Friday, July 31, 2009

H. Parmelee Library Company

The library cover story for August on the Library History Buff website is about the H. Parmelee Library Company. The H. Parmelee Library Company was founded in Iowa in 1882. It developed a rotating "package" collection which it called the University of the Traveling Library. The company relocated to Chicago in 1898 where it continued to market its rotating package library as a way of providing "A Thoroughly Equipped and Permanent Library In every Town and Hamlet in America." The company went out of business in 1902 but resumed business as the Plymouth Libraries. Sid Huttner, Head of Special Collections for the University of Iowa Libraries has compiled more background information about the H. Parmelee Library Company as part of his Lucile Project website. For more about traveling libraries in the United States click here. For more library cover stories check the 2007 archives, the 2008 archives, and the 2009 archives.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Melvil Dewey's Library Notes

Library Notes was a quarterly publication established by Melvil Dewey's Library Bureau in 1886. The promotional flyer for Library Notes shown above was mailed on November 24, 1886. The flyer indicates that the publication will print only items of news likely to be directly useful to its readers. It indicates that special attention will be given to the wants of private, Sunday School, and small public libraries. Library Notes was to be edited by Melvil Dewey, "an editor to whom natural taste, long study, and unique library experience has given unequaled facilities for the work". Dee Garrison in Apostles of Culture (University of Wisconsin Press, 1979) writes this about the content of Library Notes: "Platitudes lie next to inspiring passages, which rest alongside statements of highly original ideas and devotion to long-lost causes like spelling reform. Interspersed among all this are sections discussing the most minute details of library mechanics." The very first issue of Library Notes can be found in Google Books. Take a look for yourself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Love My Library's History

I just became aware of a list of "50 Reasons to Love Your Local Library". I like number 33 which states: "Your local library is a part of your heritage; your parents likely went there, and perhaps their parents before them." It's not clear to me how you can love libraries and not love library history. People who use libraries, people who like libraries, people who value libraries, and people who appreciate libraries can be and often are oblivious to the history of libraries, but if you love libraries you ought to love their history. I think the "I Love Libraries" campaign and website of the American Library Association is a good approach to promoting America's libraries. It should have a library history component, however. A few years ago, the Wisconsin Library Association launched the campaign "I Love Libraries and I Vote" to demonstrate to decision makers that people who feel strongly about libraries are active in the political process. Part of that campaign involved mailing postcards similar to the one above from the Beloit (WI) Public Library to elected officials. On the back of the card, the sender provided a personal message on why the library was important to him or her. One of those reasons could have and should have been that the library has a legacy of making a difference and changing lives in the community. That legacy is worth acknowledging and celebrating.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Little Lyrics for Librarians

Thanks to librariana collector extraordinaire Norman D. Stevens I obtained a copy of a reprint of a wonderful little publication entitled Little Lyrics for Librarians by William Fitch Smyth (1857-1940). The reprint contains a forward by Stevens which provides background information about Smyth and his small book of library related poems. According to Stevens, Smyth worked as an evening attendant in the general reference division of the Cleveland Public Library from 1904 until his death in 1940. He was highly thought of my his fellow library staff members and served as an "unofficial poet-laureate" for the library. The original publication was published in 1910 and it is unclear how many copies were actually produced. The reprint is a limited edition of 500, and I'm very pleased to have one of those copies.
The Cleveland Public Library has a rich heritage which is recounted in the book Open Shelves and Open Minds by C. H. Cramer (Case Western Reserve University Press, 1972). It also has an excellent collection of images that reflect the history of the library. I couldn't find any mention of Smyth on the library's website so I'm grateful to Norman for helping to preserve his memory and his contribution to librariana.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gaylord's Charging Machine

At the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago last week I went through the hundreds of library vendor exhibits in the area that ALA is calling "The Stacks". I stopped by the Gaylord Bros. booth to look at their display cases and was very pleasantly surprised to find that one of their display cases contained early examples of their well know library charging machines. Thanks to Amanda Rose, National Sales Manager, for Gaylord for taking time to show me the charging machines (she is pictured in the photo above). It's good to know that Gaylord Bros. is preserving this important piece of the history of so many of the nation's libraries. In 1999 on a post to the PubLib listserv, Karen Schneider wrote the following on the occasion of the retirement of the Gaylord Charging Machine at the Garfield Library in Brunswick, NY.:
"Should we start a Society for the Preservation of Gaylord Charge Machines? At the very least, I'm thinking we should create a website--scan a picture or two and provide narrative and explanations so that future generations could relate to early librarianship. Actually, we'd also need a sound file, for those times when the machine gets stuck on a card and goes "AHHHHHHHRRRRRRRGGGGGGRRRRRRRRRAAAAHHHHHHGGGRRR" so loudly that everyone in the library jumps. (Then, because there is no other way to reboot these things other than unplugging them, someone leaps at the cord... and someone else leaps at the person leaping at the cord, since our computer now shares that power strip... it's quite a scene.) (Can you *make* a charge machine make that sound, on demand?)"
Here are some links to pictures of Gaylord Charging Machines:
An article about Charging Machines by Helen T. Greer can be found here.
A post on Library Charging Machines on the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center blog can be found here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Art and Architecture in Illinois Libraries

