Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Woman's Building Library of 1893 Exposition

The Library Cover Story on the Library History Buff website for July features a postal card showing the Woman's Building of the the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The Woman's Building included a library which housed 7,000 literary works by women from around the world. A list of the books included in the library is located here. The exposition attracted over twenty-seven million visitors. The Winter issue of Libraries & Culture for 2006 contained six essays related the Woman's Building Library. This special issue was edited by Sarah Wadsworth . The Fair Women by Jeanne Madeline Weimann (Academy Chicago, 1981) provides an extensive overview of the story of Woman's Building. Also at the exposition was a library exhibit developed by the American Library Association. The ALA exhibit was in the Government Building of the exposition. The Chicago History Journal blog contains a post on the Library. The Official Souvenir Postal Card at the top of this entry is on the back of the Grant postal card issue of 1891. These souvenir cards were predecessors of picture postcards. The postal card was mailed to Hamburg Germany in July 1893. The one cent stamp of the Columbian Exposition issue of 1893 has been added to makeup the international postal card rate.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Happy 150th William Coolidge Lane

A couple of my recent posts have dealt with the catalogue cards of the Harvard College Library. So it is timely and appropriate to wish a happy 150th birthday to William Coolidge Lane (1859-1931) who was born on June 29, 1859 in Newtonville, Massachusetts. Lane was appointed Assistant Librarian at the Harvard College Library in 1888. He had previously served as Superintendent of the Cataloging Department. In 1893 he left Harvard to become Head Librarian of the Boston Athenaeum. In 1898, at the age of 39, he returned to Harvard as a the head librarian of Harvard College Library, a post he held until 1928. Lane was also elected President of the American Library Association in 1898. When the post of Librarian of Congress became available in 1899 due to the death of John Russell Young, Lane met with President McKinley and reportedly played a significant role in the appointment of Herbert Putnam as Librarian of Congress. In 1910 when Harvard created the position of Director of the University Library, Lane was passed over for this post. Reconnecting to the library card catalog story line, Lane directed a major transition of the University's card catalog. This included the move to standard size catalog cards from the 2 x 5 inch catalog cards which originated at Harvard. The unused stamped envelope above (issue of 1887) was preaddressed to Lane.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Harvard's Catalogue Cards

I have an interest in catalog cards and card catalog cabinets that is reflected in both the Library History Buff Blog and the Library History Buff website. One of my more recent blog entries on this topic was "Battle of the Catalog Cards." Allen Veaner, the former Director of Libraries at the University of California at Santa Barbara, became aware of my interest in library history and contacted me to see if I would be interested in a collection of "catalogue" cards that he had salvaged from his time as a cataloguer at the Widener Library of Harvard University. I, of course, said yes. The collection was of particular interest to me because of the role that Harvard played in the early adoption of the card catalog by libraries in the United States and by its use of a 2 inch by 3 inch catalog card instead of what became the universal standard 7.5 x 12.5 cm catalog card. Allen's collection consisted of five of the 2 x 3 inch cards, 42 standard size cards, and three order cards used by the Harvard library. Allen was kind enough to provide as essay explaining the collection which I have put on the Library History Buff website here along with scans of some of the cards. The catalog card above is one of the earlier handwritten cards. It is stamped "HCL" for Harvard College Library. Note the hole to the left of the card. The earlier card catalogues used by Harvard were designed by Assistant Librarian Ezra Abbot and the retainer ran through this hole. Harvard was one of the first libraries to employ women. Beginning in May 1862 these women began writing information on catalog cards intended for the public card catalog, the first in the United States. In the first year they produced 35,762 hand written cards for the catalog. Incidentally, Harvard used "catalogue" not "catalog" which is the reason for the variations in spellings in this entry. For a history of the card catalog click here. For more examples of catalog cards and their current uses click here. For information on card catalog cabinets and some current uses click here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Battle of the Catalog Cards

