Friday, May 5, 2017

The Great Falls (MT) Public Library and Alma Smith Jacobs

Researching a recent acquisition to my postal librariana collection I discovered the story of African American librarian Alma Smith Jacobs (1916-1997) of Montana.  The postal artifact is an envelope (shown above) with an image of the interior of the Carnegie Library in Great Falls, MT covering the entire face of the envelope.  The back of the envelope which was mailed on December 2, 1917 has the address information.  The Great Falls Public Library has an excellent history of the library on its website. It was there that I learned that after serving as a catalog librarian for eight years Alma Jacobs became head librarian in 1954, a post she held until 1973. She left Great Falls to become the Montana State Librarian in Helena where she ended her library career in 1981.  She was the first African American to hold that post. While in Great Falls she led the effort which resulted in the replacement of the Carnegie Library with a new library building in 1967.  The Women’s History Matters website has an excellent overview of Jacobs’ contributions to library and community service in Montana.  In an unusual coincidence of timing I discovered that on April 28, 2017 the Great Falls Public Library dedicated a mural of Jacobs. The library had previously named the library plaza in her honor.  Alma Jacobs was the first African American elected as President of the Montana Library Association, the first elected as President of the Pacific Northwest Library Association, and the first to serve on the Executive Board of the American Library Association. Jacobs’ sister Lucille Smith Thompson was also a prominent African American librarian (Little Known Black Librarian Facts Blog).  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

World War I Library Postcard

The American Library Association’s Library War Service operated forty-one camp libraries in the U.S. during World War I.  ALA produced postcards depicting most of the camp library buildings, and I have examples of almost all of those in my library postcard collection. I particularly seek out those postcards with messages, and I’m always delighted when the message refers to the library depicted on the postcard. The postcard above depicts the library at Camp Jackson, SC.  It was written on 11/10/18 but was postmarked on 11/11/18, Armistice Day.  The postcard bears a 2 cent stamp. On Nov. 2, 1917, the postage rate for postal cards and postcards was increased to 2 cents to help pay for the war.  The message is a testimonial for camp libraries.  It reads: “Here is where I spend a part of my time while loafing. They certainly have an assortment of good magazines and books. In fact most anything one wants to read. I am here [the library] at present.  This is a good picture of the building." I have written another blog post about camp library postcards with messages.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

World War I & the American Library Association

April 6 marks the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I.  Almost all history related organizations in the U.S. will do something to commemorate the U.S. participation in the war. The involvement in the war by the American Library Association through its Library War Service has been a longtime interest of mine and I have written many posts on this blog about that involvement.  I’m helping to commemorate the work of ALA’s Library War Service with two different exhibits this year.  I have an exhibit at the Middleton (WI) Public Library this month which features some of the larger artifacts in my collection related to the Library War Service (see photo above).  I hope to share this exhibit with other Wisconsin libraries also.  My other exhibit (see photo below) is one that I have developed for stamp shows and includes postal items and other paper artifacts about the Library War Service.  I have already shown the exhibit at two stamp shows and expect to show it in several more this year.

The American Library Association Archives which has an outstanding collection of archival materials related to the Library War Service will be doing a number of things to commemorate ALA’s involvement in the war.  The Archives has already posted several outstanding articles on its blog. More general online exhibits about the U.S. involvement in World War I have been created by the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ruth Warncke, American Library Association Leader

Ruth Warncke (1910-1998) was a national leader in adult education and served as Deputy Director of the American Library Association from 1965 to 1972.  Her colleagues described her as “a professional feminist long before it was popular”.  When the next supplement to the Dictionary of American Library Biography comes out she will undoubtedly be included. My decision to write about Warncke during Women’s History Month was prompted by a postcard (see above) I recently acquired for my collection of librariana. The postcard was mailed to Warncke in 1971.  Warncke began her career as a teacher and school librarian in Glenview, IL and later held positions in public libraries in New York and Michigan. She was hired by ALA in 1955 to lead the American Heritage Project funded by the Ford Foundation to assist public libraries in discussions of American heritage.  In 1956 she became director of another ALA national level project, the Library Community Project, which was designed to strengthen adult education activities and services in public libraries in the United States. In 1960 she left ALA and served on the faculty of Case Western University Library School until 1965 when she became Deputy Director of ALA.  I’m always delighted to obtain a postcard that has a personal link to a librarian. This postcard was mailed by a friend of Warncke who was traveling in the Southwest U.S.. The picture side of the postcard is a spectacular view of Zion National Park in Utah. I got the postcard at a stamp show from a dealer who was aware of my interest in library related postal items. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Helen Marot, Progressive Librarian & Labor Activist

Helen Marot (1865-1940) was a librarian who worked to improve the working conditions of women.  She helped to establish the Free Library of Economics & Political Science in Philadelphia in 1897.  In my collection of library related postal cards I have a postal card (see above and to the left) that was mailed by Marot from the Free Library of Economics & Political Science on November 23, 1898 to a London publisher.  In trying to find out more about Marot I was delighted to find a well written and researched article about her on Wikipedia. The article has a good description of the Free Library of Economics and Political Science which provided a specialized collection of government publications, labor society reports, magazines, and pamphlets related to economics and political science. Later Marot served as executive secretary of the New York branch of the national Women’s Trade Union League.  Her labor activism included organizing the strike of the shirtwaist makers and dressmakers in 1909.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Seychelles’ Carnegie Library

Most of the communities that benefited from grants from Andrew Carnegie for library buildings were located in the British Isles or North America.  A relatively small number were located in other English speaking countries around the world.  I have in my collection of library postcards one that depicts the Carnegie library building in Victoria, Seychelles.  Victoria received a Carnegie grant of $9,740 on August 6, 1907, but the opening of the library didn’t take place until January 22, 1910.  My postcard shows the visit of the Governor of Seychelles and his wife on the library’s opening day.  The message side of the postcard was written on April 14, 1917.  It is a message from a father who was probably a sailor on a British naval vessel to his daughter.  It reads in part: “This is where Father was this afternoon when he went there from the big ship.”  This date was in the midst of World War I and British ships were in conflict with German vessels around the world.  My postcard doesn’t have a postage stamp and it was probably inserted in another envelope for mailing. At various times the Carnegie building housed the public library and the National library of Seychelles.  The website of the National Library has a brief history of the library (see the link at the bottom of the home page).  There is a nice list of Carnegie library buildings located in Africa, the Caribbean, and Oceania on the Wikipedia site.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ALA’s Atlanta Conference 1899

Later this week the American Library Association will hold its Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, GA.  The first ALA conference in Atlanta took place on May 8-12, 1899.  It was also ALA’s first conference in the South.  William C. Lane, Director of the Harvard University Library, was President of ALA.  Attendance at the conference was 215. The conference hotel was the Kimball House (see postcard below).  The rationale for an ALA conference in the South was stated in the conference brochure (see cover illustration above): “It is to be hoped that this southern meeting will be the means of largely increasing the membership [in ALA] from a section hitherto almost entirely without representation.” The brochure included a section touting Andrew Carnegie’s bequest in 1898 for new library buildings in Atlanta. This section which was written by someone with the initials A.W. included the following statement: “The people of the South, perhaps the purest strain of the Anglo-Saxon to be found on this continent, are conservative, intelligent, and need only the educational advantages that wealth can bestow to reach a degree of culture heretofore unrivaled.”  No mention of the African American population of the South. