Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 in Review

At the end of 2015 I thought I would reflect on some of my library history related activities this year.  

I completed my seventh year of blogging on the Library History Buff Blog. It was not a great year for blogging, only 34 posts which was an all time low for me. My total posts during the seven years total over 700.  My pageviews during this 7 year period total 425,000, and my official blog followers total 303 (thank you to all of my followers). 

It was a disappointing this year for my Library History Buff website. It is basically a dead site at this point. The site is based on the Microsoft FrontPage software platform which Microsoft no longer supports and my Internet provider also stopped supporting it this year.  The LHB website which I started in March 2005 evolved from a free website offered by my Internet provider which I began in October of 2002.The task of transferring all the content on the site to a new platform is daunting for someone of my limited Web skills. I am currently exploring options for the future of the content on the site.

I continue to be a collector of librariana with a special emphasis on postal librariana and have added many interesting items to my collection in 2015. I do, however, think a lot about the final disposition of my collection which has been assembled over a 20 year period of active collecting. 

I am an exhibitor of postal librariana at national level stamp shows and this year I developed two new exhibits for exhibition. The larger exhibit was titled “America’s Membership Libraries” and it received gold awards at stamp shows in St. Louis, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Omaha. The smaller exhibit was titled “Hiram E. Deats – Philatelist & Collector Extraordinaire”.  Although Deats was a world renowned philatelist, he had many library connections including serving as president of the New Jersey Library Association. It received Vermeil awards (the level just below gold) at several stamp shows, but ended the year with a gold award at the Chicago stamp show. At the Wisconsin state stamp show my exhibit “Libraries and the Mail in America 1900-1960” won the Champion of Champions award. 

This year I stepped down as Chair of the Steering Committee of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center, a position I have held for the last six years. I continue, however, to serve as webmaster for the Center’s website and blog, and to install exhibits of Wisconsin library memorabilia at public libraries around the state. I also help research potential nominees to the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame. 

In a closely related activity I am a member of the Wisconsin Library Association’s 125th Anniversary Task Force.  WLA will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2016.  To help kick of 125th activities, noted library historian Wayne A. Wiegand made a presentation at the annual WLA conference in November about his new book Part of Our Lives – A People’s History of the American Public Library.  

I continued this year with assisting library postcard collector extraordinaire Dan Lester with the disposition of his 10,000 plus library postcard collection. Last year I helped move over 6,000 of his library postcards to the American Library Association Archives at the University of Illinois in Champaign – Urbana. 

I’m looking forward to engaging in a number of library history related activities in 2016.

Happy holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book on the History of Bookmobiles in America

I just received my copy of Bookmobiles in America: An Illustrated History by Orty Ortwein, and I would recommend its purchase by library history buffs and especially those, like me, who have a special interest in this aspect of library service. The book was self published by Ortwein earlier this year and can be purchased for $11 from Amazon. Some of the content in the publication has been previously published online in Ortwein's excellent blog Bookmobiles: A History. Ortwein readily admits that his book should not be considered the absolute authority on American bookmobiles. Instead, he says, it should be thought of as "a fun tour of a fun topic". As could be expected from a book with "Illustrated" in its title it includes numerous illustrations of bookmobiles tied to interesting stories about bookmobiles. The book also includes stories about traveling libraries. Included in the book is a chart compiled by Ortwein that shows the rise and fall of bookmobiles in America. The number of bookmobiles peaked in 1965 at 2,000 but had dropped to 696 in 2011. The expansion of bookmobile service correlates to the infusion of Federal aid from the 1956 Library Services Act for rural library service.  Also of great value is the extensive list of sources which Ortwein includes at the end of his publication. Click HERE to see my previous blog posts about bookmobiles. Also don't miss the American Libraries Pinterest bookmobile site.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Red Bird Mission Bookmobile, Beverly, KY

Another bookmobile postcard recently added to my collection. This one is a Real Photo Postcard (RPPC) showing the bookmobile of the Red Bird Mission in Beverly, KY in the 1950s. The Red Bird Mission is affiliated with the Methodist Church and provides a variety of social services to the people of Eastern Kentucky. The bookmobile is a modified Willys Jeep Truck. Bookmobile service for Bell County in which the Red Bird Mission is located is now provided by Bell County Public Libraries. Their current bookmobile is more attracive than the Red Bird Mission bookmobile, but not more interesting. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Bookmobiles of Greenville Co. SC

When I became Director of the Greenville County Library in South Carolina in 1974 the library system had five bookmobiles including one "outreach" bookmobile. The library system had a long history of providing bookmobile service dating back to the 1920s when the Greenville Public Library was established. I recently acquired the first postcard shown above which depicts one of the library's first bookmobiles. Orty Ortwein has written about Greenville's first bookmobile in his "Bookmobiles: A History" blog. In 1949 the library purchased its first bookmobile equipped for inside service. In 1961 the Greenville Public Library became the Greenville County Library with a dedicated tax levy. As a result the library was able to buy four new bookmobiles. One bookmobile served areas inside the city, one served areas in the school district. one served rural areas outside the school district, and one was dedicated to the "Negro service" (the library was fully integrated by 1965). There were now a total of 150 bookmobile stops. The Gerstenslager bookmobile shown on the second postcard above was one of these bookmobiles. While I was a director of the Greenville County Library there was a significant transition away from bookmobiles to branch libraries. However, the Greenville County Library still operates one bookmobile. Some information in this post is from Free Reading for Everybody: The Story of The Greenville Library by Ellen Perry (1973, Greenville County Library).

