Tuesday, November 29, 2011

John Cotton Dana and "The Men of Letters"

I'm a great admirer of John Cotton Dana (1856-1919), one of our nation's great early librarians. Although Dana is best known in the library profession for his advocacy of library public relations, one of the things that I admire most about him was his sense of humor. I have in my collection a small, four page  publication titled The Men of Letters (Vol. I No. 1, May 1913, Newark, NJ) published by The Elm Tree Press, Woodstock, Vermont. This publication begins with a letter signed by a John Silver that was supposedly published in the Newark Evening News on May 8, 1913. The letter indicates that an organization called "The Newark Men of Letters" has been formed, and that the organization "has no constitution, by-laws, fees or dues, unless duties are dues. Every member is an office-holder and bears a title."  The organization was instigated by Dana and fellow bibliophiles while he was Director of the Newark Public Library. The official titles of the members included: "Captain of the Pirate Crew"; "Long Rifle"; "Thumb Mark Detective"; and "Galloping Dick, Highwayman". John Cotton Dana's title was "The Devil's Admiral". By unanimous vote Treasure Island was adopted by The Newark Men of Letters as the model of all novels for the organization. The coat of arms for the organization which is included on the cover of The Men of Letters (see above) has the motto "Read What You Like". I think the coat of arms would make a great bookplate. Jane Durnell, in an article titled "The Cardelius Syndrome" in the Spring 1976 issue of Imprint: Oregon (Published by the University of Oregon Library), reviewed several escapades of Dana and associates including The Men of Letters. "Cardelius" in the title of Durnell's article refers to a personage created by Dana as an early printer and the writer of a tribute to printing. Subsequently, several letters about Cardelius were published in The Nation magazine as if he were a real person. Durnell also discusses "The Bibliosmiles" and Charles Lummis which I have written about previously. Wayne Wiegand has written about one of Dana's more elaborate hoaxes, "The Old Librarian's Almanack". Let's hear it for library humor, may we all have more of it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Delivery on Day of 1906 SF Earthquake

Natural disasters obviously impact libraries if they are in the vicinity of the disaster. Libraries certainly have not escaped untouched by the multitude of disasters that have occurred in this country in recent years. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, more accurately described as the California Earthquake of 1906, was especially disastrous to libraries. Some libraries were completely destroyed and many more were negatively impacted by the earthquake and the related fires. It is always interesting to come across an artifact that places a library in the context of a major historical event. I recently acquired a postal card that documents the receipt of a book by the library of the Chabot Observatory (now the Chabot Space & Science Center) in Oakland, California on the day of the 1906 California earthquake.  The postal card was mailed to Robert Schindler in Lucerne, Switzerland on Charles Burckhalter, Assistant in Charge at the Chabot Observatory, on May 3, 1906. The card acknowledges receipt of Schindler's book The Mechanic of the Moon (Published by the author, 1906). Burckhalter writes, "Your little book came the same day as our earthquake, so I have not had time to read, but only to glance over it. It seems, however to be a work of merit." Although Oakland suffered extensive earthquake damage, it escaped the devastating fire that followed in San Francisco. Ironically, Bruckhalter who later became Director of the Chabot Observatory died in September, 1923 shortly after a fire that destroyed nearby homes and threatened the Observatory.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gerstenslager Bookmobile Postcard Ads

For many years the Gerstenslager Company in Wooster, Ohio was synonymous with bookmobiles for public library extension librarians. Although the roots of the company date back to 1860 it was not until after World War II that the company began designing and building custom bodies for specialty vehicles including bookmobiles. One of my postcard collecting interests is bookmobiles and among my collection is a group of cards which include advertising on the back for the Gerstenslager Co. and its bookmobile business. Each of the postcards, of course, has a bright shinny new bookmobile of the front. The advertising on the back is varied, and sometimes surprising. A 1954 card boasts that in 1954 Gerstenslager built 96 percent of bookmobiles built specifically for that purpose and that 1955 looks like it would break that record. A 1956 card takes advantage of the recent passage of the "Federal Aid Program", the Library Services Act, and indicates that if your qualify for that program, Gerstenslager is ready to assist you in your planning. Another ad features the horse drawn Washington County Free Library (Hagerstown, MD) bookmobile, the first bookmobile in the United States, with the information that it has just delivered Washington County's 12th bookmobile (pictured on the front of the card). One ad is somewhat religious in nature and touts the Golden Rule. At some point, Gerstenslager evidently ceased making bookmobile bodies, although it continues to assist in the manufacture of vehicles.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

