Monday, April 26, 2010

Congregational Library, London

Although I collect postal librariana related to libraries throughout the world, most of my posts on the Library History Buff Blog pertain to libraries in the United States. Today (April 26) the Library and Information History Group (LIHG) of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), the United Kingdom's equivalent of the American Library Association, held a one day conference on parochial libraries. So I thought I would do a post about a group of folded letters mailed to the Congregational Library in London in the 19th century. All of the letters are mailed to Reverend Algernon Wells in his capacity as Secretary to the Colonial Missionary Society. The Colonial Missionary Society evidently had its offices at the Congregational Library, but had no other direct connection to the library. The earliest of the letters was mailed in 1838 and the latest in 1844. All of the letters have postal markings, but only the 1842 letter has a postage stamp (shown above). You may know that it was Great Britain that issued the first postage stamp (commonly called the Penny Black) in 1840. The 1840 letter shown above was mailed just a month before the Penny Black became valid for postage on May 7. At the time the letters were mailed the Congregational Library was located on Blomfield Street in Finsbury, a location it occupied from 1831 to 1866. The use of the terminology "parochial library" is more common in the United Kingdom where one of the earliest pieces of legislation was the Parochial Libraries Act of 1708.

Friday, April 23, 2010

One of 5 Most Beautiful Reading Rooms

Today I visited the newly renovated library reading room at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison. After its renovation I believe that it is one of the five most beautiful reading rooms in America. Others in my opinion include the main reading room in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, the main reading room of the New York Public Library's Research Division, and Bates Hall of the Boston Public Library. I invite you to nominate one or more libraries to complete or include in the top five most beautiful library reading rooms. When the American Library Association met in Waukesha in 1901, conference attendees came to Madison to visit the newly completed building of the Wisconsin Historical Society and, "There was but one opinion of the entire party in regard to the beauty and arrangement of the building, and that was satisfactory to the highest degree."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Revisiting Dartmouth's Social Friends' Library

In one of those unusual coincidences I wrote about the Society of Social Friends, a student literary society at Dartmouth College, on Saturday and on Sunday at a local stamp show I obtained an amazing 1829 letter from a student member of the Society. I am able to obtain some of the more interesting items in my postal librariana collection because a few stamp dealers (thanks Terry) keep their eye out for items for "the library cover guy". This item was a stampless letter (postage stamps didn't come into being in the United States until 1847) mailed by Dartmouth student Henry Hoit to his father Daniel in Sandwich, NH. The letter is almost totally about the need for Henry to make a donation for the library of the Social Friends and the case for why his father should advance him the funds to do so. Henry writes in part, "You probably well know that our libraries are made and increased entirely by the donation of its members. The usual sum is from $5 to $50 and this is all that we have to pay for the use of 8000 volumes of choice, interesting, instructive books consisting of History, Biography, Travels, Theology, Philosophy, Languages, etc." Henry goes on to say that all in his class have given $10 except a few have given $15 and two "charity scholars" have given $5 and $7 respectively. There is a notation on the letter by Daniel Hoit that indicates that Henry was successful and that funds had been sent. Daniel Hoit or "General" Hoit as he was addressed because of his rank in the state militia was a prominent person in New Hampshire and had served a number of terms in the State Legislature. He ran for Governor on two occasions. William Henry Hoyt (he later changed his name from Hoit to the original family name of Hoyt) graduated from Dartmouth in 1831 and then went to Andover Theological Seminary. He was ordained first as an Episcopal minister but later converted to the Catholic faith and became a priest. Henry's brother Albert graduated from Dartmouth in 1829 and became a prominent artist. Henry mentions Albert in his letter.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Washington Overdue at New York Society Library

The story about George Washington's overdue books at the New York Society Library, New York's oldest library, in the New York Daily News yesterday (April 17) is receiving a lot of media attention. In 1789 when the books were borrowed by Washington, the nation's seat of government was in New York City, located at City Hall (called Federal Hall while occupied by the national government) where the library was also located. The New York Society Library likes to call itself the first Library of Congress. The Library Company of Philadelphia which served the Continental Congress also likes to make this claim. During the period April 1774 to December 1788 while hostilities with the British raged, the Library was out of commission. According to one history of the library its books were "scattered, burned or bartered for grog by the British soldiers". It's a wonder that there were any books left for Washington and the members of Congress to borrow. The New York Society Library is one of the few surviving membership libraries in the United States. The oldest artifact in my collection of librariana relates to the Library. The note above, dated March 1, 1793, is from I. Pearsee to Isaac L. Kipp. It promises to pay the sum of $15 for one share in the New York Library by the first of May. The Library was raising funds for a new building which it occupied in 1795. By March 1, 1793, Washington probably owed less than a hundred dollars on his overdue fines. They could have helped pay for the new building.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dartmouth's Student Literary Societies

