Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Rise and Fall of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum

Unlike the American Library Association members who celebrated ALA's jubilee in Philadelphia in 1926, members attending the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia in January 2014 will be unable to visit one of America's most influential commercial museums and libraries. According to a history of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum on the website of the Independence Seaport Museum, "Opened in 1897 at 34th and South Streets, the Commercial Museum was the turn of the century United States' greatest resource for international trade information, essentially serving the role of the not-yet-existent federal International Trade Administration." The website history indicates that when the Commercial Museum finally closed on July 1, 1994, "it was a shadow of its former self". I became aware of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum after acquiring a 1919 postal card (shown above) mailed by the museum's library to the Swiss Information Office for the Purchase and Marketing of Goods in Zurich, Switzerland in which it acknowledges the receipt of a publication. The Annual Report of the Mayor of Philadelphia for 1913 describes the museum's library as follows: "This is a public reference library comprising the principal commercial publications of all governments, and a great variety of trade literature, consular reports, books, magazines and periodicals bearing on geography and commerce. In its special line it is recognized to be the best equipped library in the United States." As the Commercial Museum scaled down and finally closed its collections were dispersed to other museums and libraries in the Philadelphia area including the Independence Seaport Museum. It is a sad thing when a once great institution is no more.

Friday, November 22, 2013

50th Anniversary of Kennedy's Assassination

Today is the 50 anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and like many people I know exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was a part-time employee of the Metropolitan Library of Nashville and Davidson County (TN), and I was operating the library's telephone switchboard. I was a junior in college and had just turned 20 years old. I collect postal and other memorabilia related to the presidential libraries and have a number of items for Kennedy and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston. Shown above is a first day cover for the 1984 National Archives stamp which features the collection of archival material related to the assassination of Kennedy. Almost immediately after Kennedy's death planning and fundraising for his presidential library was initiated. A thank you card from Jacqueline Kennedy for a donation to the library is shown below. Also shown below is a special event cover (envelope) for the dedication of the library. In a previous post about the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of Kennedy I included an image of a first day cover for the 1964 Kennedy commemorative stamp.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Congratulations on 40 Years COSLA!

The Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  COSLA is an exclusive club consisting of the top official in each of the state and territorial library agencies. According to its website the purpose of COSLA is: "to provide leadership on issues of common concern and national interest; to further state library agency relationships with federal government and national organizations; and to initiate cooperative action for the improvement of library services to the people of the United States." For a brief period I was the chief officer for Wisconsin and was able to participate in this august group. In October the group celebrated this significant anniversary in Savanah, GA by inviting former and retired chief officers to join the current group. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend. It would certainly have been a treat. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Libraries and Water Features on Postcards

Waterways and water features make very interesting settings for libraries. Sometimes the settings are spectacular, and sometimes they pose a great risk to the library and its contents. I'm always on the lookout for postcards which depict libraries in more interesting ways than the typical front facade view. Below are some postcards from my collection that depict libraries and nearby water features.

The Reno (NV) Public Library shown on this postcard was a Carnegie financed library and opened in 1904 on the bank of the Truckee River. The public library moved to another location in 1930 and became part of the Washoe County Library.

The Rockford (IL) Public Library building on this postcard was a Carnegie financed library ($70,000) and was designed to face the Rock River. This postcard was mailed in 1909. More postcard views of the building can be found on Judy Aulik's library postcard website.

The Galena (IL) Public Library building on this postcard was still another library that received financial support from Andrew Carnegie. It has a prominent location overlooking the Galena River. The land in front of the building became Library Park and was purchased to enhance the view of the library. More about the selection of the site can be found HERE.

The prominent grey stone building on this postcard in Menomonie, WI is now the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts. The building was constructed in 1889 and until 1896 it housed the Menomonie Public Library. It is located in close proximity to Lake Menomin which is pictured in the background of the postcard. More about its history can be found HERE.

This postcard shows the Menasha (WI) Public Library on the banks of the Fox River canal which was created to facilitate the transport of logs down the river (also shown on the postcard). The building on the postcard was made possible by Elisha D. Smith and the library was named for him. The library is home to one of the elaborate Tabard Inn Library bookcases. More about the history of the library can be found HERE.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Spirit of ALA's Library War Service in WWI on Canvas

In 1919 after the end of World War I the American Library Association published a small book titled Books At Work In The War During The Armistice and After in which ALA tells the story in words and pictures of its role in providing library service during and after the War. One of the more dramatic illustrations in this publications is an image of a painting by Denman Fink of one soldier reading to another soldier who is in a wheel chair and whose eyes are covered with bandages. Nearby is a box of books with the ALA logo. A scan of that image from a copy of the books in my personal library is shown above. In trying to find out more about the painting I came across an article about Fink's painting in the January, 1919 issue of Library Journal by Frank Parker Stockbridge titled "The Spirit of Library War Service on Canvas". Fink's painting was one of seven paintings executed by well known artists on the steps of the New York Public Library during the 1919 United War Work Campaign. The painting was on a huge canvas that measured 9 x 17 feet. Stockbridge's article indicates that after being exhibited at the New York Public Library the painting was also to be exhibited in several large cities as part of ALA's efforts to appeal for books for wounded soldiers in hospitals and convalescent camps. The final resting place for the painting was to be the ALA Headquarters in Chicago. The ALA Archives at the University of Illinois has a glass slide related to the Fink painting. What eventually happened to the painting is unknown to me.

The blog for the New York Historical Society Museum & Library has a very nice post about the Library War Service of the American Library Association.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Nix, Altsheler, Powell Connection

I was introduced to the joy of reading by the books of Joseph A. Altsheler while in the sixth grade. These were historical fiction books in which the protagonist was always a young boy. I discovered the books in the school library. My love of reading has continued throughout my life and was a large part of why I became a librarian. While in the twelfth grade (also in a school library) I came across two books by Lawrence Clark Powell. They were A Passion for Books and Books in My Baggage. These books were instrumental in my decision to go to college instead of going into the construction trades as had my father. These books also played a role in my decision to become a librarian. In the book Books in My Baggage there is an essay titled "The Time, The Place, and The Book". In this essay Powell recounts an incident in which he took his son to a nearby branch public library and came across the book The Rock of Chickamauga by Joseph A. Altsheler. The book according to Powell immediately prompted him to recall his love of Altsheler's books as a boy. Powell writes, "I devoured Altsheler's scores of books - the Civil War, the Texan, the Border series - and hungered for more. After dinner I would bicycle to the library with a string bag hanging from the handle bars, and tarry only long enough to fill it with books I had not yet read. What a shock of pleasure it was to discover an Altsheler new to me, and then swiftly pedal home ...." It was a pleasurable surprise to discover that I shared a passion for the books of the same author as one of America's great librarians and lovers of books at a similar point in our lives. One of the prized books in my personal library is the book Islands of Books by Powell which is signed by Powell. This books which was published in 1951 (nine years before Books in My Baggage) also contains the essay "The Time, The Place, and The Book".