Thursday, May 26, 2011

America's Library - The Library of Congress

I've mentioned my philatelic exhibit about the Library of Congress which I titled "America's Library - The Library of Congress" several times previously on this blog. In preparation for a presentation I will be making next week to the Washington (D.C.) Stamp Collectors Club on the exhibit, I've scanned some of the pages from the exhibit and placed them on my website.  Feel free to take a look. The entire exhibit will be on display at the NAPEX Stamp Show, June 3-5, at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in McLean, VA. The page from the exhibit shown above features a stampless cover mailed by Samuel Taggart, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, on Oct. 20, 1814. A notation on the inside of the cover indicates the letter (which is not included) provided the "particulars of burning of Washington by British ...".  This, of course, included the burning of the Library of Congress which was housed in the Capitol. An illustration of that action by the British from the Dec., 1872 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine is also included on this exhibit page.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Thomas S. Shaw Collection of Covers and Correspondence

A few years ago I acquired a collection of several dozen covers (envelopes) and letters mailed to Thomas S. Shaw, a longtime Library of Congress staff member and later a professor at the Library School of Louisiana State University. They cover a forty year period starting in the early 1930s and going to the early 1970s. This was a major windfall for a collector of postal librariana. I wrote about the relationship of Shaw and George Elsey, an aide to both Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, on my Library History Buff website as a result of several items in the Shaw collection. The relationship between Shaw and Elsey involved Shaw's clandestine research for Elsey as a reference librarian at the Library of Congress on behalf of Roosevelt.  My Shaw collection also includes personal correspondence to Shaw from a number of Library of Congress staff members including former Librarian of Congress Luther Evans. The item from the collection which is shown in this post is a thank you note to Shaw from Blanche McCrum (1887-1969) who retired from the Library of Congress in 1955. McCrum is listed in the Dictionary of American Library Biography Supplement (Libraries Unlimited, 1990).  McCrum concludes her note to Shaw with: "Many thanks, too, for your unfailing professional kindness through the years.  You are never too busy to help, and you know those resources so well. May you live long and prosper in the great institution we both love." Shaw received the Isadore Gilbert Mudge Award in 1968 for making a distinguished contribution to reference librarianship. It is a privilege to have a personal glimpse into the life of such a distinguished librarian of the not too distant past.

Monday, May 23, 2011

NYPL's Bldg. at 5th Ave. & 42nd St. on Postcards

I thought I would do one more post on the New York Public Library's building located at 5th Ave. & 42nd St. since this is the actual day of the centennial celebration for the building. I don't know how many different postcard views of this iconic building exist but there are dozens, maybe hundreds. I deliberately only have a few postcards showing the 5th Avenue building (I have to be selective).  The one shown here is my favorite. It was mailed to the American Barracks in Tientsin, China on May 2, 1933, probably to a postcard collector since it doesn't have a message, only the name of the sender. As a bibliophilatelist, I like the fact that the postage stamps are on the front of the postcard, something you probably couldn't get away with today. The postcard shows the hustle and bustle of 5th Ave., and the back of the card notes that "Fifth Avenue and 42nd St., is the busiest crossing in the city where traffic is heavy at all hours of the day and night."  The ideal corner for where a public library should be located. Also prominently displayed on the postcard is the 300 Fifth Ave. Building.  The back of the card notes that this 38 story office building has 1,000 windows overlooking the public library and Bryant Park. For more postcard views of the NYPL at 5th Ave. & 42nd St. click HERE (Judy Aulik) and HERE (Sharon McQueen). I've also written a previous post about NYPL postcards. Most of my collection of artifacts related to the New York Public Library are postal items other than postcards, but a wide variety of souvenir items related to the New York Public Library exist and offer a great collecting opportunity. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Virginia Haviland (1911-1988)

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Virginia Haviland, world renown children's literature proponent and authority. According to Barbara Immroth who wrote Haviland's entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography, Second Supplement (Libraries Unlimited, 2003), Haviland's credo was "The right book for the right child at the right time." A worthy credo supported universally by children's librarians. Haviland was a children's librarian and branch librarian at the Boston Public Library for almost 30 years starting in 1934. In 1963 she became the head of the Children's Book Section of the Library of Congress where she retired in 1981. Immroth indicates that Haviland wrote extensively for children and adults with her best known children's books being those in the "Favorite Fairy Tales" series published by Little Brown. To children's literature students in library school she is probably best known for her Children's Literature: A Guide To Reference Sources. Haviland received many honors including the Grolier Award for "unusual contributions to the stimulation and guidance of reading by children and young people" and Honorary Life Membership given by the American Library Association in 1982.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Library Magnets

Almost any gift store in a tourist area or at a tourist attraction have souvenir magnets for sale.  They're a reasonably priced memento that can easily be placed on the handy refrigerator door.  Magnets containing telephone and location information are also commonly given away by various businesses. Libraries and library organizations in recent years have also made use of magnets for a variety of purposes. They make a nice collectible for the librariana collector.  I put mine on a metal file cabinet.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

NYPL Stacks

The dramatic depiction of the stack area of the New York Public Library building located at 5th Ave. & 42nd St. which is shown above appeared on the front cover of the May 27, 1911 issue of Scientific American. The article inside the journal described the mechanics of how a library user was able to retrieve a book from the seven tiers of closed stacks in the library located under the main reading room.  Pneumatic tubes played a large role in that process.  Those tubes were used to transmit a library user's request rapidly to the appropriate stack level and area where the requested item/s were located by a library staff member.  The item/s were then placed on one of eight mechanical lifts for transport to the main reading room or one of the library's other reading areas. Each of the lifts was capable of carrying 250 pounds of books at a rate of 150 feet per minute. On the sixth stack tier there were two horizontal conveyers that facilitated the transfer of books to the appropriate lift. Those conveyers according to Scientific American consisted of  an endless track with an endless rope running above it attached to two cars or baskets on wheels. This sounds similar to an arrangement at the Boston Public Library that I wrote about previously. The New York Public Library continues to use a similar system today. An online article about the NYPL's use of pneumatic tubes appears HERE. On Saturday May 21 as part of the NYPL's centennial celebration for the building, there will be public tours of the closed stack area. I would love to be able to take one of those tours. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

The New York Public Library on Stamps

This month the New York Public Library is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the dedication of its iconic building at 5th Avenue & 42nd Street now known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.  For this occasion I have assembled a philatelic tribute to the library on the Library History Buff website which features representations of this landmark building on stamps.  The postage stamp featuring one of the famous lions in front of the building (shown here) was issued by the United States in 2000. The purpose of the stamp was to pay for pre-sorted standard mail. Because the United States Postal Service has a policy against honoring individual local institutions, the stamp was to be issued with out any reference to the New York Public Library.  However, the NYPL required that the inscription "The New York Public Library" be added to the stamp because the lion is trademarked by NYPL. The stamps were in widespread use for a number of years by bulk mailers, and as a result they were probably used on more envelopes than any library related stamps in history. Three other countries have issued postage stamps featuring the building at 5th Avenue & 42nd Street. For a number of years I have advocated, to no avail, for a postage stamp which honors all public libraries in the United States. I also have a webpage that shows all postage stamps that feature U.S. libraries and a webpage that shows U.S. library people on postage stamps.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield's (MA) Public Library

The Berkshire Athenaeum is the public library for Pittsfield, MA, and this year it is celebrating its 140th anniversary.  The Athenaeum was founded on March 24, 1871, and it moved into the building shown in the postcard above in 1876. The Athenaeum was preceded in Pittsfield by subscription/social libraries dating as early as 1796. There is a nice history of the Athenaeum on its website along with more postcard views of its first building. Funds for the construction of that building were donated by railroad magnet Thomas Allen, a native of Pittsfield.  It was designed by New York architect William Appleton Potter and constructed of dark blue limestone, red freestone, and red granite.  The Athenaeum moved into its current building in 1975. The original building now houses the Berkshire County Registry of Deeds.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Middletown Read

High on the list policies promoted by the American Library Association (ALA) are those that protect the privacy of library users. Due to the efforts of ALA, most states have enacted laws that provide that privacy. These policies are frowned on by some library history scholars, however, because they prevent research about who used libraries and how they used them. When researchers are able to discover library records which they can use to identify library users and what they read, they are, to put it mildly, ecstatic.  Little did the users of the Muncie (Indiana) Public Library between November 6, 1891 and November 5, 1894 (with one small gap) realize that one day their reading habits would be made known to the entire world through a project labeled "What Middletown Read". The library records which contained the information were re-discovered in Muncie's City Building in 2003 where they had been moved when the new Carnegie library building (shown on the postcard above) opened in 1904. Through the cooperative efforts of Ball State University and the Muncie Public Library, the handwritten circulation records for the 1891-1894 period have been converted to a searchable digital database.  The Ball State University partners include the Center for Middletown Studies and the Ball State University Libraries. Noted library historian Wayne Wiegand wrote this about the database recently: "I'm betting this database will become a major resource for American library history research in the next decade. Because it will draw the attention of book and library historians across the globe who will now be able to study the reading practices of everyday people using one particular (but symbolically very important) American public library in great detail, we will all benefit. Together, we will expand our understanding of the community places of public libraries, which will then help us explain to evangelists of information technology and bureaucratic bean counters why these civic institutions are so essential to their host communities, and so important in the everyday lives of the people who use them." Did I say ecstatic.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Josephus Larned, Pioneer Buffalo Librarian

