Monday, February 28, 2011

That All May Read, NLS turns 80

The National Library Service for the Blind and the Physically Handicapped (NLS) celebrates its 80th anniversary on March 3rd. The motto for the NLS is "That All May Read". I don't think that motto can be beat. There is a nice history of the NLS and prior efforts to serve the visually impaired on the NLS website.  The Library of Congress which administers the NLS has been serving the visually impaired since 1897 when its new building (now called the Thomas Jefferson Building) opened. That was largely due to Librarian of Congress John Russell Young. The act establishing the NLS in 1931 provided for local and regional libraries throughout the nation and many of those will also be celebrating their 80th anniversary this year.  One of the most important aspects of the NLS is its books-by-mail program. In 1912 the United States became the first nation in the world to provide free postage for mailing materials to the blind.  This was the same year that the National Library for the Blind, a NLS predecessor, was established by Congress. One of the artifacts in my collection is a mailing case for talking books that was used by what is now the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library (WTBBL) in Seattle, one of the regional libraries for the NLS program. The WTBBL is one of the regional libraries that will be celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

First Countywide Public Libraries

At a recent postcard show I came across a postcard (shown here) depicting the Brumback Library in Van Wert, Ohio. The caption on the back of the card indicated that it was "the first county library in the United States" and that it was dedicated in 1901. I couldn't let a claim like that go without looking into it further. Besides, having worked in and with several county libraries, I was interested in finding out more about their history. The Brumback Library's claim to be the "pioneer county library" is backed up by the book The County Library: The Pioneer County Library (The Brumback Library of Van Wert County, Ohio) And the County Library Movement in the United States by Saida Brumback Antrim and Ernest Irving Antrim (Pioneer Press, 1914). Those writing the book, however, had a definite bias because of close ties to the Brumback Library. When the claim of being first was first made, it was challenged by the Cincinnati (Ohio) Public Library which said that it had been providing library service to Hamilton County at an earlier date.  The Washington County Free Library in Haggerstown, Maryland was also in contention for the honor of being the first county library.   The claims and counter claims of being the first county library played out in the in the April, 1901 issue of Library Journal and the May, 1901 issue of Public Libraries

Wyoming Territory passed a county library law in 1886. The Laramie County Public Library in Cheyenne dates its founding as August, 1886, and can thus claim to be the first countywide public library in the United States. It will be celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. I have a previous post on the work of Mabel Wilkinson in organizing county library service in Wyoming.  A comprehensive effort to establish county libraries as a model for public library development came from California starting in 1909.  I have a previous post on that effort. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Carlisle Indian School Library

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania existed from 1879 to 1918. It was founded by Captain Richard Henry Pratt and it was the first of the off-reservation boarding schools whose goal was to assimilate Native American children into the dominant white culture. Barbara Landis has created an excellent website devoted to the history and other aspects of the School. Landis indicates that "It is our purpose to respectfully honor those students and their descendants who lived the experiment, celebrate with those who prospered from it, and grieve with those whose lives were diminished by it." I became aware of the Carlisle School last Fall at Library History Seminar XII where Bernadette A. Lear presented a paper on the role of the library at the school. The most noted student at the school was Jim Thorp. The Cumberland County Historical Society maintains a large archive of materials related to the school which is described on its website. I feel fortunate to have obtained the postcard above which shows students and staff in the school's library. It was mailed on May 24, 1916.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Abraham Harley Cassel - Dunkard Bibliophile

"The largest private collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century Pennsylvania Germaniana during the last century was Abraham Harley Cassel's... For more than fifty years, historians interested in Pennsylvania 's early roots wended their way to the modest two-story brick farmhouse along the Indian Creek, near the village of Harleysville in Lower Salford Township , Montgomery County, to see the famous A. H. Cassel library and to chat with its interesting and learned owner." The previous quotation is from Roy C. Kulp's article "Abraham Harley Cassel – Dunkard Bibliophile" which appeared in the Spring 1960 issue of Pennsylvania Folklife. The word "Dunkard" refers to a member of the Church of the Brethren. I was motivated to look into the life of Cassel after acquiring the envelope shown above.  It was mailed to Cassel from London, England on April 17, 1878. According to Kulp's article, Cassel was a self educated farmer and teacher who acquired a collection of over 50,000 volumes by traveling thousands of miles often on foot. A contemporary newspaper article about Cassel indicated that among his collections were 15,000 to 20,000 letters sent to him from all over the world. It would be interesting to know where all the envelopes for those letters (other than mine) ended up.  When Cassel died the bulk of his collection went to the Beeghly Library at Juniata College in Huntington, Pennsylvania. Parts of it went to the Pennsylvania Historical Society. Cassel was born in 1820 and died in 1908.  Another article about Cassel and his library by Donald F. Durnbaugh appeared in the October, 1959 issue of Pennsylvania History.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy 150th Birthday Henry E. Legler