One of the highlights of my attendance at the Annual Meeting of the American Library Association this past weekend was an opportunity to see the exhibit "Art and Architecture in Illinois Libraries". The exhibit was put together by Allen Lanham and his staff at the Eastern Illinois University Library with funding from a Library Services and Technology Act Grant awarded by the Illinois State Library. The exhibit is a traveling exhibit and is being displayed by libraries across Illinois. It's a great idea which has been well executed and is worthy of replication in other states. I would certainly like to see something similar in Wisconsin. I especially liked the panel on Carnegie libraries in Illinois.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Charles Francis Gosnell, New York Librarian

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Charles Francis Gosnell ( 1909-1993). Gosnell was Librarian of the Queen College Library (1937-1945), Director of the New York State Library (1945-1962), and Director of the New York University Libraries (1962-1974). Gosnell is one of 77 individuals included in the Second Supplement of the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 2003) which was edited by library historian Donald G. Davis, Jr.. The Dictionary of American Library Biography and its supplements are the most comprehensive and authoritative compilations of information about individuals who have made the most significant contributions to the development of America's libraries. The entry about Gosnell was written by Christopher J. Prom. As State Librarian of New York, Gosnell's major achievement was the development of the regional library system in New York. At the New York University Libraries, Gosnell oversaw the construction of the Elmer Homes Bobst Library building. This building replaced the library building designed by Stanford White which is shown on the postage stamp above. Gosnell served as President of the New York Library Association in 1969. His presidency of the NYLA was marked by a controversy over a decision to hold the 1969 conference in Lake Placid. After his retirement in 1974, Gosnell played a major role in the creation of the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library in Manhattan. Click here for the New York Times obituary for Gosnell.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Free Public Libraries 160 Years

Tomorrow (July 7, 2009) will mark the 160th anniversary of the passage by the State of New Hampshire of the first general free public library law in the United States. The passage of this law in 1849 marked a major milestone in the development of the American public library. The New Hampshire law said in part: "Every public library ... shall be opened to the free use of every inhabitant of the town or city ... for the general diffusion of intelligence among all classes of the community ...". In 1872 Illinois passed a more comprehensive law allowing for the establishment of free public libraries. Both state laws served as models for other states. The New Hampshire version of a public library law was sometimes referred to as the "short" law while the Illinois law was referred to as the "long" law. Although Massachusetts passed a special law authorizing the creation of the Boston Public Library in 1848, it was not until 1851 that a general public library law was passed by that state. New Hampshire is also home of the Peterborough Town Library which is generally considered to be the first tax supported free public library in the nation. It was established in 1833. One of the major short comings of almost all state public library laws is that they are permissive. The establishment of public libraries by a community is normally a voluntary action. The result is that 160 years after the passage of the New Hampshire free public library law there are millions of American without access to free public library service. I'm pleased to have been part of public library development in several states that have achieved universal access to free public library service. Elizabeth W. Stone's American Library Development 1600-1899 (H. W. Wilson Company, 1977), the primary source of this information, provides an excellent summary of early public library development in the United States. The envelope above was mailed in 1889, 40 years after the passage of the New Hampshire public library law.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Countdown to ALA Chicago

Next weekend (July 11-12) I will be in Chicago for the Annual Conference of the American Library Association. I'm looking forward to the conference with great anticipation. This will be the 34th annual conference that I have attended in my 40 years of continuous membership in ALA. My first conference was the 1969 conference in Atlantic City, NJ. This will also be the 9th annual conference I have attended in Chicago. I am especially pleased to be able to attend this conference since it will mark the 100th anniversary of ALA's headquarters being located in the City of Chicago. The most momentous annual conference that I attended in Chicago was the Centennial Conference in 1976.

This year I am looking forward to the activities of the Library History Round Table. Of special interest is the "New Perspectives in American Library History" program that will take place on July 12 at 1:30 p.m. in McCormick Place West Room W-192b. It will feature several outstanding library historians. There will be a library history exhibit "Art and Architecture in Illinois Libraries" in the McCormick West Convention Hall. The exact location of the exhibit is not finalized. It may be on Level One near the transportation center or on Level Three by the Auditorium. Kudos to Allen Lanham of Eastern Illinois University and others who developed this traveling exhibit. While in Chicago I plan to visit the Chicago Cultural Center, former Central Library of the Chicago Public Library, to view the recently restored dome of the building which features Tiffany glass. I would like to make it to the Newberry Library on this trip to see their Rudolph's Continuous Indexer. Tours of the Library are scheduled on Saturday's at 10:30 a.m. Of course, I plan to visit the most extensive library vendor exhibits in the world, and the social highlight will be the big Scholarship Bash at the Chicago Art Institute on Saturday evening. And most of all, I'm hoping to see old friends who have traveled part of this 40 year ALA journey with me.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Oberlin's Card Catalog

After AL Direct mentioned the web page on The Library History Buff website dealing with Harvard's catalogue cards, I was contacted by Ed Vermue, Special Collections and Preservation Librarian for the Oberlin College Library. Vermue has put together a very nice web page on the history of Oberlin's early card catalog. Kudos to Vermue for his efforts in preserving some of the early catalog cards and catalog card cases used by the Oberlin College Library. Unfortunately not enough librarians value the artifacts of our library heritage. It is refreshing to find one who does.