Sunday, January 30, 2011

The World's Most Valuable Library Postal Card

During World War I the price of United States government issued postal cards was increased from one cent to two cents to help raise revenue to fund the war (what a concept).  Postal cards issued for international use including the 1911 Grant postal card were already priced at two cents and were commonly used domestically in the United States during World War I.  After the war, existing domestic postal cards priced at two cents during the war were mechanically overwritten to indicate the return to the lower one cent rate. The Postmaster of Long Beach, California inadvertently reduced the two cent international Grant postal cards to the one cent rate. There are only three confirmed copies of the inappropriately modified postal cards.  Two of the cards are notices mailed from the Long Beach Public Library. The postal card shown above is one of those two cards and it was sold at auction number 997 by Siegel Auction Galleries in 2010 for $95,000.  The card was postmarked on March 21, 1921 and it notified Master James Fiske that a reserved book was being held for him until March 24. This particular card was discovered in 1992 by another auction firm.  It was sold previously in 2006 for $50,000.  I have been collecting postal cards that have been sent to and from libraries for many years, and for the most part I have only paid a few dollars for them. About ten years ago at a stamp show I asked a dealer if he had any envelopes or postal cards with a library connection, and he introduced me to another dealer who had one of the Long Beach Public Library postal cards for sale for $30,000.  If I had been willing to take out a second mortgage on my house to buy the card, I could have tripled my money by now.  Of course, I would also be divorced.  

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Yale's Library Buildings


I was the recent recipient of a copy of the book Yale Library Studies: Library Architecture at Yale edited by Geoffrey Little (Yale University Library, 2009).  The well documented and illustrated publication covers the history of library architecture at Yale over its 300 plus year history. Two buildings in particular stand out from the rest. The first is Sterling Memorial Library which was dedicated in 1931(making this year its 80th anniversary), and the second is the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library completed in 1963. Both libraries are the result of the generosity of Yale alumni. Sterling Memorial Library is named for John W. Sterling, class of 1864, who donated $18 million to Yale upon his death in 1918. I have an 1867 envelope addressed to Sterling in my collection of postal librariana (see above).  In 1951 Yale featured Sterling Memorial Library on the slogan portion of a meter stamp (see above).  The postcard to the left dramatizes the massive nature of Sterling which was built to house 5 million books. The Beinecke Library is named for donors Frederick and Walter Beinecke. It is featured on a first day cover for the 1982 architecture stamp issue (see below). I have an earlier post about Yale Librarian Addison Van Name.

Friday, January 28, 2011

National Library Week 2011, A Storytelling Opportunity

The 2011 theme for National Library Week (April 10-16) is "Create your own story @ your library".  The theme, as it should be, is directed at the general public.  However, this year's National Library Week is also an opportunity for libraries (and the people connected or interested in them) to tell a story or stories about the history of the library. Last year I gave a presentation to the Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries titled  “Turning Your Library’s History into a Public Relations Asset”.  In that presentation I noted that a basic tenet of good library public relations is to seize every possible opportunity to penetrate the consciousness of the general public and community leaders with a positive message about the library. I pointed out that the message that the library has been in the business of changing lives and improving the quality of life for the residents of the community for a long time and that it continues to build on that heritage is a powerful positive message. I then provided some methods for conveying that message. The American Library Association has just published Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Effective Leadership by Kate Marek. Although I have not read the book, ALA's promotional material leads me to believe that the book would be very supportive of using stories about a library's history to promote the library. Why not resolve to penetrate the consciousness of your community's residents with at least one good story about the library's heritage during this year's National Library Week. Note: this post is being simultaneously published at the website of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Communist and the Minneapolis Public Library

On June 12, 1941, Helen Allison Winter, a member of the Communist Party of the United States of America, ran for a seat on the the board of directors of the Minneapolis Public Library (merged with the Hennepin County Library in 2008). She ran on a campaign of "Books Not Bullets", and although she was not elected she received 24,830 votes during a period when anti-communism was prevalent in the United States.  Noted library historian Wayne Wiegand has written an article about Winter's campaign for a position on the public library's board in the Winter 2010-2011 issue of Minnesota History.  Wiegand's article is a good example of how an interesting story about a library's history can be gleaned by delving deeper into its history. It is also noteworthy example of library history being shared with a broader audience than the library history community. An example which other library historians should follow. I have a previous post about the Minneapolis Public Library.  The postcard above shows the Central Library of the Minneapolis Public Library which was in much need of replacement in 1941.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, I thought I would feature one of my first day covers related to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. I have a philatelic exhibit on America's Presidential Libraries & Museums which includes a section on each of the 13 presidential libraries and museums that are administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. This cover which is very ordinary for the most part is special because it has been signed by I. M. Pei, the world famous architect who designed the Kennedy Library. Pei reportedly considers the JFK Library to be the most important commission of his life. The cover has also been signed by John W. McCormack, a Massachusetts Congressman.  The stamp featured on the cover is the 1964 Kennedy memorial stamp. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library has been in the news recently because it is making available online digitized versions of a large portion of its archives. The Library has planned a number of other activities this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the inauguration.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Furs for Books, Ohio's Coonskin Library

