Thursday, April 30, 2009

YMCA Library Cover Story

The cover story on the Library History Buff website for May lies in the label affixed to the top of the featured cover. The YMCA of San Francisco found a novel method of raising revenue for its free library. They rescued letters from the Dead Letter Office of the Post Office Department in hopes that the recipient of the rescued item would make a contribution for this service. In this case, the envelope contained an invitation to a church ceremony that occurred on October 27, 1870. Since the envelope was postmarked Nov. 20, the recipient may have not been willing to make a contribution to the San Francisco YMCA. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in the United States was founded in Boston, MA in 1851. By 1876 there were 478 of these associations in cities across the nation. Of these, 180 had libraries with a total of 164,188 volumes. Two hundred and one of the YMCAs had reading rooms with an average of 9,145 readers daily. The purpose of YMCA libraries was “to provide a suitable place for young men and others to spend their evenings in, without resorting to the haunts of vice and dissipation.” Some YMCA libraries were free and some charged a nominal fee, generally $1 a year. The Library of the Young Men’s Christian Association of San Francisco was founded in 1853. By 1876 it had a collection of 5,000 volumes.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Happy 150th Alice Tyler

Today we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of the library profession's outstanding former leaders. Alice Sarah Tyler (1859-1944) was one of the library pioneers who helped define state level public library development in the twentieth century. Tyler served as President of the American Library Association in 1920-21, the third woman to do so. Tyler was a graduate of the first class of the Library School of the Armour Institute of Chicago which was the predecessor of the University of Illinois Library School. She was the first Secretary of the Iowa State Library Commission in 1900, a position she held for thirteen years. She served as president of the League of Library Commissions in 1906-1907. Tyler became director of the Library School at Western Reserve University in 1913 where she served until her retirement in 1929. She held numerous leadership positions in a variety of library organizations. Tyler was one of the forty library leaders selected by the Library Journal to be included in "A Library Hall of Fame" in 1951. Tyler's philosophy of librarianship is reflected in a quote from a 1927 talk: "The ultimate goal in library work is after all elusive... Certainly our real goal is not toward an external end; it must be in the realm of mind and spirit. If one can phrase a practical end for the elusive quest, it might be: Helping people to use their minds; Stimulating people to think!" Tyler is listed in the Dictionary of American Library Biography, and I'm indebted to Helen M. Focke who wrote the entry for Tyler for much of the information in this post.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Library Heritage Day

Today is the last day of National Library Week 2009, and if I had my way libraries across the country would be celebrating Library Heritage Day. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that libraries would take one day a year to focus on their heritage. However, for some reason librarians seem to be adverse to acknowledging their past. It is true that on significant anniversaries some libraries do make an attempt to highlight their heritage, but such an effort once every fifty to one hundred years is not that noteworthy. I am of the strong belief that we are the beneficiaries of the legacy of those library workers and supporters who have gone before us, and we should acknowledge that prior contribution to our libraries. For those pragmatists who see acknowledging our library heritage as a diversion from the problems of the present, I would argue that library history can be used to help make the case for the value and importance of libraries. I like the "I Love Libraries" campaign of the American Library Association because it appeals to those who value libraries the most and who are the most likely to stand up and support libraries when times are tough. People who love libraries are also the people who are most likely to appreciate and value library history. My point is that incorporating library history into an overall marketing plan for a library or libraries is a smart, practical thing to do. Setting aside one day during National Library Week each year as Library Heritage Day would be a step in the right direction. For more specific ideas about a national library heritage day click here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Library Buttons

Library buttons are a common device used by libraries to promote library services and programs. They are also used by professional library associations to promote conferences and activities at those conferences. Library vendors frequently take advantage of buttons to promote their products and services to librarians. It's easy to see why they are a popular collectible among librarians. Over the years I have collected hundreds of library related buttons. I've selected a few to include on a Library Buttons page at the Library History Buff website.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Library Bookmarks