Henry E. Legler (1861-1917) earned a national reputation as a public library leader while serving as Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC) from 1904 to 1909.  For his service in Wisconsin, he was inducted into the Wisconsin Library of Fame in 2009 (Hall of Fame biography). While in Wisconsin he became actively involved in national library activities and was elected as the first chair of the League of Library Commissions in 1905. Building on booklists established by the WFLC, he founded the Booklist of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1904 and served as its editor until 1916. He was a member and chair of the ALA Publishing Board, and served as ALA President in 1912-13. After leaving Wisconsin in 1909 he became Director of the Chicago Public Library, a post he served in until his death in 1917. Legler was instrumental in the relocation of the headquarters of the American Library Association from Boston to Chicago in 1909. Legler is included in the Dictionary of American Library Biography.  He was one of eighteen library leaders included in the publication Pioneering Leaders in Librarianship (ALA, 1953).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Favorite Individual Library History Webpages

On a previous post I identified my selection of the top 10 library history websites. Those websites were examples of sites that featured state or national library history and were not about the history of an individual library. In this post I have selected some of my favoite library history webpages for individual libraries.  I have looked at hundreds of library websites, and  I am constantly amazed at how library history on these websites is either non-existent, limited, or difficult to find. I recommend the two click method of displaying a library's history on its website. From the home page click on the "About" or the "About the Library" menu.  On that menu or page is where the "Library History" link should be located and another click on that link should get you to at least a brief history of the library. A library's history is a public relations asset which can be available 24-7 on a website. Why not exploit it.  Large academic libraries are especially guilty of hiding or not featuring their history. Links to other library history websites and pages can be found on The Library History Buff website. Although I've looked at a lot of library websites there are thousands I haven't explored, let me know at if you are aware of a library website that does a good job of featuring its history on its website.

Library of Congress

It is not surprising that the Library of Congress, founded in 1800, does a great job of making its history available on its website. A lot of credit goes to John Cole who has been researching and publicizing the library's history for decades.

Library Company of Philadelphia

The Library Company of Philadelphia was founded by Benjamin Franklin and his friends 280 years ago (1731) and it tells the story of that history extremely well on its website.

New York Society Library

The New York Society Library, founded in 1754, is New York City's oldest library and it does a commendable job of telling its history on its website.

Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Public Library 

A library doesn't have to be large to do a good job of letting the public know about its heritage via its website. The Eau Claire Public Library (L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library) in Wisconsin is a good example of this.

Perrot Memorial Library
The Perrot Memorial Library in Old Greenwich, CT targets young people with this history of the library.

Enoch Pratt Free Library

The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, MD has a solid library history with good images on its website.

Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County

The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in North Carolina has been going through some rough times recently but it does a good job of highlighting its history on its website.

Nashville (TN) Public Library

The Nashville (TN) Public Library proclaims "A City With A Great Library Is A Great City". I started my library career there and am pleased with its reporting on its heritage.

Vanderbilt University Libraries

I like the way the website of the Vanderbilt University Libraries in Nashville, TN has a single page that features (and links to) the history of its various units/branches. On the websites of too many academic libraries you have to look for library history under their individual library buildings or units.

Cornell University Library

Although its difficult to find the history of the Cornell University Library on its website, I was especially impressed with the digital exhibit featuring Willard Fiske, Cornell's first librarian.

Edwardsville (IL) Public Library

The Edwardsville Public Library in Illinois developed a nice online video to celebrate its heritage. The link to the video is at the bottom of the page.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Love Library Buttons

Valentine's Day seems like an appropriate occasion to highlight some of my library buttons with a love theme.  I have a large collection of library buttons which I discussed in a previous post. Since then my collection has continued to grow as a result of donations from colleagues who know about my interest in librariana. Buttons seem to be passé at library conferences these days, but that makes them even more collectible. I have other examples of library buttons on my Library History Buff website. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy 120th Birthday Wisconsin Library Association


Today marks the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA). On February 11, 1891, a group of individuals gathered in the office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (located in Wisconsin's second Capitol, shown above) for the purpose of establishing a state library association. At that meeting, a constitution was adopted and officers were elected. They included K. A. Linderfelt, president; R. G. Thwaites, vice-president; and F. A. Hutchins, secretary-treasurer. The first conference of the newly established association took place in Madison on March 11, 1891. The constitution of WLA was based on that of the New York Library Association which was founded in 1890 and was the first of the state library associations. Melvil Dewey was instrumental in the formation of the New York Library Association. There are six other state library associations celebrating their 120th anniversary this year. They are Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Kansas, Minnesota, and Indiana. The Wisconsin Library Association Foundation is the home of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Books by Mail in Maine 1929

