Monday, December 21, 2009

Library History 2009

There were some library history highlights in 2009 and a few lowlights. If you have others to suggest, let me know. The Special Libraries Association did an exceptional job of celebrating its centennial this year. Nice job on the special postage stamp for this occasion. I highly recommend their celebration as a model for other library groups. A number of other libraries and library organizations also celebrated key anniversaries this year including these. The Library History Round Table of the American Library Association continued its active promotion of library history. I was pleased to meet many of the members of this group at the ALA Conference in Chicago where they sponsored some great programs. If you are interested in library history, this is the group for you. Under the leadership of editor David B. Gracy II, there were excellent quarterly issues of Libraries & The Cultural Record in 2009. We library history buffs are grateful for the dedicated research of those who get published in this journal. The North Carolina State Library put a digital collection commemorating the legacy of North Carolina's public libraries online. It is nice to see a digital project with a primary focus on library history. There aren't many of those. The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center celebrated its one year anniversary in March and inducted its second group of individuals into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in October. Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibits took place at the Milwaukee Public Library, the South Milwaukee Public Library, and the Door County Library. Although not in a prominent location, the excellent "Art and Architecture in Illinois Libraries" exhibit was on display at the ALA Conference in Chicago in July. On a personal note, I was pleased to receive the Edmund Lester Pearson Library Humor Award for 2009 and to be inducted into the Molesworth Institute. This Library History Buff Blog celebrated its one year anniversary in November. A couple of failed opportunities: The American Library Association failed to take advantage of an opportunity to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of its move to Chicago at its annual conference in Chicago. I did a small part to bring attention to this occasion and to highlight ALA's history. ALA's Public Library Association failed to acknowledge the 160th anniversary of New Hampshire's public library law, the first statewide public library law in America, which occurred one year before the passage of Great Britain's public library law.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rev. Wight and Wayland's Public Library

Reverend John Burt Wight played a major role in the passage of the 1851 Massachusetts Public Library Law and the legal establishment of the Wayland Free Public Library. The story of how this came about is well told by Jesse H. Shera in Foundations of the Public Library: The origins of the Public Library Movement in new England 1629-1855 (Shoe String Press, 1965). The seeds of a free public library in Wayland, Massachusetts began with an offer of a gift for this purpose from Francis Wayland, the President of Brown University in 1847. The Wayland Town Board took action to accept the gift and to initiate the establishment of a public library in 1848. The free public library began operation in August, 1850, almost four years before the Boston Public Library started lending books. A question arose, however, as to whether the Town of Wayland had the legal authority to take this action. As a result, Rev. Wight who was the representative from the Wayland district to the State Legislature was asked to seek a state law enabling the establishment of free public libraries. He carried out this task in an exemplary fashion and the state law was unanimously enacted by the legislature and approved by the governor on May 24, 1851. This was the second statewide law enabling the establishment of free public libraries. It was preceded by the New Hampshire law. Continuing his role as an advocate for free public libraries, Rev. Wight printed 4,000 copies of a circular in support of these libraries and distributed them postage collect. That circular read in part, "Nor is the establishment of public libraries premature. The people are prepared for their introduction by the proprietary and common-school libraries which have preceded them, and by the increasing desire for information which is spreading through all classes; and will approve them, and provide for them, and welcome them everywhere, as soon as they shall be led to consider and understand their nature and importance. The universal establishment of such libraries in this Commonwealth - and may I not say in the New England states, in the United States, and throughout the civilized world -is a question of time." The Wayland Free Public Library makes a good case that it is the first free public library in Massachusetts, not the Boston Public Library.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Books by Mail

The Parcel Post Loan Library distributed this booklet to customers prior to Christmas 1914. The Parcel Post Loan Library was a commercial endeavor that took advantage of the inclusion of book shipments in the parcel post postage rate starting in 1914. There is a previous post about how the Wisconsin Free Library Commission used parcel post to provide books by mail. The Parcel Post Loan Library rented fiction books in their printed catalogs at a rate of 15 cents a week. Non-fiction books in their catalogs were available for purchase.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Azariah's Library

There's an eating place in the Academic Common's of Oberlin College in Ohio called Azariah's Cafe. The cafe is named for Azariah Smith Root (1862-1927), the librarian at Oberlin College from 1887 to 1927. Root was responsible for transforming the library at Oberlin into one of the best college libraries in the nation. Root's original involvement with the Oberlin College Library began before his appointment as librarian with a project to catalog the library's collection in 1885 using the Dewey Decimal Classification System. Root played a major role in acquiring a grant of $150,000 from Andrew Carnegie in 1905 for a new college library building which also served the community of Oberlin as a public library. He developed a detailed description of what should be included in the new library which is considered to be the first library building statement written by a librarian. Root was also heavily involved in librarianship at the national level and served as President of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1922. He was actively involved in promoting quality library education and training. This included work with others that resulted in the certification of library schools by ALA. Root served as director of the American Correspondence School of Librarianship which was established in 1923 until his death in 1927. Azariah's library has evolved into the Seeley G. Mudd Center. The old Carnegie building still survives on campus serving multiple non-library functions. I posted a previous blog entry about Oberlin's card catalog which has an exterior view of the Carnegie building. The history of Oberlin's library is preserved through an outstanding College Archives. Herbert F. Johnson has written a thorough biography of Root in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