LHBB Milestones

Today is the third anniversary of the Library History Buff Blog. This is also my 400th post to the blog. I'm pleased with the modest success of the blog. Although my statistical software doesn't measure all of the activity on the blog, it does show that there were at least 27,000 unique visits to the blog in the last 12 months and 40,000 page loads. The blog post to the site that received the most page loads ever was the "Best Library Cover Story Ever" post on April 4, 2011. That post featured the cover shown above which made its way from Spain to the Los Angeles Public Library with only a picture as an address. I'm grateful for the 128 individuals who have signed up as "followers" of my site. I'm also grateful to American Libraries Direct which periodically links to some of my blog posts. Thanks to the members of the Library History Round Table of ALA who put up with my reminders of recent posts to the blog. Finally, thanks to the other bloggers and webmasters who link to the Library History Buff Blog. Now on to year four and more posts.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Union College (NY) Semi-Centennials

I recently became aware that this year was the semi-centennial of the Schaffer Library at Union College in Schenectady, NY. The last event of their year long celebration was a lecture by Jeremy B. Dibbell, writer of the PhiloBiblos blog. This reminded me of a piece of postal librariana in my collection related to the Philomatheon Society of Union College. The Philomatheon Society was one of the student literary societies at colleges and universities that I have written about previously. The item in my collection is a stampless folded letter written in 1848 by a former member of the Society in regard to a circular that he had received announcing a publication related to the semi-centennial of the Society.  The circular also contained an appeal to the alumni of the Society for funding to enlarge the Society's library. The writer of the letter J. Petrie, who was at that time a student at Auburn Theological Seminary, proposes to donate a book (Rational Psychology by Hickok, to be published in early 1849) to the library. He requests two copies of the semi-centennial publication which is available now in digital form from the Internet Archive. The publication indicates that at the time of the semi-centennial there were 115 members of the Society and about 3,000 volumes in the library.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Newark's Transition to a Free Public Library

America's transition from fee based membership and subscription libraries to free (to the user) public libraries occurred over a number of decades starting in the mid-19th century. Sometimes membership libraries ceased to exist because their support base or governance was inadequate. In some instances they transferred their assets to newly created free public libraries, and in others they continued to coexist with public libraries for variable periods of time. A few survive even today. In Newark, New Jersey, there was a rocky transition from the Newark Library (originally the Newark Library Association), a membership library established in 1847, to the Newark Free Library Association (now the Newark Public Library) established in 1887. In 1889 the Newark Library agreed to lease space in their building to the Free Library and to allow the use of their collection. However, this all broke down when the librarian of the Free Library was discovered stamping the Newark Library's books with the Free Library's ownership stamp. This  resulted in the Newark Library requiring the Free Library to buy its collection. A Library Journal article in the August, 1889 issue (pages 354-355) discusses the controversy, and there is a wonderful reprint of comments of a correspondent to in the Call newspaper about the situation. The correspondent wrote: "The Newark Library Association was chartered by the New Jersey Legislature in 1847 for the purpose of providing a library for the people of our city.  It was never an aggressive institution, and how it has managed to hold together so long is a wonder to me.  It has been moribund for years.  Now the life has left the body and nothing remains except the bare bones of a library, some real estate, and some books, but no vitality. It long ago came under the control of a few very amiable and agreeable gentlemen, who met at the library building occasionally, but for many years they left the management of the institution to another gentleman of most estimable character, who had no fitness for the position and no appreciation of the wants of a great public institution."  I wonder how he really felt. The librarian for the Free Library who started all the commotion was Frank P. Hill who was one of the most prominent librarians of his era and after a very successful stint in Newark went on to direct the Brooklyn Public Library.  I'm not sure when the Newark Library officially ceased to exist, but some of the brief histories of the Newark Public Library that I've seen imply that there was a smooth transition from the membership library to the free public library, which it certainly was not. The advertisement for the Newark Library Association which is shown above is from an 1885 publication.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reading Stand and Revolving Book Case