Early academic libraries, unlike those of today, were not very friendly to students. This led to the creation of student literary societies that established their own libraries which had more popular collections and more liberal lending policies. Dartmouth College is an excellent example of this situation. An online history of the Dartmouth College Library includes the following description of student access to the official college library in 1802: "The collection numbers approximately 3,000 volumes, many of which are duplicates and of little practical use to the students and faculty. Library hours are very restricted: 1 hour per class every other week, with no more than 5 students in the library at one time. No one is permitted to take a book down from the shelves without permission of the librarian. A use fee of $1.50 per year is assessed from each student, one quarter of which goes to the librarian. Circulation is limited to one volume at a time for freshmen, two for sophomores and juniors, and three for seniors." In 1783 a student literary society called the Society of Social Friends was founded at Dartmouth. A similar student society, the United Fraternity, was founded in 1786. For many years the libraries of these two student organizations were the primary source of books for both students and faculty. In 1817 in the midst of a controversy between the State of New Hampshire and the Trustees of Dartmouth over the control of the College, the student societies decide to move their collections out of Dartmouth Hall into a building controlled by the societies. The College attempts to prevent this and a student "riot" ensues. As a result both sides press charges and both students and faculty are arrested. The matter is ultimately settled out of court. The controversy between the State and the Trustees is settled in favor of the Trustees in a United States Supreme Court case argued by Daniel Webster (class of 1801; see postage stamp above). In 1874 in return for more favorable access the student societies agree to combine their libraries with the college library under a single head. In 1904 the societies disband and full title to the libraries was transferred to the college. A bookplate for the Social Friends' Library of Dartmouth is shown above.

A follow up post on the Social Friends' Library of Dartmouth was made on April19.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Automobiles

On April 14, the American Library Association (ALA) will celebrate the first National Bookmobile Day. I recently acquired the 1937 ALA publication Book Automobiles, Library Equipment Studies: Number One. It was prepared by the ALA County and Regional Libraries Section Book Automobile Committee. The introduction reads: "The steady and growing demand for exact specifications and pictures of book automobiles from city and county librarians who are considering this method of book service and who wish to profit by the experience of others, has led to this first effort to compile information on the subject and to present it in convenient form." The publication includes information and pictures of: small book automobiles with outside shelving; large book automobiles with outside shelving; large book automobiles with inside and outside shelving; book trailers; simpler forms of service; and delivery trucks. The picture above shows the large book automobile with outside shelving used by the Davidson County Library in Lexington, NC. A caption for the pictures notes that the shelving for the book automobile is four shelves high and that the lower part of the back door is let down and used as a table for charging books. A high stool for the library worker was carried inside the book automobile. "Simpler forms of service" included adapting passenger cars for this purpose. The Vanderburg County Library in Indiana adapted a Ford roadster by adding a box at the back with two enclosed shelves holding about 150 books.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New York School Libraries and School Library Month

April is School Library Month and in recognition of that occasion I have compiled this post which features two pieces of New York school library ephemera. The first piece is a letter written on October 31, 1844 from a County School Superintendent in Epex, New York to Samuel S. Randall, the General Deputy Superintendent of Common Schools for the State of New York. The County Superintendent writes: "My Annual Returns are ready for transmission with the exception of the Library Returns required of the Town Superintendents. They have been slow to forward the necessary catalogues and I have just written to nine delinquents urging speedy compliance ... . Shall I be permitted to delay a few days to secure the complete returns? Or shall I forward my own Returns without them?" Those darn Town Superintendents! Governor De Witt Clinton of New York advocated collections of books attached to common schools as early as 1827 but it was not until 1835 that legislation implementing this requirement was passed. Samuel S. Randall wrote a history of the New York common school system in 1871.
The second piece is a small Library Catalogue of Public School No. 19 in Buffalo, New York dated 1885. The catalogue is 4 1/4 inches by 6 inches and has 18 pages. The catalogue is organized by topic/subject but the books are labeled in consecutive order going from 1 to 449.
The American Association of School Libraries (AASL) is celebrating the 25th anniversary of School Library Month. Originally the celebration was titled School Library Media Month, but in an interesting development the AASL Board decided this year to readopt the professional title of "school librarian" to replace "school library media specialist" and also decided to change the name of the monthly celebration to School Library Month. A decision that I heartedly applaud.

Friday, April 2, 2010

With all the Red Tape on the Box

A few years ago I attended a reception at the Menasha Public Library in conjunction with the Wisconsin Library Association's annual conference and discovered that the library owned one of the unusual revolving bookcases of the former Tabard Inn Library. I have written a previous post about the Tabard Inn Library which was a was a for-profit membership library founded in 1902 by Seymour Eaton. It was administered by the Booklovers Library, another Eaton enterprise. Over the years I have accumulated a collection of ephemera and artifacts related to the both the Tabard Inn Library and the Booklovers Library and this month I have an exhibit of those items at the Menasha Public Library. The exhibit is supplemented by a selection of items from my Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit. "With all the Red Tape on the Box" was a slogan that Eaton used to highlight the simplicity of borrowing books from the Tabard Inn Library. Seymour Eaton was an extremely interesting individual and I wrote a recent post about Eaton's connection to the Roosevelt Bears.