Friday, January 25, 2013

For SEX, See the Librarian

If you haven't read Jeanette C. Smith's The Laughing Librarian: A History of American Library Humor (McFarland, 2012), you're missing out on a great book (see my review). One of the chapters in her book is titled "For SEX, See the Librarian". This phrase derives from the practice of some libraries, mostly in the past, of keeping books with a sexual theme in a location other than open stacks, a practice that would be frowned on by most librarians today. The catalog card for a book in this collection would sometimes be marked with the phrase "For SEX, See the Librarian". Smith notes that the phrase, of course, led to humorous interpretations and has been cited in a number of newspapers and periodicals as being seen in the card catalogs of libraries. She mentions that one library after being challenged about its use changed the heading to read "SEX: (for SEX, ask at desk)". The chapter in Smith's book includes numerous examples of library and librarian stereotypes being used in sex related humor in our popular culture. The postcard shown here is of British origin, and is from my collection, not Smith's book. It is a variation of the "sexy librarian" or "naughty librarian" anti-stereotype sometimes portrayed in the popular culture. I apologize for any offense the image may cause. To see another  postcard showing British library humor click HERE.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

50 Years of Working in Libraries


This month marks a significant personal anniversary for me. Fifty years ago this month I took a job at the Nashville (TN) Public Library (see library history), and as they say, the rest is library history. It was only by chance that I got the job as a library clerk/page. I had put in a generic application for a job with the City of Nashville several months before, and was surprised when I got a call from the public library asking me if I would be interested in working at the library. I started work in the historic Carnegie library building (shown in the postcards above), but that only lasted a few months before the library moved to temporary quarters while the Carnegie was razed and a new building was built. At the time I was a sophomore at Peabody College, and I ended up working at the public library through the summer following my graduation from Peabody. My experience at the Nashville Public Library was the major reason I became a librarian. At the time Peabody had an ALA accredited library school and I was able to take four core library science courses as an undergraduate before going to the University of Illinois for graduate library school. Over the course of the two and a half years that I worked at the Nashville Public Library I performed almost every task you can perform in a library from mending books to working on the reference desk. It was a true apprenticeship. An unusual aspect of working at the library was the arrangement that permanent full time employees only worked during week days and a part-time crew worked at night and on the weekends. At least two of my fellow part-time workers went on to hold significant library administrative positions. The children's librarian, the only professional librarian on duty in the evening, later became director of the Nashville Public Library. It was a great starting position in library work and it was an experience I will always treasure.

Monday, January 21, 2013

George Washington's Inauguration and the New York Society Library


It is inauguration day in our Nation's Capital so I thought it would be a good opportunity to highlight a photograph in my collection. It is a photograph of an early print depicting George Washington's inauguration on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City on April 30, 1789. Federal Hall was the home of the New York Society Library in 1789 at the same time that the seat of our Federal government was in Federal Hall. Congress and the President were able to use the library allowing the New York Society Library to make the claim of being the first library of Congress. In 2010 a story made the national news about two books borrowed by George Washington from the New York Society Library but for which there was no record of their return. I wrote a previous post about that story and another post about the digitization of the charging ledger at the New York Society Library which recorded Washington's initial transaction. The photograph above was used in a newspaper article in 1929. The original print was printed and sold by Amos Doolittle of New Haven Connecticut in 1790 from a drawing by Peter Lacour. A copy of the original print is located in the I.N. Phelps Stokes Collection of American Historical Prints of the New York Public Library.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Early Harvard College Library Bookplate

The design of the bookplate shown here was used by the Harvard College Library from the 1760s through the first part of the 19th century. This particular bookplate was used in a book purchased from a library fund established in 1842 and was received on April 24, 1844. It is a recent addition to my collection of institutional library bookplates. I was fortunate to locate information about the bookplate in an article in the Bookplate Archive of the Libraries & Culture journal. The article was written by W. H. Bond in 1987. The bookplate was designed by Nathaniel Hurd of Boston (1730-1770). Bond's article notes that the original bookplate was used to identify books donated by Thomas Hollis V. Books donated by Hollis were an important part of the rebuilding of the Harvard College Library after a fire destroyed most of the library's collection in 1764. Harvard's electronic library catalog is named Hollis. Harvard has now established an elaborate system of identifying books purchased through named library funds with digital bookplates

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Postmaster Burleson's Magazines and the ALA Library War Service

