Monday, March 30, 2009

Cogswell Cover Story

My April library cover story on the Library History Buff website is about a folded letter written by Joseph Cogswell in 1855. Cogswell was the Librarian of Harvard College from 1821 to 1823, but he is better known for his work in building the collection of the Astor Library in New York City. The Astor Library was one of the library institutions that merged to form the New York Public Library. John Jacob Astor died in 1848 and willed $400,000 for a free public library. Cogswell vision for the library, however, was as a non-circulating reference library. A portion of this letter convey's Cogswell's philosophy. "The Astor Library is doing well & is found very useful to studious men; it was not intended for mens popular ... reading, but it furnishes abundant materials for those who write & dispense knowledge among the masses. It is frequented daily by from one to two hundred persons." The cover is franked with a postage stamp from Great Britain. However, the letter was written in New York, and is dated April 24th, 1855. There is a receiver's mark on the back with a date of May 9. The letter is addressed to J. (Joseph) Burnley Hume in London. The question arises as to how a letter written in New York was mailed in Great Britain. One possible explanation is that Cogswell sent the letter to a forwarding agent in London for re-posting. Cogswell dealt extensively with British book dealers and he may have sent multiple letters to a forwarding agent for re-posting. One book dealer that Cogswell dealt with was B. F. Stevens.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

British Camps Library WWI

The American Library Association (ALA) played a major role in serving the military in World War I. The efforts of ALA were influenced by various approaches to library service to the military which were being carried out in Great Britain. Theodore Wesley Koch was sent to London by Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam in 1917 , and while there Koch became familiar with the British library service efforts. Koch wrote extensively about library service to the military during World War I. In Books In The War: The Romance of Library War Service (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919), Koch has a chapter (Chapter XI, pages 197-215) on the British Camps Library. I recently acquired the Camps Library bookmark shown above. The Camps Library was originally established by volunteers to serve soldiers from other British Commonwealth countries who were to be stationed in Great Britain. This mission was greatly expanded and the Camps Library eventually served soldiers and sailors abroad including those in prison camps. As a collector of postal librariana, I was particularly interested in the request on the bookmark to leave any book or magazine at the Post Office where it would be forwarded to the Camps Library for distribution to soldiers and sailors in the military. In his book Koch, explains that this Post Office and Camps Library connection was a major factor in getting reading matter to the troops. Koch quotes the following tribute to the Camps Library: "Of all the boons that have been booned by the British Public on the British fighting men, one of the best is the distribution of books and magazines carried out by the Camps Library. I dunno who or what the Camps Library is, or where it sprung from, but the people that run it --well, I take my hat off to them every time." The Postmaster General of the United States implemented a similar scheme in America. For one cent postage, magazines place in a mailbox would be forwarded for use by the American Library Association in serving soldiers and sailors.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Braille and Library Service to the Blind

This year (2009) is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, the creator of the Braille alphabet for the blind. A number of countries are issuing postage stamps to commemorate this occasion. The United States mint is issuing a silver dollar today (March 26) to commemorate the bicentennial of Braille's birth. As a collector of postal librariana, I have collected a variety of postal artifacts related to library service to the blind which are featured on the Library History Buff website. This envelope, containing Braille lettering, was mailed to the Free Library for the Blind of the Gospel Trumpet Company in Anderson, Indiana on May 7, 1921. According to Ed Morman of the National Federation of the Blind, an exhibit in conjunction with the issuing of the Braille silver dollar will feature examples of books written in Braille. Morman indicates that Louis Braille's 1829 Procédé pour Écrire les Paroles, la Musique et le Plain-Chant en Points á l'Usage des Aveugles et Disposé pour Eux which is on loan from bookseller Jonathan Hill will be on display at the exhibit. A description and photos of the book are located on Hill's website (

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tabard Inn Library

The Tabard Inn Library was a for-profit membership library founded in 1902 by Seymour Eaton. It was administered by the Booklovers Library, another Eaton enterprise. Eaton was a remarkable entrepreneur and promoter who was also an author, journalist, and educator. I've been collecting a variety of artifacts related to both the Tabard Inn Library and the Booklovers Library for a number of years. Recently I acquired the book check which is shown to the left. The actual book check is much smaller than the image. After paying a life membership fee of $3.00, members could purchase the book checks or exchange tickets for 25 cents for six or one dollar for twenty-five. The member then dropped one of the book checks into a compartment on a special revolving bookcase at the Tabard Inn Library Station to exchange one book. The stations were located in drug stores and other commercial establishments throughout the United States. In an initial advertisement for the Tabard Inn Library, Eaton indicated that 10,000 of these bookcases would be manufactured at a rate of 25 and then 50 a day. To see images of the bookcases and other Tabard Inn Library artifacts click here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Joseph L. Wheeler

March 16 will be the 125th anniversary of the birth of Joseph L. Wheeler (1884-1970). Wheeler is co-author of Practical Administration of Public Libraries (Harper & Row, 1962). This was the basic text I used for my public library administration course in library school at the University of Illinois. Herbert Goldhor, the other co-author, was director of the Library School while I was there. Wheeler worked in several public libraries but most of his career (1926-1945) he was Director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, MD. After retiring from Enoch Pratt, he had an active consulting career and was an authority on public library building projects. He has an entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography and was a recipient of the Lippincott Award. Wheeler took a leave from his position as Director of the Youngstown Public Library in 1917-1918 to work in ALA's Library War Service where he was in charge of 32 camp libraries. Edwin Castagna included him is his book Three Who Meet the Challenge: Joseph L. Wheeler, Lawrence Clark Powell, Frances Clarke Sayers (Peacock Press, 1965).Happy birthday Joe.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Deaf History Month

