Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Walter S. Biscoe

This cover above was mailed to Walter S. Biscoe at the Columbia College Library on December 31, 1888, 120 years ago. Biscoe was a protégé of Melvil Dewey and made major contributions to Dewey's Decimal Classification system. The cover was mailed eleven days after Dewey resigned as Librarian of Columbia College to accept a position as State Librarian of New York in Albany. The library school established by Dewey at Columbia as well as Biscoe followed him to New York. For more on Walter S. Biscoe click here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Philatelic Library Anniversaries 2008

As noted in a previous post, the Special Libraries Associatin will be celebrating its centennial in 2009. One of the most unusual types of special libraries is the philatelic library. Philatelic libraries, which are few in number, range from small volunteer run libraries to libraries connected to some of the largest cultural institutions in the world. In 2008 three of these libraries celebrated significant anniversaries. The American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) which is affiliated with the American Philatelic Society celebrated its fortieth anniversary. The Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library (RMPL) celebrated it 15th anniversary, and the National Postal Museum Library also celebrated its 15th anniversary. I've had the opportunity to visit both the APRL and the RMPL and the the service that they provide to philatelists is impressive. Although I have visited the National Postal Museum on a couple of occasions, I did not get to see the library. I was recently presented with the opportunity which I accepted to edit a column on the activities of philatelic libraries in the Philatelic Literature Review, a publication of the APRL. I'm looking forward to learning even more about these interesting libraries.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

ALA in St. Louis 1904

Missouri State Building at the 1904 St. Louis World"s Fair

American Libraries, the magazine of the American Library Association, did an excellent job of celebrating its centennial in 2007. It created the CentenniAL Blog as part of its celebration which included many interesting postings. An article in the blog entitled "Meet Me In St. Louis" by George Eberhart is especially worth reading. It is about the American Library Association Conference that took place in St. Louis in 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair. As noted by Eberhart, the American Library Association sponsored an exhibit at the fair which included a model library that served as a branch of the St. Louis Public Library. Due to the efforts of St. Louis Public Library Director Frederick Crunden space for the exhibit was provided in the Missouri State Building. Both the exhibit and Crunden received awards from the fair. In an unfortunate set of circumstances the Missouri State Building was destroyed by fire less than two week before the end of the fair. Fortunately, most of the books and the furniture in the model library were saved.
American Libraries has also created an online timeline of its first 100 years which has lots of neat cover illustrations.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

A highlight in the promotion of library history in 2008 was the establishment of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center (WLHC). The WLHC was established as a program of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation. A central component of the Center is its website which is a combination of static web pages and a blog. A major project for the Center in 2008 was the establishment of the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame. The WLHC also sponsors a Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit. The concept of a library heritage center is something that could be replicated in any state or even at the national level.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas in Phouc Vihn 1968

Forty years ago I spent Christmas in Phouc Vihn, Vietnam. Like Harry Clemons, the WWI ALA Library War Service representative in the previous post, I was a librarian. Unilke Clemons I was in the uniform of the U.S. Army and I wasn't doing library work. After completing my degree in library science in 1967 and after working for six months at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, I was drafted like hundreds of thousands of other young men. By Christmas in 1968 I had completed eight months of my tour in Vietnam, and, like the men in the AEF in Siberia, I was ready to go home. I served in 27th Maintenace Batallion of the First Air Calvary Division, and I made it through my 13 months in Vietnam with no emotional or physical scars. Unlike the ALA of 1919 which celebrated its role in World War I, the ALA of 1969 was not supportive of the U.S. military effort in Vietnam. When I got home in May, 1969, I took off my uniform and returned to my profession with little notice or fanfare. I attended the ALA Conference in 1969 to look for a job, like the 1919 conference it was in New Jersey, this time in Atlantic City. It was the most exciting ALA Conference I have ever attended. The young turks were at work and intent on changing the Association. I have just renewed my ALA membership for the 40th year and the Association hasn't changed all that much.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas in Vladivostok 1918

The caption on this postcard sends Christmas Greetings from the AEF and the ALA Library War Service in Siberia.