Monday, November 23, 2015

Public Libraries - Part of Our Lives

Looking for a great gift for a library lover? I recommend Part of Our Lives - A People's History of the Public Library by Wayne A. Wiegand which was published recently by Oxford University Press. Well researched and documented by Wiegand, America's foremost library historian, it will appeal to the general reader as well as the serious student of library history. As one who is particularly interested in public libraries and their history, I found it to be especially enjoyable. I was also fortunate to hear two presentations by Wiegand on his new book, and both were well received by the audiences. Wiegand is currently on a 30 plus city book tour to promote the book, and I hope you also have the opportunity to hear him.  

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Inside Inn and ALA’s 1904 Conference Revisited

In 1904 (Oct. 17-22) the American Library Association held its annual conference in conjunction with the World’s Fair (Louisiana Purchase Exposition) in St. Louis, MO.  George Eberhart, Senior Editor of American Libraries’ AL Direct, wrote a wonderful article about the 1904 St. Louis conference for the CentenniAL Blog which celebrated the centennial of American Libraries. Most of the attendees of the conference stayed at the Inside Inn which was the only hotel located inside the fair grounds. I was recently able to obtain a postcard of the Inside Inn (shown above), a postcard which I have coveted for some time. The postcard is special because it is a "hold to light" card. When you hold it up to a light the windows of the hotel glow. The postcard was actually mailed from the Exposition Station of the Post Office during the fair. I previously wrote about the Inside Inn in a blog post on July 7, 2011. Rates for staying at the Inside Inn started at $1.50 per day European plan and $3.00 per day American plan including admission to the fair. According to Eberhart, there were 26 former and future ALA presidents in attendance at the conference including Melvil Dewey, Herbert Putnam, and Gratia A. Countryman. The conference meetings took place at the fair’s Hall of Congresses, a building which exists today as Ridgley Hall of Washington University. Ridgley Hall housed the University Library until the 1960s (see postcard below).

Monday, September 28, 2015

New York’s Library Week 1902

Library week in New York began not as a public celebration of libraries but as a week long retreat and conference for librarians. The week was sponsored by the New York Library Association which was founded in 1890 with the encouragement of Melvil Dewey. Initially the weeklong conference was held annually at Dewey’s Lake Placid Club in the Adirondacks. I have in my collection of postal librariana an envelope and a brochure announcing Library Week for 1902 which was held on September 20-29 of that year (113 years ago this week). They were mailed to Miss Mary Medlicott, Reference Librarian for the Springfield (MA) City Library. The content of the small brochure indicates that: “The meeting is planned to give opportunity not only for help and encouragement in library work, but for renewal of health and strength.” It further states: “The Association specially wishes to gather all New York library folk at this meeting, but all persons interested in library work, whether as trustees, librarians or assistants, whether inside or outside New York, are cordially welcome during Library Week to share its work and pleasure.” After Melvil Dewey and the Lake Placid Club fell out of favor for practices of discrimination, the week was held elsewhere. I have written previously about New York Library Week in another blog post.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Boston’s Congregational Library

This blog post, like many on this blog, began with my acquisition of an artifact related to the history of a library. In this case the library is Boston’s Congregational Library or more specifically the Congregational Library and Archives of the American Congregational Association. The artifact is a stampless folded letter that is an announcement of a meeting of the Congregational Library Association mailed on April 16, 1853. The original name of the American Congregational Association was the Congregational Library Association. What makes this example of postal librariana special is that it was mailed before the official founding of the Congregational Library Association/American Congregational Association on May 25, 1853. The association was founded “for the purpose of establishing and perpetuating a library of religious history and literature of New England, and for the erection of a suitable building for the accommodation of the same, and for the use of charitable societies.” The founders of the association felt that such a library should be created to preserve the original Puritan literature. The announcement in the letter indicates that the discussion at the meeting will be about the section of the library related to Ecclesiastical History. The other two sections of the library were Biblical Literature and Systematic Theology. More about the Congregational Library can be found on the library’s website and on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild (1855 - 1921), Library Pioneer