In 1803 the residents of the Town of Ames, Ohio entrusted an accumulation of animal furs to Samuel Brown for the purpose of acquiring a collection of books for the town. Brown traveled to Boston where he sold the furs for $74 and was able to purchase 51 books. These books formed the nucleus of the Western Library Association subscription library which was founded in 1804. The library was commonly referred to as the Coonskin Library.  The library lasted until 1861 after being divided into two separate collections in 1830. After Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731, the mother of all subscription libraries, hundreds of these fee based lending libraries were established in the United States.  Most of them faded into obscurity with the onset of the free public library movement.  It is extraordinary that the story of the small Coonskin Library has not only survived all these years but has actually flourished.  If you search for "Coonskin Library" in Google, you will get over 11,000 hits. What is now the Village of Amesville, Ohio is quite proud of the fact it was home to the Coonskin Library.  A Coonskin Library Association (with a very nice website) has been established which operates a Coonskin Library Museum.  Portions of the original collection of books in the Coonskin Library are preserved in the Ohio Historical Society and at Ohio University. An early history of the Coonskin Library has been reprinted in the journal Ohio History. There was considerable controversy about which subscription library could claim to be the first in Ohio (and the Northwest Territory). The Coonskin Library was actually the third such library. In the Winter 1977 issue of the Cincinatti Historical Society Bulletin (available online at the Historical Society's website) Wayne Wiegand provides an overview of the controversy about which library was first.  Bob Avery was the founder and current president of the Coonskin Library Association. The Athens County Public Library (which makes note of its heritage) now serves the residents of Amesville.  Congratulations to Amesville for preserving and celebrating its library heritage.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Tribute to Ruth Brown on MLK Day

I came across the postcard above which shows the library of the Piney Woods School in Mississippi and it reminded me of Louise S. Robbins' wonderful book The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown: Civil Rights, Censorship and the American Library (University of Oklahoma Press, 2000). After Ruth Brown was dismissed as Director of the Bartlesville (Oklahoma) Public Library in 1950 for the inclusion of certain materials in the library and her involvement with the civil rights movement, she worked for a time as the librarian of Piney Woods School. In Robbins' book she quotes Brown on how she decided to take the position at Piney Woods School: "I had lost my 30 years' position as Public Librarian in a Border Town because I became most actively interested in the Negroes of this town and, unlibrarian like couldn't 'keep my mouth shut' or my actions from showing.  The last straw was probably asking to be served, with two lovely Negro high school teachers, at a drugstore." Brown described her three years at Piney Woods School as "the wonderful experience of my life."  Both Ruth Brown and Louise Robbins have been designated as Oklahoma Library Legends by the Oklahoma Library Association.

Happy 305th Birthday Ben Franklin

It's an interesting coincidence that Benjamin Franklin's 305th birthday falls on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year. It prompted me to look into Franklin's stand on slavery and I came across an interesting item on the National Archives website about this topic. It indicates that although Franklin did not speak out publicly against slavery until late in life, one of his last public acts was to send a petition to Congress seeking an end to the slave trade.

Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. Franklin is probably best known in the library community for founding the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. It was America's first lending library and can lay claim to being the predecessor of the free public library. For a brief period (Dec. 1733-Mar. 1734) Franklin actually served as the librarian for the Library Company.  He also served as its secretary from 1746 to 1757.  Franklin considered the Library Company to be the "Mother of all N. American Subscription Libraries ....". Franklin amassed a large personal library which was written about in The Library of Benjamin Franklin by Edwin Wolf 2nd and Kevin J. Hayes (American Philosophical Society and The Library Company of Philadelphia, 2006).
Franklin appeared on the first United States postage stamp (shown above) and has been depicted on more U.S. postage stamps than any other American except George Washington. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Biblioteksmuseet Boras, Sweden's Library History Museum