The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library has a rich history that involved a number of outstanding librarians. I have written previously about Walter Lewis Brown and Theresa West Elmendorf. Today is the 175th anniversary of the birth of Josephus Nelson Larned (1836-1913) who laid the foundation for this great American public library. In 1877 after working for a number of years as a journalist in Buffalo, Larned was appointed as Superintendent of the Young Men's Association of the City of Buffalo which had established a subscription library in 1836 (also 175 years ago).  One of his first tasks was to investigate and adopt a system for classifying the library's collection. He decided on the new system developed by Melvil Dewey, and in 1877-78 the library's collection of 30,000 volumes were classified under this system.  In 1886 the library's name was changed to "The Buffalo Library", although it still remained a subscription library. In 1883 Larned issued free tickets (library cards) to 50 school children as an experiment.  This proved so successful that a thousand free tickets were being distributed to children by 1895.  Under Larned's leadership the library moved into a new building in 1887.  In 1896, Larned made the Buffalo Library an open stack library, an unusual occurrence in libraries at that time.  Larned worked to make the library a free public library, and in 1897 that was accomplished. Shortly after that, he resigned, completing a 20 year tenure as librarian.  Larned was active in both the New York Library Association and the American Library Association.  He served as president of ALA in 1893-94. The primary source of the information in this post is Elizabeth W. Smith's entry for Larned in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978).  The two Buffalo library envelopes shown above are from my collection. The first was mailed in 1885 and the second in 1887 during which period the library's name was changed.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thoreau's Trip West

May 11 will be the sesquicentennial of the start of Henry David Thoreau's 3,000 mile plus trip from Concord, Massachusetts to Minnesota and back which ended on July 11, 1861. Although not directly applicable to library history, I thought the trip was worth a post. I became aware of the anniversary of Thoreau's journey through Corinne H. Smith, a writer and librarian in Massachusetts who has written a book about the journey which will be published this summer. Smith also maintains a website with a great deal of information about the trip including its exact route. Thoreau and his young traveling companion Horace Mann, Jr., son of the famous educator Horace Mann, came through Middleton, WI where I live at about 1:15 p.m. on June 27, 1861 on the return leg of their trip.  The occasion of Thoreau's journey West seems like a good opportunity for libraries in communities along the route to do some special events related to the trip.  Indeed, some have already scheduled events. Smith will be giving a program about the trip at the Palmer Public Library (MA) on May 11 and there will be a Wisconsin program at the Stoughton Public Library on June 20, among others.  Thoreau died on May 6, 1862 just short of a year after the start of his journey West. Thoreau was an abolitionist and was active in the fight against slavery.  It is an interesting historical footnote that the last year of Thoreau's life was also the first year of a war which resulted in the end of slavery. The United States commemorated Thoreau on a postage stamp in 1967 (shown above). Corinne H. Smith is a lover of Carnegie libraries and maintains a great website on New England Carnegies