 I recently acquired a letter on the stationery of the United States Hotel in Boston dated June 27, 1886 from George T. Cutler to his sister Mary Salome Cutler (later Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild). Salome, as she preferred to be called, was one of the outstanding American librarians of the 19th century. She was one of “40 leaders of the library movement” selected for a Library Hall of Fame by Library Journal in 1951 as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the American Library Association. Salome Fairchild is also included in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) which has a comprehensive biography by Budd L. Gambee. Fairchild was hired by Melvil Dewey in 1884 as a cataloger for the Columbia College Library, and she also served as an instructor in cataloging at the library school founded by Dewey at Columbia. She followed Dewey to the New York State Library when the library school was moved from Columbia to New York in 1889. Fairchild became vice-director of the library school in 1891, and served in that capacity until 1905. As vice-director Fairchild was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the library school and also maintained a heavy teaching load at the school. In his biography of Fairchild, Gambee writes: “The inspirational quality of her teaching was highly praised by her contemporaries. Her enthusiasm and her faith in the perfectibility of mankind sustained her missionary zeal for the library movement. Her specialties were cataloging book selection, and a seminar that combined library history with a study of contemporary libraries.”  Fairchild was also in charge of the New York State Library for the Blind. In his biography about Dewey Irrepressible Reformer (ALA, 1996) Wayne A. Wiegand notes that Fairchild and Dewey had significant philosophical differences in regard to the their approach to library education. Dewey emphasized the practical aspect of instruction whereas Fairchild advocated for a more theoretical and cultural approach. Fairchild was an active member of ALA and served as vice-president in 1894-95 and 1900-1901. One of her major contributions to ALA was serving as chair of the committee which arranged the ALA exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 which included a model library. An annotated book selection list created for the exhibit was the first of several that became known as the A.L.A. Catalogs. The Wikipedia entry for Fairchild includes an interesting section on her 1904 study of “Women in American Libraries”.  The 1886 letter to Cutler/Fairchild from her brother includes advice to her about her upcoming extended trip to the Mid-west and information about financing the trip. There is only one library reference in the letter. At the end her brother writes, “I got the bulletin from Library Bureau.” I’m happy to have this artifact with a connection to this great library lady.

Monday, August 24, 2015

1862 Library of Congress Envelope

This weekend I attended StampShow 2015 sponsored by the American Philatelic Society in Grand Rapids, MI. This is the largest annual stamp show in the nation. Over the years a small cadre of philatelic dealers have been thoughtful enough to save items related to my collecting interest of postal librariana until the next time they see me at a stamp show. Several of these dealers were at the Grand Rapids show. One dealer (thanks Doug) was holding an especially nice item for me. It is an envelope (shown above) mailed by Ainsworth Rand Spofford at the Library of Congress on March 13, 1862 to Washington, D.C. bookseller P.R. Fendall. At the time Spofford was Chief Assistant Librarian of Congress. He became Librarian of Congress in 1864 and served in that capacity until 1897. The envelope has an embossed Library of Congress return address and has a hand written notation indicating that it contained a letter from Spofford and that Fendall had sent the books which Spofford had requested. I have a large collection of postal items related to the Library of Congress and have a philatelic exhibit of these items. This envelope is special because it is the first one I have seen which includes a postage stamp and was mailed prior to 1870. Mail sent by the Library of Congress was limited before the library was authorized to handle the copyright function on behalf of the United States in 1870. For much of its early history the Library of Congress made use of the free franking privilege of members of congress for its outgoing mail. After 1877 the Library of Congress used a special category of stampless mail for government agencies referred to as “penalty mail” because of the statement on envelopes threatening a penalty for private use. I’m revamping my Library of Congress exhibit and this envelope will make a very nice addition.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Superior, WI Carnegie Library For Sale

Central Library

Branch Library

Haven’t done much blogging lately. Lots of travel this summer. On one of my trips I went through Superior, WI and was able to see both Carnegie library buildings. The old central library was abandoned in 1991 when it moved to new quarters, and is currently for sale. Superior was one of three communities in Wisconsin to receive a grant from Carnegie for a second branch library building. The branch library in Superior was converted to a private residence (also in 1991) and is still occupied by the owner.  After my trip I found out about a recent article about the central library. The writer of the article managed to get inside of the library and posted a number of pictures. The library is for sale for $125,000 and would probably cost a few hundred thousand more to restore. The branch library is overgrown with vegetation and looks like it could use some TLC. I have more information about both of Superior’s Carnegie libraries on my Library History Buff website.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Darkest Day for the Library of Congress?

It might be said that the darkest day in the long history of the Library of Congress was August 24, 1814 when the British army burned the U.S. Capitol including the collection of the Library of Congress which was housed there. I have written previously about this occasion and the role played by Patrick Magruder, Librarian of Congress, during this event. I’ve recently added another artifact to my collection related to Magruder’s role in the destruction of the Library of Congress. It is the December 12, 1814 Report of the Committee “To whom was referred the communication of Patrick Magruder, Clerk of the House of Representatives, relative to the destruction of the library, &c.”. Magruder served in the dual capacity of Clerk of the House of Representatives and Librarian of Congress. The communication referred to was Magruder’s account of the actions of his office during the events leading up to destruction of the library and the records of the Clerk’s office.  In the report, the committee expressed the opinion, “that due precaution and diligence were not exercised to prevent the destruction and loss which has been sustained.” At the time of the destruction, Magruder himself was absent “on account of indisposition”. In the report the committee seemed skeptical about his indisposition and indicated that it “ought to have been, serious and alarming to have justified his absence under the circumstances which then existed.”  During the destruction of the Capitol the financial records of the Clerk were destroyed and the committee in reconstructing these came to the conclusion that a balance of $19,874 was unaccounted for and due the United States. Although Magruder managed to avoid being prosecuted for these missing funds, he resigned on January 28, 1815. The destruction of the Library of Congress led to the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s library to replace the destroyed collection. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Another California ALA Conference, 1911