Ninety years ago, in December of 1918, Harry Clemons found himself in Vladivostok, Siberia as the sole representative of the American Library Association Library War Service. His role was to provide library service to the members of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in Siberia. As described in one report of the circumstances on his arrival: "That there were unusual opportunities for library service was apparent. The troops were comfortably housed in winter quarters; the thrill of the war was over and the men wanted to get home." Clemons wrote to ALA War Service Headquarters on December 22,1918, shortly after his arrival: "I hope to be able to send sets [of books] to all the detachments, large and small, of the Expedition during Christmas week. Thus we introduce the short story into the long Siberian night. In my position of 'middleman' I am sure I can send to you and the others who are making the war work possible the grateful Christmas greetings of the Expeditionary Force in Siberia." A compilation of Clemons' letters back to the ALA headquarters were distributed to participants of the 1919 ALA Conference in Asbury Park, New Jersey. A full report of ALA's Library War Service was made at this conference. Presentations on the Library War Service at Asbury Park can be found on pages 152 to 273 of the Bulletin of the American Library Association for 1919 which is in Google Books. This compilation includes a report from Clemons on pages 222-223.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

National Library Week 50 in 2008

A meter slogan promoting the first National Library Week sponsored by ALA

Hawaii held a Library Week in the early 1940s.

This year was the the 50th anniversary of National Library Week. The anniversary didn't receive a lot of fanfare. I have a postal tribute to National Library Week here. Interestingly the idea of a Library Week dates back to a much earlier period. In fact the Publicity Committee of the American Library Association recommended such a week in 1922 at the Detroit Conference of the American Library Association. The Publicity Committee suggested April, 1923 as a possible time to initiate a Library Week. The recommendation of the Publicity Committee was prompted by the success of Indiana Library Week which occurred the week of April 23-29, 1922. Missouri had also implemented a Book Week in February of that year. Children's Book Week had begun in 1919 based on a proposal as early as early as 1913. Toledo, Ohio promoted a Library Week in 1916. Hawaii promoted what it called National Library Week in in the early 1940s. Louisiana and California were other states that celebrated a Library Week prior to the current National Library Week. The coverage of presentations relating to a possible Library Week at the 1922 Detroit Conference can be found on pages 133 to 139 of the 1922 volume of the Bulletin of the American Library Association which is located on Google Books. It is unclear why a National Library Week was not implemented earlier than 1958, but there was evidently a lot of concern that there were too many "weeks" already being celebrated.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Library Artifact from Hell

The two previous posts which included a reference on the difficulty of acquiring a biblio-artifact by the Gale Research Company brought to mind a similar experience which I had in the year 2000. This post has been slightly adapted from a previous post that I made to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center website. Over the years I have collected a variety of library related artifacts. Most of these artifacts have been relatively easy to acquire, but one artifact required considerably more effort. I call it the library artifact from hell and here is its story. With the beginning of the restoration of the Wisconsin's Capitol's East wing in 1999, the State Law Library moved out of the Capitol into temporary quarters. A decision was made to discard all of the library's heavy cast iron shelving except for a few sections that would be used in the Supreme Court Reading Room in the Capitol. The shelving was dismantled and piled on the lawn of the Capitol. Rob Nurre, a fellow history buff, discovered that the iron shelving was on the way to the dump and mounted a rescue effort in July of 2000. Rob rented a U-Haul truck and four of us showed up in the morning of one very hot day to salvage as many sections of shelving as each of us thought we could use. I parked my car on the street in a two hour parking spot thinking the task could be taken care of within that timeframe. However, sorting the pieces of heavy iron shelving so that we were assured of having the correct number and kinds of pieces to reassemble the shelving was no easy feat. By the time I realized my two hour parking meter had run out, I already had a $20 ticket. Did I say that it was a hot day. Did I say that it was heavy iron shelving. After a lunch break during which I discovered that I had another $20 ticket we finally completed loading the U-Haul truck. Rob then drove the truck to each participating person's home where the correct pieces were unloaded. I think it was after 5:00 p.m. when I finally got my pieces unloaded. I now had lots of different pieces of iron shelving on my garage floor. Because of the weight and height of the shelving, the only place that I could place the shelving was in the garage. The problem was that the only wall in the garage where I could place the shelving was already being utilized. So basically I had to re-arrange the entire garage in order to put the shelving there. While I was at it, I decided that this was a good time to paint the garage. When I finally had the garage painted and the wall where I wanted to put the shelving cleared, I still had a bunch of iron pieces of shelving on the garage floor. Fortunately for me, Rob ageed to come over one Saturday and help me assemble the shelving.
As a result of this effort, I now have four sections of shelving in my garage from the State Law Library that are almost 100 years old. It turns out that this type of shelving has an interesting history. The shelving was originally designed by engineer Bernard Richardson Green for the Library of Congress. The design came to be known as the Library of Congress or Green (Snead) standard. The shelving was manufactured by the Snead & Company Iron Works of Louisville, Kentucky. If Wisconsin ever gets a library heritage museum, I will be happy to contribute my library artifact from hell.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Leary's Book Store and The Bookworm

In the previous post on the Gale Research Company I mentioned a story in the book by John Tibbel about how Fred Ruffner, the owner of Gale, obtained the sign in front of Leary's Book Store in Philadelphia when it went out of business in 1968. I discovered that I had a cover in my collection of postal librariana that showed the illustration that appears on the sign. The illustration is based on the painting entitled "The Bookworm" by Carl Spitzweg that is now at the Milwaukee Public Library. The cover which was mailed in 1929 has a wonderful promotional message on the back. Some excerpts:

"There is nothing like it in the country outside of the Congressional Library in Washington."