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Early Railroad Libraries

At last year's Library History Seminar XII I attended a very interesting presentation on the Employees' Free Circulating Library of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) given by John Buchtel of Georgetown University. This was just one of several early efforts by railroad companies to provide library service to their employees and to the public. The B&O library was established in 1885 and served only the employees of the B&O and their families. The library operated out of a central site in Baltimore but books were distributed to any point on the rail lines of the B&O. The Seaboard Airlline Railway library service which began in 1898 distributed books provided by others to communities along the Seaboard rail lines in the six Southern states in which it operated. This service continued to operate until 1955. Sally Heard of Rose Hill Plantation near Middleton, GA was the person responsible for starting the service and obtaining most of the books made available through the service.  These books were made available in "traveling library" collections to over 250 schools and to 30 communities.  This service was instrumental in promoting the development of public library service in the states where it operated. A third model of railroad library service occurred in Altoona, PA, and was started in 1858 by the employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. This library was called the Altoona Mechanics' Library and Reading Room Association and was organized as a stock company. The Pennsylvania Railroad purchased a large portion of the shares of stock for the library on which they paid a $2 annual fee to help support the library.  The railroad gave these shares of stock to retired employees and to some other employees.  A stock certificate from my collection dated Sept. 3, 1885 for one share of stock shown above. The Mechanics' Library was a predecessor to the current Altoona Area Public Library which has a nice history on its website. The January 1915 issue of Special Libraries has an article about "Railway Libraries" that provides a good summary of the various approaches railroads took in providing library service to their employees and to others. That article was the source of much of the information in this post. Other library membership and stock certificates can be found HERE.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fire - Enemy of Books

There is a delightful book titled The Enemies of Books by William Blades (Trubner, London, 1880, multiple editions) which covers multiple threats that books have been subjected to throughout history. The first and foremost is fire. Blades writes: " There are many of the forces of Nature which tend to injure Books; but among them all not one has been half so destructive as Fire.  It would be tedious to write out a bare list only of the numerous libraries and bibliographical treasures which, in one way or another, have been seized by the Fire-king as his own.  Chance conflagrations, fanatic incendiarism, Judicial bonfires, and even household stoves have, time after time thinned the treasures as well as the rubbish of past ages, until, probably not one thousandth part of the books that have been are still extant."  We are all familiar with the burning of our national Capitol which housed the Library of Congress by the British in 1814. The destroyed library was replaced by the personal library of Thomas Jefferson which in turn was mostly destroyed in another fire in the Capitol in 1851. A Wisconsin Capitol fire in 1904 destroyed the collection of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, but quick action by a Supreme Court justice and University students saved the State Law Library. I have written a previous posts about the burning of the University Library in Algeria and the twice destroyed Library of Louvain. This year is the 100th anniversary of of one of America's most devastating library fires, the one that destroyed the New York State Library. At the time, the library was the fifth largest in the U.S. and the twentieth largest in the world. The fire has been called the most serious catastrophe to befall American historical material. The story of the fire is told in a new book published by the Friends of the New York State Library. The New York State Capitol and the Great Fire of 1911 was written by Paul Mercer and Vicki Weiss and is available from the Friends Store. Although great progress has been made in the prevention of library fires, they still remain one of the most dangerous enemies of books. Thanks to Mary Redmond at the New York State Library for information about the new book.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Library Postcard Humor

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, library postcards are one of my collecting interests. Because there are thousands of library postcards that depict libraries, I confine myself to a limited number of categories of these cards. I'm always on the outlook, however, for the unusual or different library postcard. I think the postcard featured in this post certainly fits into that category. The postcard depicts a rather austere lady asking the male library clerk, "Have you the book entitled 'Battles I have been in?'" He replies, "No, m'am; but I can give you 'Memories of a Married Man.'" Apart from the marriage humor, the card also has some historical aspects.  The sign which reads "Join Our Circulating Library" is an indication that this is a subscription or a "for profit" library. The books are also behind the counter indicating closed stacks, a very common practice among all libraries in the 19th and early 20th century. The postcard was published by Bamforth & Co. Ltd of Holmfirth, England which started publishing postcards in 1910.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Books for Soldiers and Sailors in the Civil War

The sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War is being celebrated this year. The work of the American Library Association to provide books and magazines for soldiers and sailors during World War I was not the first effort to provide reading matter to our troops during wartime.  David Kaser in his book Books and Libraries in Camp and Battle: The Civil War Experience (Greenwood Press, 1984) makes that clear. By 1861 literacy and reading matter to feed that literacy were widespread in the United States. During the Civil War a variety of efforts were made to provide reading materials to those fighting in the war.  One of the more comprehensive of these occurred late in the war and was carried out by the United States Christian Commission. The Christian Commission provided 285 small libraries in wooden cases (see illustration above), totaling 32,125 volumes, that were distributed throughout the Union forces in hospitals, regiments, forts, and ships. An organized system for loaning the books in the libraries was developed. The Loan Library System of the Christian Commission is described in the Annals of the United States Christian Commission by Lemuel Moss, 1868, pages 717-724. I have a previous post about the Soldiers Free Library that was another effort to provide reading matter to Civil War soldiers.