The American Library Association is concluding a successful conference in San Francisco today. I have a postcard (see above) in my collection that is related to a previous ALA conference in California. The postcard announces the travel arrangements for the 1911 ALA Conference in Pasadena, California. It was mailed on March 2, 1911. A report on the train trip to the conference and the sessions of the conference appeared in the June issue of the magazine Public Libraries. The train trip included a two day stay at the Grand Canyon.  "A number of the men properly garbed went down to the river's brink afoot and tried to look happy over it during the next 36 hours, likewise did those who rode the mules.  Less active persons sat and gazed for hours at the changing colors of the gorges, chasms and peaks , heedless of the lobster pink the open air bestowed on their faces."  James Wyer, President of the Association and Director of the New York State Library, was unable to attend the conference because of a tragedy at the State Library.  On March 29, 1911, a fire destroyed most of the library and its collection.  On a happier note at the conference, ALA elected the first woman as president. As stated in Public Libraries: "Mrs. Theresa West Elmendorf, the first woman to be honored by the association with its presidency, comes into the office by right of achievement greater than that of any other woman in the library field and of an equal grade with that of any man.  Her wholesome, sympathetic attitude toward library work and workers has been a distinct contribution to the craft and her freedom from personal ambition has made her a valuable aid in developing the power of the A. L. A. Her election to the presidency is a well-earned, a well-deserved honor, marking an epoch in which the A. L. A. honored itself in honoring her." Elmendorf was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 1908.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

ALA in San Francisco 1891 Revisited

The blog of the American Library Association Archives recently had an excellent post about ALA's 1891 meeting in San Francisco. That reminded me of an earlier post that I made on this blog about that same ALA meeting. I'm reposting it below.

My collection of postal libraiana consists primarily of envelopes that have no contents. Occasionally, however, I will come across the contents with no envelope, and sometimes those contents contain an interesting story. Such is the case with a three page letter (partially shown above) written by George T. Clark to his cousin Ida on November 10, 1891. At the time he wrote this letter, Clark was Deputy Librarian for the California State Library in Sacramento. The most interesting part of the letter is a paragraph in which he discusses the 1891 Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco. It reads in part: 

"Last month the American Library Association held its annual conference in San Francisco, one of the same kind that I attended at the Thousand Islands [1887 ALA Conference]. But California is so far away that not so many attended this year as usual. Only about fifty came from afar but they represented states all along the line from Massachusetts to Colorado. A Worcester man, S. S. Green, was president. The week they were here I spent with them in San Francisco, and enjoyed witnessing the effect upon them of a little experience of California. Local committees had arranged for their reception here in Sacramento, San Francisco and at other places they visited so I hope they carried pleasant memories of their visit home with them. Even nature exerted herself to entertain them and the very first night showed her appreciation of their presence by touching us up with the liveliest earthquake we have had in years.”

Clark went on to become Librarian of the San Francisco Public Library in 1894 where he served for thirteen years. In a strange flashback to his mention of the 1891 San Francisco earthquake in the letter above, he was Librarian of the SFPL during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that destroyed the central library along with two of its branches. He became Librarian of Stanford University in 1907 where he completed his career. Clark helped found the California Library Association and served as its second president in 1898.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Special Leather Library Postcard - Sandusky, OH

I’ve written previous posts about leather library postcards for Sedalia, MO and Arcola, IL. I’ve added another leather postcard to my collection of library postcards which is special because the message on the card concerns leather library postcards and led me to a magazine article about leather library postcards. The library depicted on the postcard is the Sandusky (OH) Public Library. It was addressed to John Coulthard c/o of the Western Stamp Collector in Albany, Oregon. The postcard was mailed by Bertha Seiche of Sandusky, OH in December 1937 and the message reads: “Dear Sir: Saw your article on ‘Bright Ideas in Post Cards’ in W.S.C. and I bought this one only last week in a local book shop. Will pass it on to you. I can get more at the same place.” I was intrigued by the message and wanted to find out about Mr. Coulthard’s “Bright Ideas in Postcards”.  With the help of the American Philatelic Research Library, I got a copy of Coulthard’s article on “Bright Ideas in Postcards”.  It turns out that the title was facetious, and a more appropriate title would have been “Not So Bright Ideas in Postcards”. Coulthard wrote: “Still dizzier was the fad for leather postals that swept card collecting circles in ’06, ’07, and ’08. No one, of course, kept track of the vast herds of cattle who shed their hides to make a card collector’s holiday, but their number must have been legion. And to handle the inane, wobbly things must have given many a mail clerk a headache.” He ended the article with: “Hunt out your local supply [of postcards], if grandpap didn’t use them to half sole his shoes, and add one to your cover collection. It is irrefutable proof that people in the ‘00s weren’t bright every day all day long.” The book shop in Sandusky must have held on to this leather library postcard for several decades since it was an early 20th century postcard. The mail clerk who handled this one in 1937 must have been pretty surprised. Fortunately, it went safely through the mail so I could add it to my collection years later. This post is adapted from a blog post that I wrote for the Philatelic Literature & Research Blog