During World War I Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson implemented a program that allowed used magazines from individuals to be placed in the mail at a special rate of one cent. The Post Office Department would then arrange to have the magazines delivered to organizations which would distribute the magazines to the members of the Armed Forces. The ALA Library War Service played a major role in the distribution of these magazines and its camp libraries were significant beneficiaries of this program. Magazines during this period often carried a "Burleson notice", a short statement from Burleson about the program and the procedure for its implementation (see at left). While certainly of benefit to the camp libraries and those that used them, the program also had some negative aspects. The major one being that the libraries were often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of magazines, many of which were not of great  interest to the men in uniform. As many as twenty sacks of magazines weighing a hundred pounds each were received by some camp libraries in a single day. The library at Camp Dix (NJ) ended up selling some of the older magazines for waste paper and using the funds received to purchase current in-demand magazines. The photograph below shows sacks of magazines being handled at the ALA Library at Camp Custer (MI). The magazine distribution program was a positive program implemented by  Postmaster General Burleson. Burleson was also responsible for some especially negative activities. One involved his efforts to segregate and eliminate African-American postal workers. The source for much of the information in this post and the photograph below is Theodore Wesley Koch's Books in The War: The Romance of Library War Service (Houghton Mifflin, 1919).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Port Elizabeth (South Africa) Library Postcard, 1905


American Libraries Direct has been featuring "Great Libraries of the World" for more than a year (in one of the sidebar sections). In the most recent issue one of the libraries featured was the Main Library for Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  The American Libraries Direct article indicates that: "The library is the only historic building in South Africa that was built as a public library and still functions as one. Completed in 1902, the Gothic Revival building features a stained-glass dome on the second floor and a terra-cotta fa├žade that was manufactured in England." The library is now part of the Nelson Mandela Public Library Service. A short history of the library is located HERE. The postcard above which is in my library postcard collection depicts the interior of the Port Elizabeth Library. It was mailed to Johannesburg on August 28, 1905. American Libraries Direct also has a "Great Libraries of the World" Pinterest Board.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Andrew Carnegie and a Library Fire in Seattle


There was nothing like a fire to motivate Andrew Carnegie to donate money for a library building. On the morning of New Year's Day in 1901 the mansion that housed the Seattle Public Library burned resulting in the loss of 25,000 books. Prior to the fire there had been an unsuccessful attempt to get a grant from Andrew Carnegie for a new public library building. Five days after the fire (January 6, 1901, 112 years ago today) Carnegie agreed to give Seattle $200,000 for a new central library building. The fortuitous outcome of the fire led to speculation that City Librarian Charles Wesley Smith may have actually started the fire (source: HistoryLink.org). Seattle's good fortune related to Andrew Carnegie didn't stop with a new central library, however.  In all, Carnegie provided grants totaling $430,000 for seven buildings in the City of Seattle. An additional Carnegie funded library building became a branch of the Seattle Public Library when the adjacent community of Ballard, Washington was annexed by Seattle. The central library funded by Carnegie which is shown on the postcard above was razed to make way for a new building that opened in 1960. That library has also been replaced with a magnificent new facility which opened in 2004. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helped fund that building. I wrote a previous post about Carnegie and the Seattle Public Library. More about the history of the Seattle Public Library can be found HERE. More about the 44 Carnegie funded libraries in Washington State can be found HERE. See a previous post about Carnegie and a library fire in Chelsea, MA.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Postcard Promoting Holdrege, NE and its Public Library


Multi-view postcards that depict prominent community buildings often include the public library. The one above for Holdrege, Nebraska is an interesting example. In addition to the Holdrege Public Library, it includes the post office,  the courthouse, and the Hotel Hampton. It also shows L. N. Miller, the proprietor for the Hotel Hampton, with his dog. Mr. Miller was probably the person who arranged for the printing of the postcard. Rates for his hotel are given as $2.00 to $2.50 with a European plan for 75 cents and up. The postcard gives the cost of the public library which was $10,000. The postcard includes a community promotional component which reads: "Holdrege, Nebraska. Queen City of Western Nebraska. Population 5,000 and still growing. A live City with live up-to-date Business Men." Holdrege received a Carnegie grant for $8,500 for its library building in 1904. The library building has a modern addition which obscures the Carnegie building facade. I did an earlier post on community advertising envelopes which also include views of public libraries. These and other early library souvenirs point to the pride of communities in their public libraries.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

100 Years of Parcel Post


Since today marks the 100th anniversary of the provision of parcel post by the U.S. Post Office Department (now the United States Postal Service), I thought I would repost an entry that I wrote about parcel post and libraries in 2009.               

Parcel post, the delivery of packages through the mail, began in the United States on January 1, 1913. Libraries had long lobbied for a special rate for library materials sent through the mail, and in 1914 the postmaster general authorized the shipment of books at the parcel post rate. This decision opened up significant possibilities for library service to geographically remote poputlations. One of the first librarians to realize the potential of parcel post and library service was Matthew S. Dudgeon, the Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC). Under Dudgeon's leadership the WFLC began implementing a system in which any resident of the state could request a book from the major libraries in Madison including the University of Wisconsin Library and the State Historical Society Library. There was little red tape involved. All that was required was a letter requesting a book along with the postage. Under the new postal rates a book could be sent anywhere within a 150 of Madison for an average of six cents and for greater distances for eight cents. Implementation of this system was facilitate by the fact that the President of the University of Wisconsin and the Secretary of the Wisconsin Historical Society served on the Wisconsin Free Library Commission board. An article about Didgeon's parcel post system appeared in the December, 1915 issue of American Review of Reviews.

The National Postal Museum has extensive coverage of parcel post on its website.