Bookmarks have been a common library handout for more than a century. They have been used by libraries to accomplish a variety of purposes. Protection of books has been a primary purpose. Providing bookmarks theoretically avoids having patrons turn down the corners of pages. They also discourage patrons from using other objects as bookmarks. Early bookmarks intended for use by children often included guidance on the care of books. Another purpose of bookmarks was to convey the rules of the library. They were used by some libraries as date due reminders. An ongoing purpose has been promoting reading. National Library Week promotional materials always include bookmarks. Summer library programs routinely include bookmarks as one of the freebies. Because of the wide variety of library and other bookmarks, they are a natural collectible. I'm not a serious collector of library bookmarks but I have managed to accumulate a card catalog drawer full of them. I've put images of some of them on a Library Bookmark web page at the Library History Buff website. A nice collection of links on bookmarks is located here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Libraries and Hard Times

There is a cliche that history repeats itself. This has more than some validity when it comes to libraries and hard times. The American Library Association is currently doing what it can to promote libraries and to assist libraries in making their case during these difficult economic times. Some of the arguments used by libraries during the great depression of the 1930s are being repeated today. ALA staff member Julia Wright Merrill writing in the December 1931 issue of the Bulletin of the American Library Association (predecessor of American Libraries) wrote about "The Challenge of the Depression". In that article Merrill quotes the arguments made by the Toledo Public Library to justify its funding in the hard times of that era.

Hard times bring a re-evaluation of institutions supported by taxes. The public has a right to expect its money's worth in accomplishment. Why the public library deserves adequate support at this time is a proper question and one which we wish to answer. As pointed out in this report, its load of work increases suddenly and greatly in times of depression. It serves and serves alike all classes of people, regardless of color, creed, nationality, age, or position. It provides the adult with a place of learning such as does no other organization, and is prepared to assist him as he meets difficult and practical problems.

The library's influence is positive and constructive. Knowledge tends to strengthen all who possess it. Good roads, public buildings, compulsory employment insurance, and other public supported measures are fine. They cannot, however, take the place of or create a better prepared and more enlightened citizenship. Support of the public library is an investment in men, not materials, and offers the opportunity for more than temporary relief.

The library's levy has, indeed, never been large. The present rate of .5 mill yields almost exactly a dollar per capita, which is considered a minimum amount on which to give good service. A reduction in income necessarily cuts seriously the quality and quantity of service. The ill effects due to lack of funds are not easily remedied even with increased funds at a later date. To develop good and efficient book collections requires time and continuous buying. A trained and effective personnel are the result of time and uninterrupted development. The need for books today cannot be satisfied with money five or ten years hence. Men and women can wait but little longer for mental food than for physical food. Today's opportunity must be met now or permanently denied.

I found this article at the New Deal Network. Other articles about libraries during the Great Depression can be found on this site by searching under "libraries". Library historian Charles Seavey has a good web article on "American Public Libraries in the Great Depression". The picture above is entitled "Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange from the Library of Congress digital collection.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Date Due

A heads up on a possible contact by John Kelly of the Washington Post concerning the history of public library date due receipts provided me with a little time for a quick review of charging systems of the past. I am actually very interested in the history of some of the library activities/tasks which library workers have shared with their predecessors for more than two centuries so this was no burden. You never know what will come out of an interview with a reporter, but Kelly's blog article today was pretty consistent with what we talked about. Klas Linderfelt, Librarian of the Milwaukee Public Library, made a presentation on library charging systems at the conference of the American Library Association in Cincinnati in 1882. In that presentation he identified 20 questions that needed to be answered in evaluating the effectiveness of a library charging system. The first four are: 1) Is a given book out?; 2) If out, who has it?; 3) When did he [or she] take it?; and 4) When is it to be sent for, as overdue? Kelly's contact motivated me to scan some of my library card collection and add it to the Library History Buff website. This card for a library borrower at the Milwaukee Public Library in the 1920s was well used.