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Large Library Postcard Collection For Sale

I'm assisting Dan Lester in disposing of his 10,000 plus library postcard collection. The largest portion of the collection (over 6,000 postcards) went to the American Library Association Archives last year. I have a group of 1,100 postcards that are duplicates of those in the ALA Archives collection. These postcards include libraries from 44 states and the District of Columbia. There are no duplicates, but there are multiple views of some of the larger libraries. The largest state group is for California with 145 postcards. Followed by New York with 68 cards, Massachusetts with 64 cards, Illinois with 61 cards, Indiana with 53 card, and the rest with less. I am willing to let the entire collection go for $800 postpaid which is a wholesale price. I would rather sell it to a library history enthusiast than a postcard dealer. If purchased individually from postcard dealers or on eBay, the collection would probably cost between $2,200 and $3,000 or more. Some images of the collection are shown below. If interested contact me (Larry Nix) at

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sir Walter Scott's Library and Renée B.Stern

Abbotsford is a historic country house in Scotland in the town of Galashiels, near Melrose. It is the former home of Sir Walter Scott, and one of its most prominent features is the library that Scott assembled. There are many postcard views of the library. The one above is from my collection, and it is special in that it was sent by a librarian to a librarian with a message that references Scott's library. The postcard was sent from Melrose, Scotland on August 4, 1903 by Renée B. Stern (1875-1940) to Emaline Carter at the Champaign (IL) Public Library. Stern writes: "My dear Miss Carter, Here is Sir Walter's library - its not D.C. [reference to the Library of Congress ?], but its really quite neat despite that fact." Stern served as a librarian at a number of Chicago area libraries, and was active in the Chicago Library Club. She was a writer and co-edited Book Trails, a multi-year/multi-volume publication of stories and poems for children. She also was author of Neighborhood Entertainments (1910).

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Gettysburg College’s Student Literary Societies (1831-1924)

Cover mailed by Philomathean Society, circa 1850s

Cover mailed to the Phrenakosmian Society, circa 1880s

As I noted in a previous post about Dartmouth’s student literary societies, early academic libraries were not very friendly to students. As a result students sometimes formed their own libraries as part of student literary societies. Two such literary societies were created at Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College) in Gettysburg, PA. They were the Philomathean and Phrenakosmian Societies. I have in my collection of postal librariana covers (envelopes) related to both of these societies (see above). The very attractive cover from the Philomathean Society was mailed sometime in the 1850s (the postage stamp is on the back of the cover), and the Phrenakosmian Society cover was mailed in the 1880s. Both societies were formed at Pennsylvania College in 1831 and both were disbanded in 1924. At some point, as occurred with other student society libraries, their libraries were probably merged with the college library. The archives of the two societies are now part of Special Collections & College Archives of Gettysburg College. The Philomathean and Phrenakosmian Societies existed at other colleges and there is a Philomathean Society still in existence at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Philatelic Gold (and Vermeil) in St. Louis

Each year I enter one or two philatelic exhibits in national level stamp shows with various library history related topics. I’ve been doing this every year since 2003, and I find the development of these exhibits to be both enjoyable and challenging. This year I developed a five frame exhibit on “America’s Membership Libraries” and a one frame exhibit on “Hiram E. Deats – The Life of a Jerseyman”. The debut of these two exhibits was at the Saint Louis Stamp Expo last month. Philatelic exhibits are judged by a panel of experts accredited by the American Philatelic Society. They are judged against a set of criteria that varies depending on the division in which the exhibit is entered. My exhibits are entered in the Display Division which allows the inclusion of ephemera as well as postal artifacts. Each exhibit is eligible to receive one of the following medal level awards (in ascending order): bronze, silver bronze, silver, vermeil, and gold. Exhibits are also eligible for a number of special awards. In St. Louis my “America’s Membership Libraries” exhibit received a gold award, and the “Hiram E. Deats – The Life of a Jerseyman” exhibit received a Vermeil award.  For both exhibits I was also recognized by The Ephemera Society of America for the use of ephemera in my exhibits. My primary motivation in exhibiting is telling the story of America’s libraries, but it's always nice to receive recognition for my efforts.  Incidentally, Hiram E. Deats was a world renowned philatelist and also a big supporter of libraries. Click Here for more information about Deats.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