"The battle as to whether 32 or 33 size cards are preferable has been waged up one side and down the other, and after quantities of oratorical blood have been spilt, the invariable result is that each side is more than ever convinced that they are in the right." - Agnes Van Valkenburgh, Head Cataloger of the Milwaukee Public Library, at the 1906 American Library Association Conference. In 1877 the American Library Association adopted two sizes of library catalog cards as standards for use by libraries. Under the influence of Melvil Dewey, a strong proponent of the metric system of measurement, the standard sizes were set in centimeters. The first size was 5 x 12 1/2 cm (approximately 2 x 5 inches). This was the size currently in use by Harvard College and the Boston Athenaeum. The second size was 7 1/2 x 12 1/2 cm (approximately 3 x 5 inches). The height of the second card was very similar to the height of Post Office Department pre-stamped postal cards, and this size was sometimes referred to as the postal size. The Library Bureau, the primary provider of library supplies, assigned no. 32 to the smaller card in its supply catalog and no. 33 to the larger card. The major argument in support of the smaller card was that it reduced the space required for catalog card cases. As the ALA Cooperation Committee which recommended the standard sizes said in its first report: "There is complaint that the cards take too much room, and some have expressed fears that the books might be compelled in time to camp outside the building to make room for the catalogue-cases." Those who argued for the larger size felt there was a need for more room for headings and additional book related information on the card. The push for cooperative cataloging and printed catalog cards was the major motive for moving toward a single standard. At the 1901 Waukesha, Wisconsin ALA Conference, Anderson H. Hopkins, Chair of the Cataloging Section, stated the goal: "Now what do we want? We want an arrangement whereby any one may be able at reasonable cost to get accurately made and well printed cards for any book at any time. This and nothing else will do." The ALA Publishing Board had been providing printed cards in both sizes but the Library of Congress was being encouraged to take on the production and distribution of printed catalog cards. The continuation of both formats by the Library of Congress was not seen as feasible. The overwhelming sentiment expressed at the Cataloging Section meeting at the Waukesha Conference was to go with the no. 33 size cards but with a wide border at the top and no printing below the punched hole on the catalog card. This would allow libraries using a no. 32 size card to cut the no. 33 card down to the smaller size and libraries using the no. 33 size cards to use the wider border at the top for subject headings. The Library of Congress did indeed begin the centralized printing and distribution of catalog cards in 1901 using the no. 33 size cards. In explaining the decision to do so, Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam stated: "American instinct and habit revolt against multiplication of brain effort and outlay where a multiplication of results can be achieved by machinery. This appears to be a case where it may." The 7 1/2 x 12 1.2 cm size no. 33 catalog card is, of course, the standard catalog card used by almost all libraries up to the widespread demise of the card catalog. A number of libraries using the no. 32 size cards continued to use them for many years. The New York Mercantile Library was one of those libraries. The image above shows a card catalog at the New York Mercantile Library with no. 32 size cards. For more information on the evolution of the card catalog click here. There is a nice overview of the Harvard size catalog cards on the Harvard Law School Library Blog. A more recent post on Harvard's Catalogue Cards is located here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Erastus Swift Willcox, Unsung Hero

