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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Osage, Iowa's Carnegie Library

Osage, Iowa's Carnegie library first came to my attention with the publication of Wayne Wiegand's book Main Street Public Library (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2011). The Osage, IA public library is one of four Midwest libraries featured in the book. In his book Wiegand documents the multi-year struggle that Osage went through to obtain a Carnegie grant and to build the library. The $10,000 Carnegie grant was awarded on March 27, 1905, but efforts to get the grant were initiated in February, 1903. The actual dedication of the building didn't take place until August 1, 1911. The postcard above (from my collection) shows the building under construction in 1910. A painting of the Osage Carnegie library by David Rottinghaus appears on the cover of Wiegand's book. Wiegand also facilitated the construction and sale of a birdhouse modeled on the Osage Carnegie library (see below). I have one of the birdhouses in my collection of librariana.  The Carnegie building is currently occupied by the Osage City Hall. An online article about the Carnegie library in Osage and Wiegand's book was published by the Mitchell County Press News on October 5, 2010.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Leather Library Postcard, Arcola, IL

Leather postcards are unusual. Leather library postcards are even more so. Out of just under 14,000 library postcards listed on eBay, I could find only six that were made out of leather. I'm fortunate to have a few examples of these postcards. The most unusual of the ones I have is a postcard depicting the Carnegie Library in Arcola, IL (shown above). It includes color lettering which is rare. The postcard actually went through the mail on January 3, 1907. Arcola received a $10,000 grant for a public library building from Carnegie, and the building was dedicated on October 18, 1905. The public library in Arcola still occupies the building. I have a previous post about a leather postcard in my collection for Sedalia, MO. That postcard also includes some color.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Merchant Marine Library Postal Card, 1947

As a collector of postal librariana I am interested in both the postal history and library history of artifacts that have been sent through the mail. Of course, as a library history buff, library history takes precedence over postal history for me. Stamp dealers on the other hand mostly could care less about library history. They value their postal artifacts based on postal significance. I recently acquired a postal card mailed by the American Merchant Marine Library Association (AMMLA) in NY,NY in 1947 (shown above). The AMMLA came into being after World War I largely as a result of the work of the American Library Association's Library War Service in providing books on merchant marine ships during the war. I was happy to get a postal artifact related to this organization. The postal card has a great message. The New York AMMLA is notifying representatives of the S.S. George Bancroft that they can't deliver books to the ship because the railroad tracks near the pier "knock hell out of our tires", but the ship's representatives can come over to the (AMMLA) library and pick them up. Unfortunately the front side of the postal card indicates that the message never got through. And there lies the postal significance of the card. The postal card was mailed special delivery to get the card delivered fast, but the address was insufficient and the card was "returned to sender". I like the fact that a U.S. Merchant Marine commemorative stamp was used to help achieve the correct postage rate for special delivery. Too bad it didn't work.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Library Dedication Day, Alexandria, PA, 1900

Alexandria, PA is a small community of a few hundred people, but in 1899 two native sons donated $16,000 for the construction and ongoing support of a public library. The men making the donation were William Woolverton of New York and William Thompson of Philadelphia. The library was dedicated on May 1, 1900. The occasion is documented by the postcard shown above. The library building was substantial with space for 20,000 books, and a second story performance hall with seating for 400 people. Library Journal for January, 1900 reported on the donation and the upcoming dedication. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Biblioteca Carnegie in San Juan, Puerto Rico

I started off the month of January with a cruise in the Caribbean with a stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico. One of the buildings I saw while in San Juan was the Carnegie Library or the Biblioteca Carnegie (shown on the postcard above). In 1914 Andrew Carnegie made a grant of $100,000 for the construction of a public library building in San Juan. The building was completed in 1916. The library building was closed in 1965 due to disrepair but reopened in 1965 after renovation. The building received significant damage in 1989 as a result of Hurricane Hugo. The building underwent extensive renovation and reopened in 1995. More information about the Biblioteca Carnegie can be found HERE