St. Louis Mercantile Library

Last week while in St. Louis for a stamp show and a family visit I had the opportunity to visit the St. Louis Mercantile Library, one of our nation’s most unusual libraries. Because of my interest in membership libraries, I was already aware of the history of the Mercantile Library (click HERE to see previous post). I just had not had the opportunity to see it firsthand. I was very impressed. Fee based membership libraries in America had their heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries, and all but a few did not survive after the first couple of decades in the 20th century. Those that did survive did so by substantially revising their missions. In regard to its current mission this statement appears on the website of the St. Louis Mercantile Library: “The task of the Mercantile Library as a research library is to make its collections, which have come to concentrate on Western Expansion and the history, development, and growth of the St. Louis region and of the American rail and river transportation experiences, available to the widest number of local and national users.” The Mercantile Library has also entered into an arrangement with another institution to ensure its survival well into the future. The Mercantile Library is now part of the Libraries of the University of Missouri – St. Louis and shares a building with the Thomas Jefferson Library of the University. In addition to its extensive general historical collection the Mercantile Library is home to the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library, the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, and an extensive art collection. I had the privilege of participating in one of the excellent docent led tours of the Mercantile Library which take place on Saturday and Sunday each week. If you are ever in St. Louis I highly recommend a visit to the St. Louis Mercantile Library. A few pictures from my visit appear below.

A memorial for Clarence E. Miller who worked at the library for 67 years and was Librarian from 1941-1958.
One of the locked rare book cases.

A vintage card catalog no longer in use which contained the "Harvard size" catalog cards.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An Aluminum Library Postcard, Manitowoc, WI, 1905

To my collection of unusual library postcards I have added an aluminum postcard that depicts the former Carnegie building of the Manitowoc (WI) Public Library. Manitowoc received a $25,000 Carnegie grant in 1902 and the new Carnegie building opened in 1904. It housed the public library until it was replaced in 1967, and unfortunately was razed after that. A brief history of the Manitowoc Public Library is located HERE. The postcard was mailed on Dec. 5, 1905 from Manitowoc to Sacramento, CA. In the first decade of the 20th century when postcards were in their heyday there were some pretty unusual postcards that made their way through the postal system. I've previously written about leather postcards and wooden postcards. There is an interesting aspect to this aluminum postcard. It doesn't have a stamp or a postmark cancellation. That is because when it was mailed it was enclosed in a clear outer envelope on which the stamp was placed and cancelled. There is a statement on the address side of the postcard which reads: "Not Mailable Except Under Cover". All of these unusual postcards were probably a huge headache for the mail clerks that had to deal with them.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Extraordinary Women of ALA’s Washington Office

For Women’s History Month I’m writing about a group of women who collectively made an enormous contribution to the improvement of library service in America. These were the women who served as director of the Washington Office of the American Library Association from 1950 through 1999. They were the lobbyists for America’s libraries, and they carried out this role exceptionally well. The ALA Washington Office was established in October of 1945 and celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Paul Howard became the first director of the office when it opened in 1946 but left in 1949 when ALA closed the office due to lack of funding. It reopened in 1950 under the leadership of Marjorie Malmberg, the first of the women featured in this article. Malmberg had relocated to Virginia with her husband after she had led a successful effort to get state funding for libraries in Wisconsin. Malmberg is credited by her successors for laying the foundation for a politically effective Washington Office and for playing an important role in the effort to secure federal legislation for libraries. Malmberg was followed as director by Alice Dunlap who served a short term (Sept, 1951-Jan 31, 1952), but continued efforts toward federal legislation. Julia Bennett Armistead headed the Washington Office from 1952 through 1957 and helped to finally secure the passage of the Federal Library Services Act (LSA) in 1956. It fell to Germaine Krettek (1907-1994) who became director of the Washington Office in November 1957 to secure the actual funding for rural library service which was authorized under LSA.  President Eisenhower recommended initial funding for LSA of only $3 million, but Krettek led efforts that resulted in an appropriation of $6 million. Also under Krettek leadership, LSA was expanded in 1964 to become the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) and included support for urban as well as rural libraries. When Krettek retired in 1972 federal funding for libraries under all federal legislation had increased to $200 million. For her legislative efforts Krettek was honored by ALA with the Joseph W. Lippincott medal in 1969 and was elected to Honorary Membership in ALA (ALA’s highest honor) in 1973. Eileen Cooke who had worked under Krettek in the Washington Office starting in 1964 became director in 1972. Cooke was presented with a major challenge when for fiscal year 1974 President Nixon recommended zero funding for ESEA II, LSCA, and HEA II. Librarians responded to calls from the Washington Office for action and their efforts led to $151.2 million in funding for library programs. Throughout her tenure Cooke fought for the reauthorization and funding for federal legislation that benefited millions of American. Carol Henderson, Cooke’s assistant and successor, called her boss, “the legendary library lady of Capitol Hill”. When ALA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Washington Office in 1996, Cooke was given Honorary Mermbership in ALA for her distinguished career. Cooke retired in 1993 and was succeeded by Henderson who served until 1999. Under Henderson the Washington Office established the Office of Technology Policy and successfully worked for the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Emily Sheketoff became director of the Washington Office in 1999 and is the current director. Sheketoff has continued to build successfully on the efforts of her predecessors. The entire library community can be thankful that these enormously talented women were drawn to serve in a leadership role in the Washington Office of the American Library Association.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Gilbert H. Doane’s Book About Collecting Bookplates