"It has shipped books to every part of the world, and from every part of the world it has gathered to its shelves the old, rare, curious and interesting works of master minds of all ages and climes."

"Order, the first law of heaven, is apparent the moment a person enters the seven-story-and-basement building, in which are stored 20,000 square feet of books, representing nearly 500,000 volumes."

The story told by Tebbel involved the difficulty of getting the sign into Gale's headquarters in Detroit after it had been shipped to Philadelphia. The sign was so large that it wouldn't fit into the freight elevator or even on top of the elevator. It took a crew of eight men with great difficulty to get it up seven flights of stairs.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gale Research Company History

This is a detail of a brochure that accompanied a set of reproductions of illustrations of early libraries distributed by the Gale Research Company at the 1965 American Library Association Conference in Detroit. It is from my collection of librariana.

I recently received a review copy of the book “Knowledge Is of Two Kinds…” A Short History of the Gale Research Company and Its Advancement of the Second Kind 1954-1985 by John Tebbel and edited and amended by James M. Ethridge. The Gale Research Company developed into a major publisher of reference books and information for libraries during the period covered by this book. Anyone who has ever attended a conference of the American Library Association is eternally thankful for the free shuttle buses sponsored by the Gale Research Company and its successors. I felt compelled to read the book just out of gratitude. Somewhat to my surprise I found the book to be interesting, entertaining, and well written. John Tebbel, author of A History of Book Publishing in the United States, was commissioned by Gale to write the book, but after he turned in the draft of the publication in 1984 it was never published. The manuscript was recently found and James M. Ethridge did the final editing and revisions. It has just been published by OmniData of Detroit, Michigan. The title of the book comes from the Samuel Johnson quotation: “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” The history of the Gale Research Company and the biography of Fred Ruffner, its owner, are intertwined throughout the book. Ruffner is treated sympathetically by Tebbel but this comes across as genuine. I was immediately drawn to Ruffner who is a collector of librariana. One item that he acquired was a Cotgreave Library Indicator, a device for checking books in and out, that was designed by Alfred Cotgreave (1849-1911) while he was librarian of the Wednesbury Public Library in Staffordshire, England. Tebbel tells a great story about how Ruffner obtained the sign in front of Leary’s Book Store, a Philadelphia used book store that claimed to be “The Largest Old Book Store in America”, when it went out of business in 1968.
The Gale Research Company developed an extraordinary relationship with the American library community. The Tebbel book does an excellent job of documenting this relationship. The book will be enjoyed by those with an interest in library or publishing history. It will also be of interest to students, teachers, and practitioners of reference services. Ruffner sold Gale Research Company in 1985. He is now Chairman of Omnigraphics.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mabel Wilkinson, A Wyoming Librarian

There was a recent article in the Chicago Tribune about a presentation on early librarians in the West. The article immediately brought to mind Mabel Wilkinson, a Wyoming librarian in the 1910s. Wilkinson gave a presentation at the American Library Association conference in 1916 in Asbury Park, New Jersey entitled "Establishing Libraries Under Difficulties". Wilkinson's presentation concerned a trip on horseback to organize library service that she made in Platte County, Wyoming.

Here's an excerpt:
"Since opening [the library in Wheatland] on a regular library basis, every effort has been made to reach and interest the people in library work and extension throughout Platte County. It is our aim to provide each individual, who is able to read, with the best available literature. Consequently I recently made a library trip over the entire county with this in view. To be sure we are handicapped this year with a tiny collection, no funds, enormous distances between thinly populated settlements,and few as well as poor railroad facilities, but we intend to have our collections used to the greatest possible extent. Therefore, I visited each post-office, town, village and hamlet in the county on this trip. The interest shown in the various communities concerning their welfare where educational advantages of every kind are limited, has certainly aroused the good will and generosity of all concerned, not only toward my horse "Joker" and me, but in a willingness to meet any extra tax levy for library purposes, and to donate every service possible to assist the work and its extension.

