Sunday, February 26, 2012

200 Year Old New York City Circulating Library Letter

I recently acquired what is now the oldest item of postal librariana in my collection. It is a folded letter written on March 14, 1812 by Andrew T. Goodrich to his mother and sister in New Haven, Connecticut. Goodrich was the owner of the A. T. Goodrich and Company Circulating Library and Bookstore in New York City. The primary purpose of the letter is to facilitate the move of Goodrich's mother and sister to New York. However, Goodrich also discusses how well his circulating library is doing. Goodrich writes: "My Library is a capital thing. It brings me in money very fast, and the most respectable people in town are among my subscribers, & the number is daily augmenting. There are an uncommon number of respectable & beautiful young Ladies who are my subscribers, and who of course bring with them their attendants … Mr. Goodrich's Circulating Library & Bookstore will soon be known as 'genteel and fashionable'." The library and bookstore also sells "the Ladies their new music & fancy stationary." A catalog of the Goodrich library was published in 1818 and included 1,765 books. In A Book For A Sixpence: The Circulating Library in American (Beta Phi Mu, 1980), David Kaser reported that of the books listed in the catalog, 53% were fiction and 16% were literature. There is a list of libraries in 19th century New York City on Wikipedia which includes the Goodrich library. Although the letter is not in great shape, it is still a very nice item to add to my collection.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Libraries and the Ohio Flood of 1913

"In late March 1913, an unusually heavy rainstorm moved into Ohio. It rained steadily for five days and the streams all over Ohio rose rapidly. By the third day of the downpour, levees were overtopped and many towns suffered disastrous flooding. Great fires that raged unchecked added to the destruction and the loss of life. When the flood waters receded, tons of mud and debris covered the streets, homes, businesses and factories. The death toll stood at 361. Property damages were well over $100,000,000 and 65,000 were forced to temporarily leave their homes." The previous quotation is from a description of a photograph in the Ohio Memory Collection showing the flooded Defiance (OH) Public Library. I recently acquired the Real Photograph Postcard shown above which also shows the Defiance Public Library during the 1913 Ohio flood. Defiance received a $22,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie in 1904 for a new public library building. A beautiful site on the grounds of the former Fort Defiance at the confluence of the Maumee and Anglaize Rivers was chosen for the new building. The building opened on July 4, 1905. The Carnegie building (expanded and renovated) is still occupied by the library. Larger cities impacted by the flood of 1913 included Dayton and Columbus. The Dayton Public Library was also flooded. Water was 16 feet deep in the library and caused the loss of 45,000 books (see picture). More on the flood can be found HERE.

Monday, February 20, 2012

World's Smallest Presidential Library?

It has been claimed that David Rice Atchison (1807-1886) was technically President of the United States on March 4, 1849. This claim is based on the fact that there was a one day gap between the last day of office of President James K. Polk (March 3, 1849) and the day (March 5, 1849) that Zachary Taylor was sworn in as the new President. This occurred because Taylor refused to be sworn in on Sunday (March 4, 1849). David Rice Atchison was President pro tempore of the Senate at the time, and technically acting Vice President (incoming Vice President Millard Fillmore was also not sworn in on March 4). There are those who dispute this claim including Atchison himself. A biography of Atchison and a discussion of the argument that he was President for a day is included on Wikipedia. The Atchison County Historical Museum includes a collection of information about the Atchison presidential controversy. That collection has been referred to as the world's smallest presidential library. On February 20, 2006 a special postmark was created to celebrate this distinction, and a souvenir envelope was produced by Webcraft Cachets highlighting Atchison and the "smallest presidential library". Because I collect postal items related to America's presidential libraries and museums, I acquired one of the envelopes which is shown above.  There is a page on The Library History Buff website about souvenir envelopes and special cancellations.