I have written a previous post about Gilbert H. Doane who served as Librarian of the University of Wisconsin – Madison General Library from 1937 to 1956 and was one of the World War II “Monuments Men”. Doane was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2014. In doing research on Doane I discovered that he was a collector of bookplates, and that he had written a book about collecting bookplates. I lucked out and was able to purchase a copy of his book at one of the online used book sites. Its title is About Collecting Bookplates: A Letter from Gilbert H. Doane, and it was published in 1941 by a small press named Black Mack. The book which is in the form of a long personal letter came about after a visit from Doane’s friend Bill who showed interest in his collection of bookplates. In his book Doane writes: “Were there a small book on the subject [bookplates] easily accessible to your hand, I’d recommend it to you; but, alas, most of the literature, aside from checklists of designers and engravers, is forty or more years old, out of print, and obtainable only through the medium of secondhand book dealers and not always quickly found at that. So here’s the story of bookplates put as briefly as I can put it, but told, I fear, in rather a haphazard way, with, I know, far too many references to examples I’ve been lucky enough to acquire. Do forgive me if, as a collector, I cannot curb my pride in an occasional bit of good luck. God knows, I’ve paid for some of my mistakes in other ways – as you will, Dear Chap, if you get this fever!” As Doane indicates his book/letter is illustrated with bookplates from his collection which any serious bookplate collector would appreciate. The one shown to the left was designed by bookplate designer Edwin D. French (1851-1906) for his own use.  Doane’s book is in itself a valued collectible. It is a small book in size (5” by 4”) and length (78 pages) and has its own case. The printing on special paper consisted of 360 numbered copies of which mine is number 30. As with Doane, “I cannot curb my pride in an occasional bit of good luck” in finding a copy of his book.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Major Addition To My Bookplate Collection

Bookplate collecting is a serious endeavor which is normally undertaken by serious collectors. I don’t consider myself a serious collector of bookplates so it is surprising that I have made 18 previous posts to this blog with the label “bookplates” (this one makes 19). I have also ended up with a fairly significant collection of bookplates for institutional libraries (as opposed to personal libraries). I added a major addition to that collection last year when I purchased an album of over 300 bookplates from a dealer at a stamp show.  The dealer who knew about my interest in library history had previously offered to sell the album to me, but the price was more than I was willing to pay. He finally got tired of lugging the album around and made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. The album includes only part of someone’s former collection. The bookplates are for libraries starting with A and going through libraries starting with M.  The bookplates are tipped or pasted into the album and I still need to safely remove them. Most of the bookplates are unused and were probably acquired by exchange with libraries or other collectors. The image of the page from the album for the Bangor (ME) Public Library shown above is indicative of that approach. A few of the bookplates in the album were removed from books. A bookplate from the library of the Bureau of Statistics and Labor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, also shown above, is an example of those bookplates. The Massachusetts  bookplate was added to the library on April 2, 1906.  I have no clue who compiled this collection of bookplates, but it is a fair assumption that it was a librarian. I previously obtained a collection of library bookplates that was assembled by Essae Martha Culver who was executive secretary of the Louisiana Library Commission and later Louisiana State Librarian.  Some examples from the Culver collection are located HERE. It is always nice to make a connection with a previous or current collector of librariana.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Wisconsin Library Bulletin 1905-1984

In addition to my contributions to the Library History Buff Blog I am also the primary contributor the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center blog. I'm re-posting below a contribution to that blog about the Wisconsin Library Bulletin. Publications of state library agencies and state library associations contain a wealth of library history source material. Many of these publications have been digitally scanned through the efforts of Google and the Hathi Trust. Much of that material is not available in full view, however. The Hathi Trust has a process for the holders of copyright to material still protected by copyright to provide permission for its full view. Doing so for state library and state library association publications would be a major contribution to a greater knowledge and understanding of library history in the United States. Wisconsin is working on doing that for the Wisconsin Library Bulletin. Other states should do likewise.

Post to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center blog for February 22, 2015:

In January, 1905, just over 110 years ago, the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC), the predecessor to the Wisconsin Division for Libraries and Technology, published the first issue of the Wisconsin Library Bulletin (WLB). The new monthly publication was described as "A Magazine of Suggestion and Information" and was devoted to the improvement of Wisconsin's libraries. It reported on library activities and development within the state and provided a wealth of  practical information primarily for public libraries. The WLB was edited by WFLC Secretary Henry E. Legler. The first issue of the magazine can be found on the Hathi Trust website. That issue contained a summary of library progress in Wisconsin and a variety of articles and news items written by leaders in public library development and extension in Wisconsin. These included Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame members Lutie Stearns and Cornelia Martin. The WLB ended with a special issue in 1984. A complete file of the WLB can be found on the Hathi Trust website but not all issues are available in "full view". Efforts are being by the Division for Libraries and Technology to rectify that situation. The image to the left shows the cover of the Sept.-Oct. 1909 issue.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Library Trustees Handbook 1902

