Friday, October 1, 2010

Mary Eileen Ahern (1860-1938), Public Libraries Editor

Mary Eileen Ahern was born on October 1, 1860, one hundred and fifty years ago today, near Indianapolis, Indiana. So happy birthday Mary Eileen. The primary reason that Ahern is listed in the prestigious Dictionary of American Library Biography (DALB) is that from 1896 to 1931 she was editor of one of the most important library periodicals of that period - Public Libraries, later just Libraries. Public Libraries was started by Library Bureau, Melvil Dewey's library supply company, to provide useful information to "small and new public libraries".  There was a feeling among many small public libraries that Library Journal, the major library magazine of the day didn't do an adequate job of serving small libraries. Melvil Dewey's publication Library Notes which had a similar purpose was incorporated into the new Public Libraries. Mary Eileen Ahern's contribution to the success of the publication was so integral that after her retirement in 1931 Libraries ceased publication making her the first and only editor of the publication.  William Warner Bishop writing in the Library Quarterly in 1944 made these remarks about Ahern: "A warm-hearted Irish girl who had some library experience blossomed into an editor who controlled and made opinion among librarians, particularly of the Middle West.  She was afraid of nothing and of nobody.  Position and reputation meant little to her, and her Irish disposition inclined her to be somewhat impatient of the library "powers" of her day. Her frankness and her independence made a journal of decided influence and value of what was originally intended as a house-organ.  Many people wrote for it who were impatient of the more staid Library Journal.  The history of Public Libraries is a remarkable confirmation of the thesis that character is vastly more important than training or support."  Ahern was selected by American Libraries in December 1999 as one of "100 Most Important Leaders We Had in the 20th Century". The "Prospectus" for the first issue of Public Libraries provides greater detail on its mission. 

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