Samuel Swett Green, Father of Library Reference Work

On Presidents Day we can also celebrate the 175th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Swett Green (1837-1918), one of the founders of the American Library Association and considered by many to be the father of library reference work. Green's claim to this distinction is based on his library service philosophy which is summed up with this quotation by Green: "A librarian should be as unwilling to allow an inquirer to leave the library with his question unanswered as a shopkeeper is to have a customer go out of his store without making a purchase." Green developed his philosophy of service as Director of the Worcester (MA) Free Public Library from 1871 to 1909. Green was also a proponent of public library cooperation with schools and compiled the book Libraries and Schools (F. Leypoldt, 1883). Green was instrumental in obtaining a new library building for Worcester (shown on the postcard above) which opened in 1891. Green who was among those attending the library conference of 1876 where the American Library Association was founded served as its President in 1891. The book The Public Library Movement in the United States 1853-1893 (Boston Book Company, 1913) includes Green's reminiscences about the early development of the library profession in the United States. Sources for information in this post include the entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) written by Budd L. Gambee and the the Wikipedia entry for Green.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Matchbook Librariana

One of my smallest collections of librariana consists of library matchbooks. I currently have only five items in the collection. Matchbook collecting is a hobby in itself. To get a sense of the scope of this collecting phenomena check out the results of an image search for "matchbook collections" on Google. Out of that huge assortment of matchbook collections I came across a group of matchbook covers for The Modern Library. Three examples from my collection are shown below. The entirety of my collection can be seen on the Library History Buff website.

Milwaukee Public Library
Army Library Service

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Henry Carr's Collection of ALA Memorabilia

Henry James Carr (1849-1929) was appointed the first library director of the newly completed Albright Memorial Library in Scranton, PA (now part of the Lackawanna County Library System) in 1891. He served in that capacity until his death in 1929. Carr was extremely active in the American Library Association. His offices in ALA included: treasurer (1886-1893); recorder (1894-1895); vice-president (1895-1896); secretary (1898-1900); and president (1900-1901). During his 55 years of membership in ALA he missed attending only eight conferences. While attending these conferences he collected many mementos. Those items now form the bulk of the Conference Badges and Artifacts Collection of the American Library Association Archives. In his book A Guide to Collecting Librariana (Scarecrow Press, 1986) , Norman D. Stevens describes the ALA collection as follows: "There are attendee ribbons from the meetings of 1889 and 1892-1901, as well as some later meetings.  Among the ribbons are those of 1897 (Philadelphia), to which is attached a small United States flag, and 1930 (Grand Canyon), which is made of copper. There is at least one badge, button, or pin in the collection for most of the meetings of 1897-1941.  These items include stick pins from the 1889 Atlanta and 1900 Montreal meetings (Carr calling the latter the 'most beautiful pin' in the collection); the imitation bronze badge in the shape of a badger attached to a medallion from the 1901 Waukesha meeting; the 1902-1914 buttons that were printed with attendee registration numbers; the ornate badges from 1917-1920; and the 1920-1941 badges that were little more than cards on which to write names." I have my own collection of ALA memorabilia, some of which is displayed on the Library History Buff website. It's nice to know that my obsession was shared by one of ALA's pioneers. Wouldn't it be great if the ALA Archives would put together an exhibit (physical or digital) of its collection of conference badges and artifacts. The envelope above was mailed by the Scranton Public Library on September 26, 1905 to Carr while he was evidently on vacation at Melvil Dewey's Lake Placid Club. The source for some of the information in this post is Carr's entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) written by Wayne Wiegand.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leather Postcard of the Sedalia (MO) Public Library

I just acquired my first leather library postcard (see above) which features the Sedalia Public Library in Sedalia, MO. According to the library's website, Sedalia received a Carnegie grant of $50,000 in 1899 for its building. It was the first community in Missouri to receive a Carnegie grant. The building was dedicated in 1901, and it is still occupied by the library.  The library's website states that: "The interior features the original golden oak woodwork throughout the building, marble floors in the main lobby, 5 ornate fireplaces, glass floors in the stack areas, antique cantilever shelving, a skylight, and a collection of antique furniture and paintings." It is unclear what modifications have been made to the building to make it still functional as a library 111 years later.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love and Libraries

Last year on Valentine's Day I featured some of my library buttons with a love theme. This year I thought I would show off my specially made "I Love Libraries & I Vote" cap ("& I Vote" is on the back of the cap). I had the cap made a few years ago as part of the Wisconsin Library Association's campaign "I Love Libraries and I Vote". The purpose of the campaign was to demonstrate to decision makers that people who feel strongly about libraries are active in the political process. Wisconsin got its inspiration for that campaign from the Library Lovers' Month promotion started by Friends & Foundations of California Libraries. Since then the American Library Association has launched its website.  The Carnegie Corporation of New York is also spreading some love with the "I Love My Librarian" Award. Love for libraries is international. I came across this testimonial of library love on the  Edinburgh Eye which was written earlier this month. Just pronouncing one's love of libraries is, of course, not enough. They are in need of much more tangible support in these tough economic times for all public institutions.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Poet Laureates on Postage Stamps