Postal cards with advertising related to library supplies and equipment are among my favorites. This one is an 1899 advertisement for the Marsh Reading Stand and Revolving Book Case which everyone knows was "Recognized throughout the Civilized World unequalled as an Office or Library article." The postal card offers the $7 stand for only $3 "if you will sign, cut off and return promptly the order below." In the statement which you have to sign as part of the order is an agreement to "write half a dozen of my responsible friends, recommending them to order one of you on same terms."  Quite a piece of marketing. It reminds me of the over the top TV ads that are too good to refuse.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tribute to a Veteran and to a Library Historian on 11-11-11

As a Veteran myself, I take note when I come across information about another librarian who has served in the Armed Forces. In reading David Kaser's Books and Libraries in Camp and Battle: The Civil War Experience (Greenwood Press, 1984), I was taken with his reminisces about his reading experiences during World War II. Kaser served with a tank battalion in the European theater. He writes in part: "I recalled purchasing forty years ago a copy of Street & Smith's pulp Western Stories magazine in the bus station in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to carry with me on maneuvers at Camp Shelby.  I remember reading the Stars and Stripes by the light of a candle in a stable in Alsace and trying to use my schoolboy German to puzzle out the cartoons in an issue of Simplicissimus that I had 'liberated' from a chalet in the Tyrol.... I remembered the copy of the Pocket Book of English Verse that I carried in the turret of my tank until the volume literally fell apart, but by then it did not matter because I had learned all of the poems by heart anyway."  Kaser would have been in the European theater at the same time as my father who served in a artillery battalion. After his military service Kaser completed his education and became an academic library administrator.  He served as the Director of the Joint University Libraries in Nashville, TN which served Vanderbilt University and George Peabody College from 1960 to 1967. His tenure overlapped my undergraduate years at Peabody where he also taught. He joined the faculty of the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University-Bloomington in 1973 where he became Distinguished Professor in 1986. He retired in 1991 and was designated Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Kaser is responsible for some excellent library history research and publication including his book A Book For A Sixpence: The Circulating Library in America (Beta Phi Mu, 1980). There have been many tributes to Kaser and his scholarship by those who have known him including this one by Haynes McMullen. He has been honored with an endowed lectureship at Indiana University-Bloomington.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Most Data Collected on a Postal Card

Melvil Dewey was largely responsible for standardizing the catalog card at 7.5 x 12.5 centimeters in 1877. Almost immediately, Dewey began lobbying the U. S. Post Office Department to issue a postal card similar in size. That became a reality in 1898 when a postal card the same size as a catalog card was issued by the USPOD. Postal cards of this size are referred to as "library cards" by the philatelic community. I've been collecting these cards for a number of years, and next week I will have an exhibit of them at the big Chicago stamp show. My exhibit focuses on the various uses that libraries made of this postal card. One use that I found to be intriguing was its use by the California State Library to collect monthly public library data. By my count this report on a postal card that is slightly smaller than a 3 x 5 inch index card contains 36 data elements.  The card above is the monthly report for the Carnegie Library in Redding, California for December, 1906.  One of the more interesting data elements is a request for the three most popular books during the month. For the Redding Carnegie Library they were My Lady from the North, The Conquest of Caanan, and Lena Rivers.  Dewey argued that all USPOD postal cards should be standardized at this size. Of course, this made little sense for most users of postal cards since postal cards only cost one cent regardless of size, and the larger the size the more information that could be communicated. Just think how much more data the California State Library could have asked for if the card had been larger. The postal card above is shown at its actual size.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dartmouth's Book Battle, An Eyewitness Account

