Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dewey 1876 Cover

The March "Library Cover Story" on the Library History Buff website (at the bottom of the home page) concerns the cover above. I have been unable to unravel the full story behind this advertising cover which was mailed to Melvil Dewey in Amherst, Massachusetts in what appears to be June or July of 1876. What I have discovered thus far is largely due to Wayne A. Wiegand's book Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey (American Library Association, 1996). The corner card or return address is for the American Metric Bureau, General Office, Tremont Pl., cor. Beacon St., Boston. Melvil Dewey left Amherst in April, 1876 where he had served as Assistant Librarian at Amherst College. He went to Boston to embark on a business arrangement with the the Ginn Company, an educational publisher located at 13 Tremont Place. Dewey was an ardent proponent of the metric system and part of his arrangement with the Ginn Company was to market metric devices. On July 4, 1876, Dewey incorporated the American Metric Bureau. The mystery here is why would a letter from Dewey's Metric Bureau office in Boston be sent to Dewey in Amherst. The cover is one of the favorite items in my collection since it links Dewey and 1876, the year in which he first published his Decimal System and participated in the founding of the American Library Association.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Allegra Westbrooks

Postcard of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. This building was razed to make way for the current library building. It was in this building that I first met Allegra Westbrooks.

It is sometimes startling when your past intrudes on the present in unexpected ways. Such was the case for me when I came across a recent blog post referencing a newspaper article about Allegra Westbrooks, the first African American public library supervisor in North Carolina. I had the privilege to work with Allegra on two occasions at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklengburg County (PLCMC).
When I got out of library school at the University of Illinois in 1967 during the height of the Vietnam conflict, my student deferment from the draft terminated and I knew it was only a matter of time until Uncle Sam caught up with me. So rather than take one of the numerous job opportunities which were available to library school graduates in 1967, I decided to go back to North Carolina where my parents were living to wait for the inevitable. After a couple of months of working for my father, I started approaching various public libraries in North Carolina to see if they would hire me temporarily. The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburgh County (PLCMC) was willing to take a chance on me and I began work in the Reference Department of the Main Library in April of 1967. This is when I first came in contact with Allegra Westbrooks who, at the time, was head of the Acquisitions Department of the library. After a couple of months on the reference desk, I was given an unexpected opportunity to become head of one of the library's branch libraries. In that capacity, I attended monthly book selection meetings which were coordinated by Allegra.
After six months working at the library and after marriage to my wife Kathy, I did indeed get drafted and served 19 months in the Army including 13 months in Vietnam. When I got out of the Army, I became director of a regional library in Tennessee. Less than two years later, Hoyt Galvin, director of PLCMC retired and Arial Stephens, the associate director, became director. In one of those unusual turns of fate and opportunity, Arial offered me the position of associate director of the PLCMC when I was just 27 years old. Allegra was one of four department heads, all at least 20 years my senior, who had to put up with a young whipper snapper (some would say smart ass) who was eager for change. Allegra, as always, was a class act and was wonderfully tolerant of my miscues. In a major reorganization of the library, she became Assistant Director for Extension Services. I will always value my association with her and the other fine folks at PLCMC.
There is a great web history of the PLCMC and one section is devoted to Allegra's time at the Brevard Street Branch Library. Also on the web are a video segment with Allegra and a StoryCorps oral interview conducted by her niece.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Miami of Ohio Bicentennial

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio celebrated its 200th anniversary yesterday, February 17. The 1912 Library Handbook depicted here is only 3 inches by 5 inches in size. The copy inside provides a brief history of the library. It reads in part: "Miami's Library is one of the oldest in the West. Its beginning dates back just one hundred years, when the trustees of the newly incorporated institution commissioned Rev. John Brown to travel through the East to solicit books and money. The four hundred and twenty books which he collected were partially destroyed by fire in Cincinnati where they were temporarily stored. It is not known how many survived. Probably quite a few are in the Library at present time. Several are identified by the very explicit inscriptions on fly leaves. There is a tradition that two volumes were received from John Adams." The library has created a digital collection of documents from the history of Mianmi Univesity which includes a number of library related images.
The United States Postal Service commemorated the University's bicentennial by issuing a postal card depicting MacCracken Hall on the University's campus. The USPS has established a tradition of honoring U. S. colleges and universities by issuing a postal card on their bicentennial. When Columbia University was so honored in 2004, the postal card depicted the Low Memorial Library. This is one of the few ways a library can be honored by the Postal Service. I have advocated for a postage stamp that would collectively honor America's public libraries.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln & the Library of Congress