Governance of public libraries by an independent board of trustees is a model that dates back to the establishment of the Boston Public Library in 1852. It continues to be the dominant form of public library governance today. The Massachusetts Free Public Library Commission was established in 1890. It was the first of many state level library organizations that had a primary mission of advancing public libraries and public library service on a statewide basis. Wisconsin established the Wisconsin Free Library Commission in 1895. Minnesota established the Minnesota Library Commission in 1899, and Iowa followed suit in 1900. These three library commissions were leaders in promoting the education of public library trustees. In 1902 they published the Hand Book of Library Organizations. I have a copy of that publication and it is available in digital form on the Hathi Trust website. The Introduction of the handbook states: "This handbook is addressed primarily to library trustees, and is not intended to give full directions for the technical work necessary in a public library. Its purpose is to give all the information which is necessary for the board of directors to have before the trained organizer or permanent librarian arrives, and to serve as a guide to the untrained librarian in the administration of a small library." Notwithstanding this disclaimer the 79 page publication contains a wealth of information prepared by some of the most experienced public library extension leaders in the nation. I've included a scan of the contents page of the handbook above. I worked for 23 years at the successor to the Wisconsin Free Library Commission and we developed and updated a public library trustees manual on several occasions. The latest version is online HERE. It represents a strategy for educating library trustees that dates back for more than a century. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wooden Library Postcard, Redlands,CA, 1905

Perhaps the most unusual postcard in my collection of library postcards is the one shown above. It is made of wood and depicts the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, CA. The postcard was mailed in 1905 when postcards were called "mailing cards" and only the address could appear on the non-picture side of the card. This wood "Souvenir Mailing Card" was copyrighted in 1903 by the California Souvenir Co. in Los Angeles, CA. To say wooden postcards are scarce is an understatement. Out of over two million postcards listed on eBay I could find only a few that were made of wood and none that depicted a library. There was one California Souvenir Co. mailing card similar to this one and it was unused and depicted grapes on the front. The building depicted on this postcard was dedicated in 1894 and was made possible by the generosity of A.K. Smiley. With additions it is still in use today. The story of how the library building came to be can be found HERE.

Friday, February 6, 2015

New Book About New York City's Early Libraries

I've just completed reading Tom Glynn's new book Reading Publics: New York City's Public Libraries, 1754-1911 (Empire State Editions, Fordham University Press, 2015). I highly recommend it to library history buffs everywhere. The term "public libraries" used in the sub-title of the book refers to all types of libraries other than private/personal libraries not just free public libraries as we know them today. Indeed the New York Public Library was not legally established until 1895. As the sub-title indicates the time period for the book begins in 1754 with the founding of the New York Society Library and concludes with the construction of the flagship New York Public Library building at 5th Ave. and 42nd Street. As Wayne Wiegand indicates in a cover blurb the book is: "A deeply researched, well-written, and solid contribution to library history literature that will interest not only members of the library profession but also scholars and students of intellectual, cultural, social, urban, and print culture history whose own research has been heavily influenced by the rich collections Glynn discusses." I found the book to also be a good read. The complicated development of libraries in the nation's major urban city is a fascinating story, and Tom Glynn has done an excellent job of telling it.  Purchase from Amazon.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Library Card Predecessors

1733 receipt for subscription fee. Image used by permission of The Library Company of Philadelphia
One of my blog readers recently asked me if I knew why library cards were created and if I had any information about the first library card/s. Here is my stab at answering those questions. Basically. a library card (also ticket, certificate of membership) is proof of the right to access a library. Although not always, it is most commonly the authorization to borrow or remove books (and other items) from the library. It is also usually tied to information about the holder of the library card that is kept on file at the library to facilitate the retrieval of materials taken if not returned on time.  Libraries requiring payment for access were most likely the first libraries to require a document of some kind to gain access to the library (and to remove materials).  Those libraries, broadly described as membership libraries, first developed in the 18th century. The first of these libraries in the United States was the Library Company of Philadelphia which was founded by Benjamin Franklin and friends in 1731. There were earlier examples of membership libraries in England. It is my contention that the first library cards were probably receipts for payment of membership dues to these libraries. The receipt for payment of a subscription fee for "use and service" of the Library Company of Philadelphia dated January 20, 1733 (shown above) is one of the earliest examples of those receipts. Library cards or tickets developed because they were more practical. The larger the library the more critical was the need for library users to have a document identifying themselves as an authorized user of the library. This was especially the case for free public libraries which developed in the later half of the 19th century in the United States. Klas August Linderfelt, Librarian of the Milwaukee Public Library, wrote in 1882: "In the great majority of libraries, when a new member becomes entitled to the privilege of using its contents, whether through some other person's guaranty, a money deposit, or an annual fee, a card is given him as a certificate that he has complied with all the requirements of the management and which must be produced in all his transactions with the library ...". Further: "In some libraries this card serves no other purpose than the one indicated, or possibly as a reminder to the borrower of the time when his book must be returned, while in other libraries it forms an integral part of its charging system. This latter is a risky arrangement, as my experience, at least, is that an ordinary borrower has even less regard, if possible, for the card than for the book itself, and considers its loss of no importance whatever." The American Library Association website has a nice page about library cards. The Library History Buff website has a page showing examples of vintage library cards. I would be happy to hear from others with more information about the early use of library cards and/or receipts for membership payments.
1841 version of a Library Company of Philadelphia receipt from my collection.