Wednesday, April 10, 2013

ALA and the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago

Postcard showing building where ALA exhibit was located
When the members of the American Library Association gather in Chicago on June 27th it will mark the 120th anniversary of ALA's meeting in conjunction with the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. It was one of the most significant annual conferences in ALA's history, and it was the first of many ALA conferences in Chicago. It marked a high point in the prominence of Melvil Dewey in ALA and the library profession. Dewey was serving as President of ALA during the conference and played a major role in the Association's active involvement in the Exposition.  For the Exposition, ALA sponsored an exhibit of a model library with a collection of 5,000 of the "best" books available to libraries. A catalog of this collection was later published by the U.S. Bureau of Education as the Catalog of the A.L.A. Library [Hathi Trust link]. The model library and published catalog were the fulfillment of a Dewey idea that had been proposed in 1876. The U.S. Bureau of Education also published a book of the papers presented for what was described as the "World's Library Congress" [Hathi Trust link]. Although Dewey was a major force behind ALA's involvement in the Exposition of 1893, it was largely due to the efforts of Mary S. Cutler, one of Dewey's subordinates at the New York State Library School, that the model library exhibit was successfully implemented. For more on ALA's model library collection click HERE. Of the 250 people who registered for the ALA conference, 150 were women. Also on display at the conference were examples of all manner of library equipment and supplies. One item was of special interest. It was the "Rudolph Continuous Indexer" a machine that housed an alternative version of a card catalog. See my post on this unusual machine. Check it out yourself at the Newberry Library while in Chicago. The World's Columbian Exposition marked the beginning of the golden age of souvenirs. The "pioneer" picture postcard on the back of a government issued postal card shown above includes an image of the Government Building at the Exposition which housed ALA's exhibit. Another significant exhibit at the Exposition was the Woman's Building Library. For my online exhibit on the history of ALA click HERE. My sources: "Best Foot Forward: Representation of American Librarianship at World's Fairs 1853-1904" by Budd L. Gambee in Library History Seminar No. 3, Proceedings, 1968 (The Journal of Library History, 1968) and Irrepressible Reformer by Wayne A. Wiegand (ALA, 1996). 


Henry Scannell, Boston Public Library, said...

Some of the Chicago Fair made it to Boston. The signs of the Zodiac in the entrance hall of the Boston Public Library were originally made for the New York Pavilion in Chicago. The Dutch House, built for the Van Hooten Chocolate Company, was moved to Brookline, Massachusetts and still stands on Netherland Road.

bob langer said...

I have a 1893 World's Fair art series collection of 11x14 photos published by N. D. Thompson of St. Louis in a series of 16 publications..want to sell them

Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. said...

The largest 1893 World's Columbian Exposition online repository.
Digital Research Library of Illinois History®