A story about the Peoria Public Library and its problem with expanding a branch library on a site previously occupied by a cemetery recently appeared in American Libraries Online. Coincidentally, I have recently been reviewing the origin of the public library laws in Illinois and Wisconsin which have a direct connection to Erastus Swift Willcox (1830-1915), the first librarian of the Peoria Public Library. While librarian of the Peoria Mercantile Library, a forerunner of the Peoria Public Library, Willcox conceived the public library law that was substantially enacted by both Illinois and Wisconsin in 1872 and which was a model for a number of other states. Although New Hampshire adopted a state public library law in 1849, a solid case has been made that Willcox's public library law was the first comprehensive state public library law. Willcox realized that the fees charged by mercantile libraries and other membership libraries were not only inadequate for funding adequate library service but that they were significant barriers to library use by the general public. The Chicago Public Library: Origins and Backgrounds by Gwldays Spencer (University of Chicago Press, 1943) has an extensive account of the role Willcox played in the creation of the Illinois public library law which enabled the establishment of the Chicago Public Library. An article by Mark W. Soriensen in the Spring 1999 issue of Illinois Libraries entitled "The Illinois State Library: 1870-1920" is available an online and also records Willcox's contribution to the Illinois public library law. I'm always delighted to learn the story of one of our little known predecessors who made a significant contribution to the library legacy from which we all benefit. From all accounts the Peoria Public Library is flourishing with new and improved library facilities in the works. Unfortunately, I could find no mention of Erastus Swift Willcox on the library's website.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Library Bookbinders

One of the book related blogs that I follow is Bibliophemera which I discussed in a previous post. Recently Chuck Whiting, the author of Biblophemera, wrote about the American Bookbinders Museum. As a promoter of a library history museum, I was impressed with the model used by the American Bookbinders Museum in "Preserving and Presenting the best of America's Bookbinding Traditions". The museum which is located in San Francisco has a physical facility which can be visited by appointment and the website has a significant amount of content. Bookbinders, of course, were one of the many vendors/partners that helped America's libraries accomplish their missions. The artifact displayed in this post is from my collection. It is a small (1 1/2" x 3") miniature bound item created by the Hertzberg Cratfsmen bookbindery in Des Moines, Iowa. Its purpose is to hold postage stamps, and it was created as a favor for attendees of the 1948 South Dakota Library Association Conference in Rapid City. The Hertzberg Bindery had connections to a variety of bookbinding and library services dating from the 19th century to the present. The Special Collections Department of the University of Iowa has an archival collection related to the Hertzberg Bindery and its website provides an excellent overview of the bindery and its many connections to the bookbinding industry.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chicago's Newberry Library

The Newberry Library is Chicago's other public library. It was established as a free public library in 1887 with funds from the estate of Walter Loomis Newberry. Unlike the Chicago Public Library, however, the public targeted by the Newberry Library was not the general public but instead was a public made up of "scholars and people desiring to make careful researches." The collection of the Newberry is a non-circulating research collection which concentrates on the humanities. The library hosts extensive programs and exhibits. The current exhibit (through July 15, 2009) is "Make Big Plans: Daniel Burnham's Vision of the American Metropolis". The exhibit is part of the 100th anniversary celebration of Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett's 1909 Plan of Chicago. The Newberry is home to a Rudolph Continuous Indexer which was an alternative to the card catalog invented by Alexander J. Rudolph, Assistant Librarian of the Newberry Library from 1894-1911. The library occupied its impressive Romanesque style building in 1893. The exhibit, Rudolph's Indexer, and the building are all good reasons for attendees of the American Library Association Conference in Chicago (July 9 - 15) to make time for a visit to the library. More about the building can be found here. A history of the Newberry can be found here. I'm proud to be a Friend and a Facebook Fan of the Newberry Library.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Chicago's Great Public Library

The American Library Association will meet in Chicago on July 9-15, 2009. This year, as previously noted on the blog, will also mark the 100th anniversary of the location of ALA's headquarters in Chicago. I have put together a digital tribute to Chicago's Great Public Library on the Library History Buff website in honor of these occasions. Attendees of the ALA conference will have the opportunity to visit the current and former central libraries of the Chicago Public Library. The former central library is now the Chicago Cultural Center, an appropriate repurposing of a historic architectural treasure. Those who visit the Chicago Cultural Center will be able to view the recently restored dome of the building which features Tiffany glass. The current central library, the Harold Washington Library Center, is also well worth a visit. The postcard to the left was produced by the prolific Teich Postcard Company. The Curt Teich Postcard Archives are located at the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Illinois. A related webpage about the history of the American Library Association is located here.