Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Harry Clemons, Representative of the ALA War Service in Siberia

On Nov. 6, 1918 Harry Clemons, Professor and Librarian at Nanking University in Nanking, China received the following cable from R.L. Raney, Director of Overseas Library Service for the ALA Library War Service in Washington, DC:
"Will you accept appointment official representative American Library Association Vladivostok to develop library service for American forces in Russia? Books being shipped steadily. Will meet all expenses and guarantee against salary loss. Cable Libcon, Washington." Clemons responded the next day with, "Will attempt library service when you direct. University desires my return by May." Thus began what must be one of the most amazing efforts by a single individual on behalf of the American Library Association. I have written previously about the work of Harry Clemons in Siberia, but recently I became aware of an envelope (shown above) mailed by Clemons shortly after his arrival in Vladivostok. This prompted me to do another post. One of the specialties in philately is the collection and study of military postal history. Examples of envelopes mailed by men in the American forces in Siberia during World War I are among the scarcest and most sought after by collectors. The envelope above may be the only envelope mailed by Clemons as ALA's representative in existence in private hands. It is part of the collection of Al Kugel, one of the world's most respected military postal historians. I appreciate his letting me use the image of the envelope in this post. Clemons mailed many letters to the American Library Association while in Siberia and they were compiled in a book titled appropriately The A.L.A. in Siberia. A copy of the book can be found on the Hathi Trust site. In the foreword to the book H. B. Van Hoesen who edited the book noted that Clemon's report on his work to the Commanding General "shows the activity as well as the activities of the A.L.A. Library War Service in Siberia; how in five months, one man was able to handle some ten thousand volumes (plus 10 boxes, 194 parcels, 75 mail sacks, not counting discarded magazines), unpacking censoring, sorting, cataloguing, and repacking; to distribute and organize these into a system of over fifty branches scattered all the way from the Yangtse Valley to no one knows how far towards the German frontier (not to mention gift distribution); and at the same time to act as reference department and superintendent of no inconsiderable circulation; and, on top of all this, to produce, in slow longhand manuscript, and in spite of obstacles like frozen ink, etc., a series of reports of real historical value among the chief literary "by-products" of the Library War Service." The compilation of Clemons letters was distributed to all the attendees of the 1919 ALA Conference in Asbury Park, NJ. After his service in Siberia Clemons returned to Nanking University where he worked until 1927. He then became Librarian of the University of Virginia Library in Charlottesville,VA where he worked until his retirement in 1950. Clemons is included in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978).

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