Sweden's library history museum, the Biblioteksmuseet in Boras, Sweden, was founded in 1989 under the leadership of the Swedish School of Library and Information Science.  The museum has a video in English on its website which provides an excellent overview of the museum. The museum operates as a non-profit organization funded by membership fees and in-kind contributions. The Board of the Museum includes representatives from the Swedish Library Association and the National Swedish Federation of Adult Educational Associations.  Tommy Olsson is the Director of the Museum and Magnus Torstensson of the Swedish School of Library and Information Science is the museum's historian. In 1994 the museum moved to the former building of the Boras Public Library.  The museum has  permanent exhibits showing travelling libraries, parish libraries, study circle libraries, and public library children's services. It also displays artifacts related to technical services and circulation systems.  It is one of only two library history museums in the world as far as I know.  The other is the Bibliotheekmuseum in Amsterdam. My thoughts on a possible museum/library heritage center in the United States are located HERE.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vatican Bibliophilately

I've been collecting postage stamps that depict libraries, librarians, and related topics for more than 15 years.  George Eberhart coined the term bibliophilately, and it was his article on library postage stamps that got me hooked on this collecting area. Vatican City has recently issued (Sept. 20, 2010) what might be considered the ultimate bibliophilatelic artifact. It is a stamp that is an actual miniature book which celebrates the reopening of the Vatican Apostolic Library. The miniature book stamp is inserted into a slot on a backing card that shows the Salone Sistino of the Library. The front of the stamp pictures Pope Sixtus V. who had a new building constructed for the Vatican Library in the 16th century. Inside the stamp booklet are six pages which include illustrations and text.  One of the pages is shown here.  An article about the unusual stamp by Denise McCarty was in the January 3, 2011 issue of Linn's Stamp News. I was elated to be able to purchase one for my collection. Two other stamps were issued by Vatican City in connection with the Library's reopening. They depict illustrations from illuminated manuscripts in the Library. The Vatican City book stamp is not the first such stamp of this nature.  On March 9, 2010, The Netherlands issued a miniature book stamp to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Book Week in that country. To read about how I became a collector of bibliophilately and postal librariana click HERE.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bookplates of the Los Angeles Public Library

I recently added The Bookplates of the Los Angeles Public Library by Joan L. West (Los Angeles Library Association, 1971) to my library history book collection. It is a very attractive 29 page book printed by Richard J. Hoffman in a limited edition of 500 copies.  The bookplate shown here is tipped into the front of the book.  Other bookplates are depicted as illustrations.  West writes: "Yet bookplates are more than an ownership declaration or an art form.  They are avenues into the self-mage of the user.  Institutional bookplates, if viewed in succession, can provide one with a history of the institution as interpreted from the symbolism of the bookplates.  The history of the Los Angeles Public Library can be interpreted in just that way."  The Los Angeles Library Association, a subscription library that was the predecessor of the Los Angeles Public Library, was founded in 1872 and this book, published in 1971, was a nice way to help celebrate the library's centennial.  Unfortunately, there's not much about the history of the library on its website.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Wagon For Sale on eBay

As a proponent of a library history museum, my adrenalin got going pretty good when I came across an historic book wagon for sale on eBay. The seller is offering it for a "Buy it now" price of $15,000, but is willing to consider a lesser offer. If I only had a spare $15,000 and space to store it.  According to the seller on eBay, the book wagon dates to the 1920s and was on display in Vancouver, British Columbia for the 1986 World Expo. Mary L. Titcomb, the Librarian of the Washington County Free Library, sent out the first book wagon in the United States in Hagerstown, Maryland in April, 1905. Titcomb designed the book wagon which had space for 200 books on the outside of the wagon and storage space for more books on the inside. I have a "Tribute to the Bookmobile" on the Library History Buff website.

Addendum: On January 16 the book wagon was relisted for a period of up to 29 days, so you may still have time to purchase this great item and preserve a piece of library history.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Parthenon Literary Society, WV Univ., 1874

The postal card above may be the second oldest overdue notice in existence (click here to see the oldest).  It was mailed to a student by the Corresponding Secretary of the Parthenon Literary Society at West Virginia University (Morgantown, WV) in May of 1874.  College literary societies with a library were fairly common in 18th and 19th century American academic institutions.  I wrote about two such societies at Dartmouth College in an earlier post. There's a good article about these literary societies in Wikipedia. Literary societies sometimes preceded fraternities on college campuses and this was the case at West Virginia University (click here for more about this). The overdue notice which is entirely handwritten reads as follows: "Mr. Shields you are charged on the Library book of The Parthenon Literary Society with a book entitled 'American Family in Germany' and by action of the Society it becomes my duty to inform you that the book must be returned or its equivalent as soon as possible." Mr. Shields had evidently forgotten to return the book before going home to Charleston, WV for the summer.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Walter Lewis Brown, Buffalo Librarian