Monday, April 6, 2009

School Libraries

This is School Library Media Month and I wanted to take this opportunity to make a few comments about school libraries. School libraries had a big impact on me personally. The year that I was in the sixth grade was probably the most disruptive year of my life. My father was in the contruction business and work was hard to find that year. I ended up going to five different schools in three different states. One of the schools that I went to was in Columbia, Tennessee, and the class I was in made a regular visit to the school library. It was here that I discovered a wonderful group of adventure books and got hooked on reading. The joy of reading that I discovered there has remained with me throughtout my life and was a large part of why I became a librarian. It is extremely disappointing that the position of school librarian in elementary schools is in such jeapordy when hard times hit. School libraries seem to have embraced technology with a vengeance but technology hasn't been the panacea that some thought. Libraries and librarians change lives not technology.

I have always thought that public relations should be a year-round endeavor and promoting libraries on a day, a week, or month shouldn't detract from that need. Although School Library Media Month didn't start until 1985, the school librarian in Horsehead, New York (see above) convinced the local postmaster to promote School Library Media Day with a special postmark on April 30, 1976. I have noted previously on this blog that celebrating a "library day" in schools dates back to as early as 1892.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Library Cards

The letter above was written by Edward I. Sears on June 7, 1861 to S. Haskins Grant, Librarian of the New York Mercantile Library from 1849 until 1866. Sears was a well known writer and editor of the National Quarterly Review. In the letter Sears writes: “As mentioned to you some time since, I have lost my library ticket. As sometimes have occasion to call at the reading room, I do not like to transgress ‘the regulations,’ I would like to have another if you please. I shall be more careful in future. Though I am very apt to lose anything of the kind.” This letter illustrates that a library card or ticket was an essential ingredient to any substantial library's charging or circulation system. At the time the New York Mercantile was using a ledger system, the predominant charging system for libraries up to the 1850s. This system, however, was not satisfactory for an active library. Just prior to Grant's resignation as Librarian of the New York Mercantile Library, the library implemented a temporary slip system. The lending transaction was recorded on the slip instead of a ledger, and the slip was disposed of when a book was returned.

I have just added a page to my Library History Buff website about library cards. Some of the cards related to me personally and some are part of my librariana collection. To see Michael Sauers' collection of library cards click here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

John Adams Library

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to obtain a collection of library bookplates that was assembled by Essae Martha Culver who was executive secretary of the Louisiana Library Commission and later Louisiana State Librarian. One of the bookplates was for the John Adams Library that is located in the Boston Public Library. I have included the bookplate in a philatelic exhibit that I have on presidential libraries. The John Adams Library in the Boston Public Library is a personal library, of course, and is not on the scale of our most recent presidential libraries. I was delighted to become aware of a national traveling exhibit on the John Adams Library entitled "John Adams Unbound". There is even a blog which is following the exhibit and the exploits of a John Adams bookmark entitled "Where in the World is John Adams". There is also an online exhibit at the Boston Public Library on the John Adams Library.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ernest Morgan and the Bookplate Collectors Club

Although I collect a variety of librariana, my major focus is on postal librariana. The envelope/cover shown above is a nice item because it combines an interest in postal librariana with an interest in library bookplates. The envelope is addressed to Ernest Morgan, Secretary of the Bookplate Collectors' Club at the Antioch College Library in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It was mailed from Sao Paulo, Brazil on January 13, 1944 and was censored in both Brazil and the United States. Ernest Morgan, as a student at Antioch College, was co-founder of the Antioch Bookplate Company, later the Antioch Company. Ernest Morgan was the son of Arthur Ernest Morgan who served as President of Antioch College from 1920 to 1936 and was the first Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority. It is unclear what the connection was between Morgan and the Antioch College Library in 1944. Sadly, hard times has forced the closing of the college, but the library is hanging on.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Library History Exhibits

I have installed two library history exhibits for the month of April as part of the National Library Week celebration. The more extensive exhibit is the "Wisconsin Library Memorabilia" exhibit which is on display at the magnificent Central Library of the Milwaukee Public Library. This exhibit which is sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center includes the most extensive collection of Wisconsin library memorabilia ever assembled. The other exhibit is "Books for Soldiers and Sailors in World War I" which is on display at the Middleton Public Library, my local library. For more on the Milwaukee exhibit click here. For more on the Middleton exhibit click here.