Poets to be honored on postage stamps on April 21
On April 21 the United States Postal Service will issue a set of 12 stamps depicting twentieth century poets. Included among the poets selected to be so honored are four that were appointed by the Library of Congress as Consultant in Poetry, now called Poet Laureate. The four and the dates they served in this position at the Library of Congress are Elizabeth Bishop (1949-50), William Carlos Williams (1952, appointed but did not actually serve), Robert Hayden (1976-1978, first African American to be appointed), and Gwendolyn Brooks (1985-1986). Previously Robert Frost (1944-45) who served as Consultant in Poetry appeared on a postage stamp issued in 1974. Honored on a postage stamp in 2005 was Robert Penn Warren. Warren served as Consultant in Poetry in 1944-45, but also had the distinction of being designated as the first official Poet Laureate in 1986-87. Click HERE to see all of the postage stamps that are currently planned for issue in 2012. The Library of Congress has a section of its website devoted to past Consultants in Poetry and Poet Laureates with short biographies of each. I am always hopeful that at some point the USPS will actually issue a postage stamp honoring a librarian or librarians for their service in the library profession. With the recent decision by the USPS to make living Americans eligible to appear on postage stamps that seems unlikely (it's hard enough to compete for this honor with the dead much less the living). I have a link on my Library History Buff website regarding the possible depiction of a librarian on a postage stamp. I also have a list of "library people" who have been honored on U.S. postage stamps for reasons other than being a library employee or supporter.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wiegand's Main Street Public Library

Forty-nine years ago I took a job as a page/clerk at the Public Library of Nashville and Davidson County. I've been involved one way or the other in working for, working with, or observing public libraries for most of the years since. It is with that background that I recently read Wayne A. Wiegand's new book Main Street Public Library (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2011) which has the subtitle "Community Places and Reading Spaces in the Rural Heartland, 1876-1956". If you are at all interested in the history and/or the role of the American public library, I recommend that you read this book. If for nothing else, the book is well worth reading for the excellent histories of the four Midwestern public libraries on which the book is based. They are the public libraries in Sauk Centre, MN; Osage, IA; Lexington, MI; and Rhinelander, WI. Wiegand uses the experiences of these libraries to challenge some of the basic rhetoric about the value and purpose of public libraries. The final paragraph in the book sums up his findings: "The purpose and mission of the Main Street public libraries studied here were not primarily to supplement formal education, to pursue a policy of 'not censorship, but selection,' or to provide information considered essential for the marketplace or the politics of democracy. Those were secondary goals, and because the library was an institution that local citizens did not have to patronize, these goals were regularly and necessarily compromised, despite, professional rhetoric. Their actual primary purpose and mission - as crafted over the generations by local leaders and users - was to foster the kinds of social harmony that community spaces and stories, experienced shared, provide."  Obviously, the experience of four small Midwestern public libraries is not sufficient to make broad generalizations about the entirety of public libraries in America. However, it is not a revelation to me that the rhetoric of the value and role of the public libraries by the library profession is often mismatched with the reality of actual public library service this country. I'm not willing to acquiesce to the entirety of Wiegand's arguments though. I believe that public libraries can and do change lives in a positive way through reading (and reading alternatives) yes, but also by being an educational institution and a source of reliable information.  In my opinion public libraries have moved too far in the direction of being popular materials centers. I advocate a more balanced approach. Public libraries have an opportunity to play a major role in early childhood education. Is it more important to provide the latest popular movies on DVD? A blog post is not an adequate venue for a debate on the role of the public library, however. Thanks Wayne for creating the basis for such a debate. An article by Wiegand in American Libraries about Main Street Public Library. Another review of Main Street Public Library.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

125th Anniversary of the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY

The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. The Institute is a prestigious private college with an emphasis on the arts. It was founded by philanthropist Charles Pratt who made his fortune in the oil industry. The Institute has two unusual aspects that relate to library history. The first was its operation of a free library that was open to both students and the residents of Brooklyn for more than five decades. The free library even operated branch libraries. It's library building (shown above) was the first library building which was designed to include a separate children's room (see my post on early children's rooms in public libraries). The Brooklyn Public Library eventually took over the public library aspects of the Pratt Institute. Another item of interest to the library history buff regarding the Pratt Institute is its operation of a library school. The school was initially established as a training school for the employees of the free library but became a formal library school  (the second to be established in the nation). The library school, now the School of Information and Library Science, continues to exist. Two major pioneers in American librarianship were associated with the Pratt Institute free library and library school. They were Mary W. Plummer (1856-1916) and Josephine Adams Rathbone (1864-1941). Plummer served as the second woman President of the American Library Association in 1915-1916 and  Rathbone served as President of ALA in 1931-32. The Pratt Institute Libraries  are headquartered in the former free library building which has been renovated.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lloyd P. Smith and the Library Co. of Philadelphia

Founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin and friends, the Library Company of Philadelphia is the oldest continuing library not affiliated with an academic institution in the United States. Today is the 190th anniversary of the birth of Lloyd Pearsall Smith (1822-1886), one of its longtime librarians. Smith followed his father, John Jay Smith, as Librarian of the Library Company in 1851 and served in that capacity until his death in 1886. Smith attended the first national meeting of librarians in the United States in 1853 and was on the planning committee for the conference of librarians that met in Philadelphia in 1876 which esulted in the formation of the American Library Association. Although the Library Company of Philadelphia is rightly considered to be a forerunner of the free public library, it's librarians including Lloyd P. Smith often had a conservative approach to library service. Sandra Roscoe the author of Smith's entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) notes that, "Smith did not believe in open shelves; he advocated locked cases for all books with the exception of recent fiction and commonly used reference books." Edward G. Holley in Raking The Historic Coals (Beta Phi Mu, 1967) recounts a visit by Melvil Dewey with Smith at the Library Company's Ridgeway Branch in Philadelphia in preparation for the 1876 conference. Dewey expected to see two or three hundred library users, but instead there were only three or four. When asked if this was an average attendance, Smith responded, "Dewey, there is scarcely a day that somebody doesn't come into this library." In spite of his conservative approach to librarianship Smith was thought highly of by the library community. He attended every conference of the American Library Association except one from its founding until his death in 1886. In addition to his role as Librarian, Smith served as the Treasurer and as a Trustee of the Library Company. The annual statement of dues from Smith as Treasurer dated April, 1864 which is shown above is from my collection. I have a page on my Library History Buff website devoted to the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Azariah Turns 150 Today

Photo of Root from Oberlin College Archives

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Oberlin (OH) College Librarian and ALA President Azariah Smith Root (1862-1927). I wrote a post about Root for December 15, 2009. It is partially reprinted below. I also have a blog post about Oberlin's card catalog.

Azariah Smith Root served as the Librarian at Oberlin College from 1887 to 1927. Root was responsible for transforming the library at Oberlin into one of the best college libraries in the nation. Root's original involvement with the Oberlin College Library began before his appointment as librarian with a project to catalog the library's collection in 1885 using the Dewey Decimal Classification System. Root played a major role in acquiring a grant of $150,000 from Andrew Carnegie in 1905 for a new college library building which also served the community of Oberlin as a public library. He developed a detailed description of what should be included in the new library which is considered to be the first library building statement written by a librarian. Root was also heavily involved in librarianship at the national level and served as President of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1922. He was actively involved in promoting quality library education and training. This included work with others that resulted in the certification of library schools by ALA. Root served as director of the American Correspondence School of Librarianship which was established in 1923 until his death in 1927. Azariah's library has evolved into the Seeley G. Mudd Center. The Carnegie building (see history) still survives on campus housing older collections of the library and offices for a couple of college departments. Root has been honored by Oberlin College through the naming the position of director of the library as the Azariah Smith Root Director of Libraries which is currently held by Ray English. The history of Oberlin's library is preserved by an outstanding College Archives. Herbert F. Johnson has written an excellent biography of Root in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Panizzi to the Mayor of Boston, 1858

Antonio or Anthony Panizzi (1797-1879) had a long career at the Library of the British Museum (now the British Library) starting in 1831 and ending with his holding the post of Principal Librarian (1856-1866). I recently acquired a stampless folded letter from Panizzi to the Mayor of the City of Boston dated February 25, 1858. In the letter Panizzi thanks the Mayor and the Boston City Council on behalf of the Trustees of the British Museum for the gift of the book Memorial of the Inauguration of the Statue of Franklin (City Council of Boston, 1857). This letter goes nicely with another letter in my collection which was sent to Panizzi in 1848 by Edward Everett, the President of Harvard University. I have written a previous post about that letter.