The Friends of Libraries for Deaf Action (FOLDA) are promoting Deaf History Month which this year runs from March 13 to April 15. Alice L. Hagemeyer of FOLDA provided the following information about deaf history:
"Most American public libraries own or have access to books and videos related to American Sign Language, deaf culture and history. The public is also encouraged to look up information at the library or on the Internet about great American heroes, like Laurent Clerc (deaf) and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (hearing). Also, many members of the deaf community remember deaf historical events, especially the following three: (1) Victory of the Deaf President Now movement at Gallaudet University on March 13, 1988; (2) Charter signed on April 8, 1864 by President Lincoln, authorizing the board of directors of what is now Gallaudet University to grant college degree to deaf students; and (3) First permanent public school for deaf students in the Western Hemisphere, now known as American School for the Deaf, was co-founded on April 15, 1817 by Laurent Clerc, Thomas Gallaudet and Dr. Mason Fitch Cogswell. "
The special event envelope above celebrates the completion of the "Ole Jim" Restoration Project at Gallaudet University. It features the Library of Congress stamp that was issued in 1982. The postage stamp was issued by France in 2008 to commemorate library service to the deaf.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Parcel Post and Library Service

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.

Note: This entry also appeared on the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center website.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

ALA in San Francisco 1891

My collection of postal libraiana consists primarily of envelopes that have no contents. Occasionally, however, I will come across the contents with no envelope, and sometimes those contents contain an interesting story. Such is the case with a three page letter written by George T. Clark to his cousin Ida on November 10, 1891. At the time he wrote this letter, Clark was Deputy Librarian for the California State Library in Sacramento. The most interesting part of the letter is a paragraph in which he discusses the 1891 Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco. It reads:

"Last month the American Library Association held its annual conference in San Francisco, one of the same kind that I attended at the Thousand Islands [1887 ALA Conference]. But California is so far away that not so many attended this year as usual. Only about fifty came from afar but they represented states all along the line from Massachusetts to Colorado. A Worcester man, S. S. Green, was president. The week they were here I spent with them in San Francisco, and enjoyed witnessing the effect upon them of a little experience of California. Local committees had arranged for their reception here in Sacramento, San Francisco and at other places they visited so I hope they carried pleasant memories of their visit home with them. Even nature exerted herself to entertain them and the very first night showed her appreciation of their presence by touching us up with the liveliest earthquake we have had in years.”

Clark went on to become Librarian of the San Francisco Public Library in 1894 where he served for thirteen years. In a strange flashback to his mention of the 1891 San Francisco earthquake in the letter above, he was Librarian of the SFPL during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that destroyed the central library along with two of its branches. He became Librarian of Stanford University in 1907 where he completed his career. Clark helped found the California Library Association and served as its second president in 1898.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Charles Lummis & The Bibliosmiles

The envelope above contained the final announcement for ALA's 1906 Narragansett Pier Conference. It was at this conference that Charles Fletcher Lummis (1859-1928) founded The Bibliosmiles. Today is the 150 anniversary of the birth of Lummis. Although Lummis was only Director of the Los Angeles Public Library for five years (1905-1910) and that was his only library job, he was undoubtedly one of the most unusual members in the history of the American Library Association. Writing in the Dictionary of American Library Biography, Dudley Gordon had this to say about Lummis: "In addition to being 'the most creative librarian in California history,' Charles F. Lummis was poet, athlete, author, editor, columnist, publisher, recorder of folksongs, archaeologist, ethnologist, photographer, Casanova, pioneer conservationist, philanthropist, and founder of the Southwest Museum of Art, Science and History. And, without benefit of library training school, he made library history."

Gordon also writes about the founding by Lummis of The Bibliosmiles, a tongue in cheek organization that was a "Rally of Librarians Who Are Nevertheless Human". The Bibliosmiles came into being at the 1906 ALA conference and convened during four later conferences. According to Gordon, The Bibliosmiles had all the paraphernalia of a well-organized society. "The password was 'Cheer up, ALA,' the official dew was California apricot brandy, the seal was an open book with the legend 'Homo Sum - and then Sum.' At their annual dinner, they joyously sang 'My Dewey, 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Ex- of Albany,' 'On the Road to Carnegie, Where the Six Best Smellers Be,' and other songs provided by Lummis. The motto for the Bibliosmiles was 'To Keep the Bookdust Off Our Own Topshelves'. "

Lawrence Clark Powell said of Lummis, "There is no memorial to him in the library he led, and yet the record shows that in those few years he proved to be the most creative librarian Californai has ever know." Mark Thompson has written an award winning biography of Lummis - American Character: The Curious Life of Charles Fletcher Lummis (Arcade, 2001). More on the publications by and about Lummis can be found at WorldCat Identities. More on the life of Lummis can be found here and here.

Many years later, a snow storm stranded group of ALA members at the Palmer House in Chicago created an organization which they called The ALA Players. Lummis would have approved. Happy 150th birthday Charles.