This brochure was distributed by the Maine State Library in Augusta, Maine about 1929.  It  provides information about the services of the Maine State Library including how the library's collection of 200,000 volumes can be obtained through the mail.  It states that, “A new postal law enables us to send books at greatly reduced cost and when they are returned to us they will come back for a like amount if you will place the following in the upper left corner of the package: CONTENTS: Books mailed under Sec. 444 ½ P.L. & R."  It also indicates that the library's collection "enables us to answer practically any question of importance and to lend books on nearly every subject."  The current mission of the state library indicates that it "facilitates access to and delivery of library services and collection resources for the State of Maine". Not too different than in 1929. Previous posts on books by mail can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ronald Reagan and the Dixon Public Library

Today is the centennial of the birth of Ronald Reagan, and there will be activities throughout the year to celebrate this occasion. Dixon, Illinois was Reagan's hometown from 1920 to 1933.  I wanted to see if Reagan used the public library in that city and I found the answer on the Dixon, IL page of the Ronald Reagan Trail Website. According to the website, the Reagan family moved to Dixon when Ronald Reagan was 9 years old and within 3 weeks Reagan and his brother both had library cards at the Dixon Public Library. Ronald's library card number was 3695. The postcard above shows the Dixon Public Library pretty much as it would have looked when Reagan was using it during his years in Dixon. According to the history on the library's website, the building was completed in 1901 and wasn't significantly modified until 1955. The building was built by O. B. Dodge, the library's first board president, and not Andrew Carnegie. Many activities related to Reagan's birth centennial will take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. That library is a far cry from the one used by Reagan in Dixon, IL.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Early Children's Rooms in Public Libraries

We take separate children's rooms in public libraries for granted today, but that was not the case before the 1890s. It was in that decade that the transition from no separate children's rooms in public libraries to almost every public library having a separate children's room began. I was prompted to investigate the start of this practice in public libraries when a friend passed along a link to an article in about the formation of the Children's Department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The article by Rick Sebak ends by saying: "So we may not have the first, but we may have had the first really good one, carefully managed and “organized” by a caring staff of well-trained librarians. We taught the rest of the world what makes a quality children’s department."  Sebak makes note in his article of the role played by Frances Jenkins Olcott who came to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in 1898 in developing the Children's Deaprtment. Although various libraries including the Boston Public Library lay claim to having the first public library children's room, the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts seems to have the strongest claim. Their children's room was established in June of 1890 primarily to get noisy children out of the adult reading room. It was initially supervised by the library's janitor. Of the large public libraries, the Denver Public Library under the leadership of John Cotton Dana was the first to establish children's services in 1894. Dana reporting on the success of the children's department at Denver in 1896 said this: "If public libraries are of value, this form of a children's department must be, if not the ideal thing, certainly an ideal thing." Mary Wright Plummer, Director of the Pratt Institute Free Library in Brooklyn and an advocate for children's services in public libraries, conducted a survey in 1896 and found that the majority of public libraries did not allow membership by children under 12. She identified only 15 public libraries that provided services from a children's room. Under Plummer, a new library building for the Pratt Institute was the first to include a children's room in its initial design and was actually constructed.  My source for this information is the book American Library Development 1600-1899 by Elizabeth W. Stone (H. W. Wilson, 1977).  There was another recent online article about the first children's library in Quebec, Canada. The postcard above shows children using the Carpenter Memorial Library in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lutie Stearns, Wisconsin's Stuttering Librarian

The inspirational story about King George VI and his struggles with stuttering as told in the movie The King's Speech has brought a great deal of attention to this speech impediment and its challenges. Wisconsin's pioneer librarian Lutie Stearns (1866-1943) also overcame the challenges of stuttering and became a state and national leader in the extension of public library service. Lutie's struggles with stuttering came about as the result of being forced in school to be right handed when she was naturally left handed. The story of Lutie's life is dramatically told in the book Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Taveling Libraries of Wisconsin by Stuart Stotts (Big Valley Press, 2005). Although Stotts' book is a fictionalized account of Stearns' life aimed at young people, I highly recommend it for adults as well. Lutie's library accomplishments are documented in "The Library Career of Lutie Eugenia Stearns" by Earl Tannenbaum in the Wisconsin Magazine of History (Spring, 1956 pp. 159-166). One of the amazing things about Lutie is that public speaking was the major tool she used to advance the cause of libraries and her other passions. In fact, after her career in libraries she went on to become a successful free lance lecturer on a variety of topics. In 1951 she was one of 40 of America’s most significant library leaders selected by the Library Journal for inclusion in a “ Library Hall of Fame". Lutie was also in the first group of librarians to be inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2008. I have a previous post to the blog about Lutie. The image of Lutie Stearns is from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Historical Image Collection, Image ID: 29372.