One of the most fascinating events in American academic library history occurred on the evening of November 11, 1817 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. As a result of controversy relating to the governance of the College, the New Hampshire state legislature had created a separate legal entity which it named Dartmouth University in 1816, but the Trustees of Dartmouth College refused to recognize the new entity. It was this situation that led to the attempted take over of the Social Friends' Library, a student literary society library at Dartmouth College, on November 11, 1817 by a group with allegiance to the new Dartmouth University. I recently acquired a stampless folded letter written on November 12, 1817 which contains an eyewitness account of the events of November 11. The letter was written by Thomas Green Fessenden, a Dartmouth student, and mailed to his friend John S. Barrows in Fryeburg, Maine. Some excerpts from the letter read: "about seven o'clock an alarm was given by the College"; "we found 18 university persons in number, who had broken into the Social Friends library with ax and clubs in order to take the books"; "these villains intended to steal the library but they were detected and the victory was completed...within 15 minutes more than 100 were assembled and the demons were kept in the trap"; "we had sentrys set round the College to keep the other riotous mobs which were collecting - we then went to moving the libraries from the College which we did". I wrote previously about the Social Friends' Library and the legal controversy at Dartmouth on April 17, 2010 and April 19, 2010. The legal controversy was resolved with an 1819 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the College. An expanded account of the legal controversy and the attempted takeover of the library is contained in the book A Brief History of the Dartmouth College Library 1769-2002 by Lois A Krieger (Trustees of Dartmouth College, 2002) which is available online in digital form. Images of my new piece of postal librariana are shown above.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Another Sister Under the Eaves

As I indicated in my previous post, on Monday of last week I visited the public library in Merrill, WI designed by the architectural firm of Claude & Starck. It is one of a group of libraries referred to as the "seven sisters" because they share a common style and similar ornamental friezes under their eaves. On a trip to St. Louis on Friday of the same week I passed by the exit for Rochelle, Illinois which is home to another of the "seven sisters", and I stopped to take a look. A postcard of the library (now the Flagg-Rochelle Public Library District) along with a couple of photographs I took are shown above. As with the Merrill library there is a significant expansion which has been tastefully integrated with the original building. A website about the Claude & Starck prairie school libraries cites a publication by library director Barbara Kopplin titled "Sisters" Under the Eaves written in 1989. Kopplin notes that Claude & Starck provided a basic design and offered a variety of option for their prairie school buildings. Options included bay windows, ornamental friezes, fireplaces, and leaded windows among others. The library in Rochelle opted for all of the options.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

One of Seven Sisters in Merrill, WI

Current photo of T.B. Scott Free Library, Merrill, WI
Vintage postcard of T. B. Scott Free Library, Merrill, WI
Distinctive frieze common to "seven sisters"
My wife and I installed the exhibit "Andrew Carnegie's Wisconsin Library Legacy" early this week at the T. B. Scott Free Library in Merrill, Wisconsin. The exhibit is sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center. This year is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Carnegie library building in Merrill. A major addition to the building was completed in 2001. The integration of the older building with the new addition has been done remarkably well. The original Carnegie building was designed by the architectural firm of Claude & Starck in the Prairie School style pioneered by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. The Claude & Starck firm which designed over 40 libraries employed the Prairies School style in a number of them. Seven of those library buildings have been referred to as the "seven sisters" because they share as a design element an ornamental frieze designed (or based on a design) by Sullivan. Wisconsin is the location of four of the seven sisters (Barron, Evansville, Merrill, and Tomah). The others are located in Rochelle, IL, Detroit Lakes, MN, and Hoquiam, WA. The T. B. Scott Free Library has conducted a number of activities to celebrate the centennial of its building during 2011. On Nov. 6, Ellsworth Brown, Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society will make a presentation at the library titled "Andrew Carnegie: The Great Library Benefactor's Life & Mission". It's really great to have the Carnegie exhibit in a Carnegie library building. The exhibit will continue through the end of the year. (This post is also being published on the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Blog)