It seems appropriate on the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth to do a post on a Lincoln library connection. An action by Lincoln had a profound impact on America's greatest library, the Library of Congress. That action was the appointment of Ainsworth Rand Spofford as Librarian of Congress on December 31, 1864. Spofford had served as the Assistant Librarian of Congress starting in September, 1861. Spofford was largely responsible for transforming the Library of Congress into a national library. Spofford played a significant role in the centralization of the copyright functions in the Library of Congress including the requirment that copies of items seeking copyright be deposited in the Library of Congress. Spofford also played a major role in gaining approval for the magnificent Library of Congress building that was completed in 1897. When John Russell Young was appointed Librarian of Congress in 1897, Spofford continued as Chief Assistant Librarian. The document above is an acknowledgement by Spofford of the two required copies of a publication being deposited in the Library of Congress. It was mailed on July 19, 1876, three months before the founding of the American Library Association. For an overview of the Librarians of Congress click here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book wagons and crazy Socialists

The Machinists' Monthly Journal for July, 1904 wrote:"These crazy Socialists in Wisconsin are going too far. A book wagon, the first public library on wheels to be sent out in the United States, is contemplated in a plan just completed by the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. It will invade the State next October. As the wagon passes through the counties the farmers will be invited to select their winter's reading. There will be books for the old and young, and each family will be allowed to make as large a selection as is desired. The following Spring the wagon will make another trip through the same territory to gather up the books and return them to the central library." The proposed book wagon was the idea of Lutie Stearns, and as far as I can determine it was never implemented. Stearns first discussed the concept of a book wagon at the American Library Association conference at Niagra Falls in 1903. The idea was more fully explained in a letter reprinted in the July, 1904 issue of Public Libraries (p. 331). Stearns a major supporter of rotating or traveling libraries felt book wagons could provide more current material. The first book wagon to actually go forth in the United States was from the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, Maryland in April, 1905. Whether Mary Titcomb, the Librarian in Hagerstown in 1905, got her inspiration from Lutie Stearns is unknown. The first Hagerstown book wagon was destroyed in 1910 while crossing a railroad track. It was hit by a freight train leaving only fragments of the wagon. The image of Lutie Stearns is from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Historical Image Collection, Image ID: 29372.

Monday, February 9, 2009

ALA and Chicago 100 Years

The headquarters for the American Library Association will have been located in Chicago for 100 years as of September 1, 2009. The ALA Executive Board voted on June 27, 1908 to locate the headquarters office in Chicago. On May 17, 1909, the Chicago Public Library offered free space in the library for use by ALA. On September 1, 1909 the ALA Office opened in the Chicago Public Library. For the first several decades of ALA's history, the headquarters for the Association was wherever the elected Secretary was located. For several years an official headquarters for ALA was established in Boston. As recounted by Wayne A. Wiegand in The Politics of an Emerging Profession: The American Library Association 1876-1917 (Greenwood Press, 1986) ALA investigated several possible sites for a permanent headquarters. These included, at various times, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and finally Chicago. Since its establishment in Chicago, several attempts have been made to relocate the headquarters to Washington, D.C. It is fitting that this year's Annual ALA Conference will take place in Chicago. For a selective illustrated online history of ALA, click here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

George Edwin Wire (1859-1936)

In 1906 at the Narragansett Pier (Rhode Island) Conference of the American Library Association, George Edwin Wire (1859-1936) along with A. J. Small and Franklin O. Poole founded the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). Today (February 6, 2009) is the 150th anniversary of Wire's birth.

Wire's varied library career is described in the Dictionary of American Library Biography by William K. Beatty. Wire starter his career as a library assistant and later the first paid librarian at the Northwestern University Library in Evanston, Illinois. He left Northwestern to attend Melvil Dewey's School of Library Economny at Columbia College in New York City from 1887-1889. He was librarian of the Medical Department of the Newberry Library in Chicago from 1890 to 1895. In 1898 he became librarian of the Worcester County Law Library in Worcester, Massachusetts. From 1904 to 1909 he was director of the Free Public Library of Worcester. He was author of How to Start a Public Library which was published by the American Library Association in 1900 and 1902.