Walter Lewis Brown (1861-1931) played a significant role in the development of the Buffalo Public Library, now the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Today (January 4) is the 150th anniversary of his birth. Brown served as President of the American Library Association in 1916-1917 when ALA, like the rest of America, was preparing for war. He is included in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) which has an entry written by Paul M. Rooney. When I write these significant birthday posts for the blog, it is always nice to have a piece of related ephemera to display.  That has been easy with Brown and the Buffalo Public Library since I have a number of such items in my collection.  The bookplate shown here includes the information that the Young Men's Association of Buffalo, a subscription library, which preceded the Buffalo Public Library was established in 1836. According to Rooney, Brown began his library career in 1877 at the age of 16 by working at the Young Men's Association Library.  After a 5 year stint with the Association Library, he worked for a local bookseller.  He rejoined the library in 1897, now called the Buffalo Library.  In that same year the library transitioned to a free public library under the name Buffalo Public Library. This is also reflected on the bookplate. Initially Brown served as the vice-librarian under Henry Livingston Elmendorf. I'm familiar with Elmendorf because he married Theresa West, Librarian of the Milwaukee Public Library and the first woman President of the American Library Association.  When Henry Elmendorf died in 1906, Brown became Librarian, a post he held until his death in 1931. Brown served as President of the New York Library Association in 1906.  Theresa West Elmendorf became vice-librarian under Brown.  A nice history of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library is located HERE.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Library Cover Stories

"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).  Philatelist often say every cover has a story.  I collect covers related to libraries, and I have found that these covers  often have interesting stories that relate both to library history and postal history.  On the home page of the Library History Buff website I included a library cover story for each month during the four year period 2007-2010 for a total of 48 library cover stories. I have archived the cover stories and links to all of the library cover stories are below.  When  I created the Library History Buff blog in 2008 I began putting these stories on the blog also. I have realized that the blog is a more appropriate venue for these stories so I have decided to eliminate this feature on the Library History Buff website.  My first library cover story in January 2007 was about the first day cover for the 1982 "America's Libraries" stamp in combination with the 1982 Library of Congress stamp.  It was signed by Betty Stone, ALA President, and Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of Congress. Library covers and library stamps are both included in category which I call "postal librariana".

Library Cover Stories 2007
Library Cover Stories 2008
Library Cover Stories 2009
Library Cover Stories 2010

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy Birthday Justin Winsor, First President of ALA

Today is the 180th anniversary of the birth of Justin Winsor (1831-1897), President of the American Library Association from its founding in 1876 until 1885 and later in 1897. Although not trained in librarianship when he became Superintendent of the Boston Public Library in 1868, he became the foremost American librarian of his time. He left the Boston Public Library in 1877 to become Librarian of Harvard College where he served until his death in 1897.  The postal card above was signed by Winsor on January 3, 1876, 135 years ago tomorrow.  It is the acknowledgement of a gift of two copies of a pamphlet. ALA's Library History Round Table awards the Justin Winsor Prize for Library History Essay in Winsor's honor. A listing of ALA's past presidents can be found HERE.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Celebrating Library History in 2011

I'm always on the look out for opportunities to celebrate library history. Anniversaries of important dates and events is obviously one way of doing this. Although centennials of libraries are a common way of celebrating library history, I'm of the opinion that significant anniversaries can be celebrated as often as every five years. Obviously, the more significant the anniversary the greater opportunity it presents. For some ideas on celebrating library anniversaries click HERE.

The year 1876 was probably the most significant year in American library history. This year is the 135th anniversary of 1876 and all that happened in that year. This was the year that the American Library Association was founded. It was also the year in which Melvil Dewey first published his decimal system of book classification. The Library Journal, originally the American Library Journal, began publication in 1876. The landmark publication Public Libraries in the United States of America was also published by the U. S. Bureau of Education in that year.

It is not surprising that New York under the influence of Melvil Dewey was the first state to organize a state library association. This occurred in 1890. One year later in 1891, 120 years ago, seven more states established library associations. These were in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Kansas, Minnesota, and Indiana. A great year to celebrate 12 decades of library promotion by these associations.

Every year, with the help of the Dictionary of American Library Biography and its supplements, I try to identify key birth anniversaries of important library people and make note of them in the Library History Buff blog, This year will be the 305th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin, the 180th anniversary for Justin Winsor, the 160th for Melvil Dewey, the 150th for Herbert Putnam, the 130th for Julia Wright Merrill, and the 100th for Augusta Baker, to name a few.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York celebrates centennial in 2011.

The Society of American Archivists celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Other dates and events that lend themselves to the celebration of library history are National Library Week, American Archives Month, Preservation Month, and National Bookmobile Day, to name a few.

The invitation to the attendees of the 1876 meeting of librarians which is shown above is a reproduction.