3 Years of Library Cover Stories

This month completes three years of library cover stories on my Library History Buff website. "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). I collect covers that have a library connection and over a period of almost fifteen years have assembled a collection of several thousand library covers. If picture postcards that don't have a library message are excluded, I probably have the largest collection of library covers in the world. In January of 2007 I started featuring a library cover from my collection on the home page of the Library History Buff website each month. After starting the Library History Buff Blog a little over a year ago, I have usually included the monthly library cover story on the blog also. I also have blog posts that feature other library covers. The rather unimpressive cover above was featured in November, 2007. That cover was the starting point for uncovering a very interesting story connecting a librarian at the Library of Congress, Thomas S. Shaw, with Franklin D. Roosevelt in World War II. That story is located here. The archives for the library cover stories for 2007, 2008, and 2009 can be accessed by clicking on the year. More about library covers can be found by going to the Postal Librariana page on the Library History Buff website. I already have a very interesting library cover story picked out for January, 2010. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dewey and Lake Placid

Melvil Dewey was born on December 10, 1851 in Adams Center, New York. I thought I would acknowledge his birthday today with a post about Dewey and his Lake Placid organizations. Dewey who is considered by many to be the father of American librarianship is most noted for his decimal classification system which is still used by thousands of libraries. Dewey was also controversial because of his complex relationship with women and accusations of anti-Semitism. The stock certificate above is for the Lake Placid Company which was a sister organization to the Lake Placid Club. Dewey was the founder of both entities. The stock certificate is for fourteen shares issued to the Lake Placid Club Education Foundation, another Dewey enterprise established in 1922. After leaving the New York State Library under a cloud in 1905, Dewey devoted all of his energy to the Lake Placid trilogy of organizations. Wayne A. Wiegand has a very interesting chapter in his book Irrepressible Reformer, A Biography of Melvil Dewey (ALA, 1996) about Dewey's Lake Placid years. I have written a previous post about Katharine Sharp, a Dewey protégé, and the Lake Placid Club. It was the admission policies of the Lake Placid Club which excluded Jews which led to the justifiable anti-Semitism charges against Dewey.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Community Advertising Envelopes

One way that communities in the first two decades of the 20th century sought to attract new businesses was through advertising on envelopes. These envelopes typically included pictures on the front of the envelope that depicted significant buildings and attractions in the community. The back of these envelopes included written text which made the case for locating in a particular community. During this same period new public library buildings were being built in communities across the country, many as the result of grants from philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie. So it is not surprising that libraries are often one of the buildings being depicted on the front of the envelope. Although not common, over the years I have acquired a collection of a couple of dozen of these envelopes that include a library in the selection of illustrations. In 1992 the Postal History Foundati0n in Tucson, Arizona received a collection of 1,204 community advertising envelopes. An analysis of the envelopes found that communities from all states except Hawaii were represented in the collection. In terms of geographic representation 43% of the envelopes were from the Midwest, 30% from the East, 20% from the West, and 7% from the South. The state with the most envelopes was Iowa with a total of 77. My collection also includes more Iowa envelopes than any other state. Most of the envelopes were from the time period 1901 to 1910. The Sioux City Public Library is prominently represented on the envelope above which was mailed in 1908. The written text on the back of the envelope indicates that the library had 25,000 volumes. The public library was founded in 1877. Sioux City received Carnegie grants for two libraries totaling $85,000 in 1911. The building shown on the envelope above predates the main Carnegie building and the branch Carnegie building for Sioux City shown at the Carnegie Libraries in Iowa Project website. More community advertising envelopes can be seen here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

ALA Hospital Service WWI

During World War I the American Library Association (ALA), through it's War Library Service, provided books and magazines to soldiers and sailors in military hospitals. It placed over 200 libraries in hospitals. In 1920, after the war, ALA's Hospital Library Service was transferred to the U. S. Public Health Service but ALA continued to staff the hospital libraries for a period. Hospital library service was a major legacy of ALA's involvement in World War I. ALA produced a number of postcards to advertise its library service in hospitals. The postcard above shows soldiers reading in the library located in the Red Cross House at Camp Custer, Michigan. To see more postcards click here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Presidential Libraries