The history of the American Association of Law Libraries can be found here. Wire's papers are located at the American Library Association Archives at the University of Illinois. The envelope above was mailed in 1906 and included the Final Announcement of the Narragansett Pier Conference of the American Library Association.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Place Called Carnegie

When the Borough of Mansfield and the Borough of Chartiers in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania merged in 1894 they named the new borough Carnegie after Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was so pleased with this honor that he donated $354,000 for a library site, building, and endowment. More on the Carnegie Library in Carnegie, Pennsylvania can be found on Glenn A. Walsh's website.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Place Called Library

There is a community in Pennsylvania that is named "Library". Library, Pennsylvania is an unincorporated community in South Park Township in Alleghenny County. It was named in honor of the first library established in the area by John Moore in 1833. The name "Library" was a marked improvement over its previous name of "Loafer's Hollow". The community of Library is now served by the South Park Town Library. A Post Office was established in Library in 1842. Postmarks on mail that has been mailed from or cancelled in the Library Post Office make nice additions to a collection of postal librariana. It is another case where library history and postal history come together. The January 21, 1931 air mail, special delivery cover above has been signed by Library postmaster S. L. Boyer. More Library, Pennsylvania covers can be found on the Library History Buff website here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lawrence Counselman Wroth

Portion of a panoramic photograph of those attending the 1919 American Library Association conference in Asbury Park, N.J. The photograph which was taken in front of the New Monterey Hotel shows a number of men in military uniforms. The photograph is in the digital image collection of the Library of Congress.
I've been trying to recognize significant birth anniversaries for some of our prominent librarians of the past on this blog, but I recently missed the 125th anniversary of the birth of Lawrence Counselman Wroth (1884-1970) who was born on January 14, 1884. I am able to identify these individuals by using the Dictionary of American Biography and its supplements. Althought noteworthy for other contributions, I was struck by the fact that Wroth interrupted his library career by volunteering for military service after the declaration of war by America in 1917. Wroth may appear in the photograph above. I have previously discussed the War Library Service of the American Library Association where numerous librarians both men and women volunteered to serve in a civilian capacity in the war, but it is more unusual to find a librarian who actually served in the military during World War I. Wroth actually saw service in France and was promoted from private to first lieutenant. Prior to joining the military, Wroth was assistant librarian of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. He was appointed librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in 1923 where he served until 1957. According to Jeannetter D. Black, the author of Wroth's entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography, he was frequently called the dean of American bibliographers. He was the author of a large number of scholarly books and articles, many according to Black, classics in their fields.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Librarians' Convention of 1853

The first national meeting of America's librarians took place in New York City in 1853. A major player in putting this meeting together was Charles B. Norton, a bookman, bookstore proprietor, agent for libraries, and publisher of Norton's Literary Gazette. Norton used the Gazette to promote an association of librarians and to issue a call to a Convention of Librarians to take place in September of 1853 in New York. Charles Coffin Jewett, Librarian of the Smithsonian Institution, was designated as president of the convention. Although plans were made to create a permanent association, those plans did not come to fruition and it was another 23 years before librarians came together for another national meeting. The envelope/cover above was mailed by Norton, six years after the 1853 meeting. Coverage of the convention in the Gazette can be found in Google Books here and in the Internet Archive here. George Burwell Utley's The Librarians' Conference of 1853 published by the American Library Association in 1951 is a major source of information on the meeting.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

February Library Cover Story

For the Library History Buff website, I do a feature each month which I call "Library Cover Story". Cover is a philatelic term for an envelope, postal card, or similar postal artifact that has been sent through the mail (or is intended to be sent through the mail). The cover story for February is about two covers that were sent to Miss Laurabelle Zack in 1948. At the time Miss Zack worked at the Reference Library of the Associated Press in New York City. She later married William N. Oatis, a journalist for the Associated Press who became internationally famous when he was arrested as a spy by the government of Czechoslovakia in 1951. Oatis was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released in 1953 after the Czech government said it received a poignant plea from his wife Laurabelle. The release of Oatis also followed the death of Joseph Stalin and an angry letter from President Eisenhower which may have been more relevant to his release than the letter from Laurabelle. More about William Oatis can be found here and here. I was pleased to learn from Oatis's son Jeremy that Laurabelle Oatis is still living at the age of 84. She was nicknamed "Betty Boop" because of her resemblance to the cartoon character which explains the illustration on the cover above.