As distances are great, train service extremely poor, and automobile service high, my entire library extension trip of two weeks' duration had to be made on horseback, the journey covering about four hundred miles through very rough country, over poor roads, and worse trails with very few accommodations along the line. Numerous claims are being filed on constantly, and while one may ride jauntily down a fairly good road from one hamlet to another today, it is nothing to return on the morrow and find the road well fenced in. Then there is nothing to do but scout around and keep the general location of destination in mind until another road, or trail leading approximately in that direction is found. Of course there is always danger of a novice going miles out of the way, or even getting lost, but that is only a part of the work and of the joy of living, and if one doesn't arrive today, tomorrow does just as well."

Her entire presentation was included in the Bulletin of the American Library Association, July 1916, pages 161-169, which can be found in Google Books here. It is a fascinating story and well worth reading. Wyoming is justly proud of Mabel Wilkinson and she was featured on a Second Day of Issue Cover for the Library of Congress Bicentennial stamp which is pictured at the top of this entry. You can also get a poster of Mabel and more information about her from the Wyoming State Library by going here.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Peterborough Town Library 175 in 2008

This is the time of year when the news media and the library media look back over the preceding year and identify the biggest news stories. In the realm of library history, I have to pick the 175th anniversary of the Peterborough Town Library in New Hampshire as the top story. The founding of this library was one of the pivotal moments in the history of public libraries in the United States. To help celebrate this event the library placed several items on their website. These included an introduction, more on the library's history, and a photo album. They were kind enough to give me one of the pins they produced for the occasion. The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript compiled a special section in the Tuesday (April 8) issue of the newspaper about the library, its history, and its staff. Thanks to the paper for providing me with a copy of that special section. Nice job. Although American Libraries and AL Direct made note of this special occasion in the history of public libraries, there was little acknowledgement elsewhere. The Public Library Association missed a bet in not taking greater notice of this public library benchmark. As part of my tribute to the occasion, I developed a philatelic exhibit entitled "The Evolution of the American Public Library". I also put a web page about the Peterborough Town Library on The Library History Buff website.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tribute to the Library Historian

I am one of the biggest fans of the library historian. I am absolutely in awe of these individuals. Although I am flattered when someone occasionally refers to me as a library historian, I choose to label myself as a library history buff which is more in keeping with my approach to library history. Library historians are focused, they are disciplined, and they make a long term commitment to the topic of their research. I am much more likely to go off in a hundred different directions as I pursue and promote library history. The products of much of the research done by library historians is documented in the publication American Library History: A comprehensive Guide to the Literature edited by Donald G. Davis, Jr. and John Mark Tucker. Parts of this publication have been placed on the web by the Library History Round Table (LHRT). The LHRT also publishes a bibliography of library history in each semi-annual issue of the LHRT Newsletter.These bibliographies have also been placed on the web by LHRT. The LHRT, of which I am a member,does a great job of recognizing excellence in library history scholarship with a variety of awards. My personal library includes many of the books written and compiled by library historians. I am particularly grateful to all of those individuals who contributed to the Dictionary of American Library Biography and its supplements. I am also indebted to the contributors to the Encylopedia of Library History. I have found the publication American Library Development 1600-1899 by Elizabeth W. Stone, now deceased, especially useful. I subscribe to Libraries & The Cultural Record, the premier library history publication, which includes many excellent articles by library historians. I have been fortunate to be acquainted with a number of library historians during my career and post career as a librarian. More recently these contacts have been in regard to our shared interest in library history. However, in years past my interaction with library historians was often because of our work as librarians or members of library associations, and sadly I was sometimes oblivious to their library history scholarship. Although this reflects badly on me, it is also an indication that library historians are often active in the library profession in other significant capacities. I have compiled a list of the websites of library historians. These websites often include information on the past and current research of library historians. In future entries on this blog, I will also try to include information on library historians and their work.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Special Libraries Assoc. 100 in 2009

The Special Libraries Association will celebrate its centennial in 2009. Any anniversary provides an opportunity for a library or library organization to promote itself and to focus on its heritage, but a centennial provides a significant opportunity. I think SLA has done an excellent job of preparing for its centennial celebration. It recently launched a centennial website which includes a variety of activities planned for the celebration as well as information on its history. Of particular interest to me is the availability of a postage stamp to celebrate the centennial.
The program above for the 36th annual conference of SLA which took place in 1944 in Philadelphia is part of my librariana collection. The theme for the conference was "In Time of War, Prepare for Peace".
While working on my library degree at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana I worked in the Ricker Library of Art and Architecture which provided me with an appreciation of the work of the special librarian.
On the Library History Buff website I have some tips on celebrating anniversaries.