library and the library of the University of Wisconsin. A contemporary report of the ALA Waukesha conference was published in the July, 1901 issue of Library Journal. The image of the ALA conference attendees in front of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin building in Madison, WI is from the Wisconsin Historical Society Digital Collection (Image ID 45544). 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Philatelic Research Award

I call myself a library history buff in order to distinguish myself from library history scholars whose research is linked to their professional careers. In the world of philately very few individuals have their philatelic research linked to their careers.  Yet some very sophisticated research is undertaken by philatelists, and this research is honored in numerous ways by the philatelic community. The American Philatelic Society makes available a Research Award at each national level stamp show that it sanctions for the philatelic exhibit that displays a high level of original research.  I was pleased to be the recipient of that award at the Milcopex Stamp Show in Milwaukee this past weekend for my exhibit "America's Library - The Library of Congress".  Postal history is an aspect of philately that usually focuses on the postal history of a community or a specialized aspect of the postal history of a country. My exhibit on the Library of Congress begins to look at the postal history of an institution which in this case is a very complex organization that made heavy use of the mail to accomplish its mission. As with the library history scholar community I often feel like a fish out of water in the philatelic research community, so it's nice to be recognized for a small contribution to philatelic research.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Longest Reference Request On A Postal Card

The excellent staff of the American Library Association Library is always willing to respond to reference requests within the scope of the library's mission.  The Library responds to and shares some of those requests via its "Ask the ALA Librarian"  service. The Library staff might have been taken back, however, if they had received the lengthy request sent to ALA in 1912 by an Italian professor on the postal card shown here. Professor Adolphus Laura of the Royal Technical Institute in Cosenza, Italy breaks his request into five questions mostly related to "the classification of clippings, notes, index reruns, abstracts, correspondence and documents" and the Dewey Decimal Classification. He also ask if the Library can loan him "The Address of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes bearing on the getting at the essential contents of books 'with the least waste of time and labor' which was published in the Boston Daily Advisor on July 25, 1879.  Professor Laura's request written in neat cursive covers every inch of the back of the postal card and continues on the front of the card. I'm sure the ALA staff in 1912 responded diligently to Professor Laura's request, but not on a single postal card. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

WI State Law Library 175th Anniversary Celebration

Earlier in the week I was privileged to participate in the culminating event of a year long celebration of the 175th anniversary of the founding of what is now the Wisconsin State Law Library (WSLL). As I indicated in my presentation at the event, it doesn't get any better than that for a library history buff. The WSLL's approach to its 175th anniversary could be used as a model by other libraries approaching a significant anniversary. The WSLL's 175th anniversary activities are recorder on its website. The library, originally designated as the State Library, was established as part of the Congressional act which established the Territory of Wisconsin. A $5,000 appropriation was made to purchase books for use by the Territorial Legislature. This set a precedent for later territorial legislation that followed. The library narrowly escaped a disastrous fire in the Capitol where it was located in 1904. The WSLL's long serving librarian Gilson Glasier will be inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in November. The WSLL staff has put together a very nice timeline of the library's history. At the reception this week the staff had assimilated a number on neat artifacts from their history that were displayed for the guests. I'm the proud owner of five sections of iron shelving that were in the library when it was located in the Capitol (it moved out in 1999). Before most of the iron shelving was discarded, the library managed to salvage some very nice label holders that were reused on the attractive shelving the library has now. Their 175th anniversary logo is based on these label holders.
This article is being jointly posted on the Library History Buff Blog and the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center blog.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Messages on Library Postcards

This is a magnificent building. I was telling them that it is not going to compare with ours.
We went all over this library yesterday. It is a fine building too, with a whole room just for the use of the children.
Some people who collect postcards want only those that haven't been used. I, on the other hand, value postcards that have been used more highly than unused cards. As a collector of library postcards, I especially like postcards that include a message that relates to the library pictured on the postcard or a message that indicates that the sender and/or recipient was a collector of library postcards.  For Norman D. Stevens' A Guide to Collecting Librariana (Scarecrow, 1986), Billy R. Wilkinson wrote an article based on his extensive research related to messages on library postcards.  In addition to examining his own extensive collection of postcards, he persuaded other library postcard collectors to do the same. Wilkinson found that the messages fell into four categories: 1) comments on the architecture; 2) comments on the book collection; 3) messages that proclaimed a version of "my library is bigger, newer, prettier, etc. than yours"; and 4) miscellaneous messages (the largest category).  My experience validates his results with the caveat that messages related to the collecting of library postcards would be included in the miscellaneous category. Wilkinson provided many examples of messages, but the one that struck me as the most interesting related to a postcard showing the general reading room of the Widener Library at Harvard. It read: "Here are a lot of greasy grinds I saw at 'HAHVAHD.' The aisle looks like a good place to run off the 100 yd. dash."  Up until 1907 the post office didn't allow written messages to appear on the address side of a postcard. So messages before that year were written on the picture side of the postcard. Some postcards in my collection which include messages from that era are included in this post. 
You could get books enough here to look at. It's full of them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Humongous Library Postcard Auction

One of the largest privately held library postcard collections ever offered for sale is now up for auction on eBay. The collection includes 2,811US and international library postcards assembled by an architectural firm.  The starting auction price is $2,800 or about $1 per postcard. The auction has a 9 day bidding period starting today, but it could be bought without competitive bidding for $5,600 through eBay's "Buy it now" feature.  I won't be bidding because my library postcard collection is more focused on postcards that feature specific areas, but this is quite an opportunity for an individual collector or an institution to get a large library postcard collection in one fell swoop.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lighthouse Libraries

Raspberry Island Lighthouse Bookcase

Pottawatomie Lighthouse Bookcase

My wife is a big fan of lighthouses and we have visited many of these historic structures over the years.  On occasion my interest in library history and her interest in lighthouse history overlap. This is the case with the traveling libraries of the U.S. Light House Establishment, a predecessor to the U. S. Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. I first became aware of these libraries while visiting the Raspberry Island Lighthouse in Wisconsin's beautiful Apostle Islands. That lighthouse has one of the original traveling library bookcases (shown above). Later I came across a very nice reproduction of a traveling library bookcase in the Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island in Door County, WI (shown above). A number of lighthouses across the country have similar reproductions. More recently I became aware of an original lighthouse bookcase that is owned by the Milwaukee Historical Society.  It was one of the featured items in their 2010 75th anniversary "Unlocking the Vault" digital exhibit.  I have also just acquired a book for my collection that has a Light House Establishment bookplate (shown above). The book is Illustrated Natural History by J. G. Wood published by a London publisher in 1886.  The lighthouse traveling libraries program was started by the USLHE in 1876 to provide reading materials to isolated lighthouse keepers and their families. This was a number of years before Melvil Dewey started the traveling library program of the New York State Library which spread throughout the United States. More on the USLHE traveling library program can be found HERE.