Fundraising and planning for the George W. Bush Presidential Library which will be located on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas is well underway. The way presidential libraries are now established and operated is dictated by federal law. The archives and artifacts of a president belong to the people of the United States and are administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The buildings that house these archives and artifacts are paid for by private funding. This was far from the case for earlier presidents. Up until 1978 the archives and artifacts of a president were considered to be the personal property of the president. As a result, these were often dispersed in many different locations. Fortunately, many of the papers of early presidents have been acquired by the Library of Congress. The first presidential library in which the archives and artifacts of a president were deliberately housed at a single location was what is now referred to as the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio. The story of how this came about is told here. The current presidential library system began in 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt donated his personal papers to the U.S. government to create the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. The story of how the presidential libraries under the administration of NARA developed is told here. In 2005 the United States Postal System issued a postage stamp to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 which established a system of privately funded and federally administered presidential libraries.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Alice M. Hughes, Unknown Librarian

The postcard above is one of 25 postcards that are part of the Alice M. Hughes postcard collection which is now part of my library postcard collection. I came across the collection of postcards by chance at a local postcard show. Collectively the 25 postcards tell a story about the library career of Miss Hughes. This particular card was mailed to Miss Hughes on September 19, 1905 at the Public Library in Pierre, South Dakota. The Pierre Public Library opened in a new building funded by Andrew Carnegie on March 10, 1905 so Miss Hughes may have been the library's first director. A history of the South Dakota Library Association indicates that she was an early member of the Association which was established in 1904. The collection of postcards follows Miss Hughes to the Bellefonte Academy Library in Bellefonte, PA (1909-1910) to the Sandusky Library Association Library in Sandusky, OH (1911) to the San Louis Obispo Public Library in California (1915-1916), and finally to the Fremont Public Library in Nebraska (1922). Obviously, the postcards don't tell the whole story of Miss Hughes' library career, but they are artifacts that connect us to a person who shared our profession many decades ago. A Google search provides a few more clues about her career, but not a whole lot. Regretfully, none of the libraries that she worked at have basic library histories that list their former librarians/directors. Alice M. Hughes of Merrill, WI is mentioned in a couple of documents as voluntarily cataloging the collection of the newly established Shawano, WI Public Library in 1900. From the messages on the postcards it is obvious that Miss Hughes collected library postcards and the group of postcards that I have may have only been part of a larger collection. Because of her collection, she is no longer an unknown librarian. The picture side of the postcard shows the Ohio State Library in Columbus, Ohio and includes a message from a friend.
Note: This post was also the Library Cover Story for December, 2009 for the Library History Buff website.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Everett to Panizzi in 1848

A seemingly innocuous letter mailed in 1848 from Edward Everett to A. Panizzi has provided me with an opportunity to do some entertaining historical digging. Here is a transcript of the letter: "Cambridge U.S.A., 14 Nov. 1848. My dear Sir, I beg leave to commend to your good offices my much valued friend Mr. Cogswell of New York. Mr. C. is the librarian of the library founded by the will of the late Mr. Astor of that city, who bequeathed the sum of four hundred thousand dollars for this purpose. Mr. C. goes to Europe on business connected with the formation of the library, and I am desirous that he should enjoy every necessary facility for becoming acquainted with the library of the museum. May I beg you kindly to aid his researches. You must have lamented the death of our admirable & honored old friend of Hamilton Place, though it gave the museum his noble library. What a Providence that it was saved from the catastrophe at Stowe! I beg to assure you, that it would at all times afford me pleasure to be useful to you, in this country & I remain Dear Sir, with great respect, very faithfully Yours, Edward Everett. A. Panizzi, Esq."
Edward Everett served as President of Harvard University from 1846 to 1849. James Green Cogswell (1786-1871), as the letter indicates, was tasked with building the great library bequeathed by John Jacob Astor upon his death in March, 1848. Everett and Cogswell were longtime friends and had studied together at Gottingen University in Germany as young men. I have written a previous post about Cogswell and his work at the Astor Library. Cogswell's trip to Europe in 1848 resulted in the purchase of 20,000 volumes for the Astor Library. The Astor Library which became a part of the New York Public Library did not actually open until 1854. In 1848 Anthony Panizzi was keeper of the Books at the British Museum. In 1856 he became Principal Librarian at the Museum. In the letter, Everett refers to "our admirable & honored old friend of Hamilton Place" and to his noble library. This refers to the Grenville Library of Thomas Grenville who died in 1846 (thanks to those on the LIS-LIBHIST listserv for this clarification). It consisted of over 20,000 books valued at 50,000 pounds which was a very large sum in 1846. The "catastrophe at Stowe" refers to the sale of the outstanding library at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire, England. This sale took place over a period of years starting in 1848. Cogswell, although not overly impressed with the library, purchased a number of volumes from the collection for the Astor Library.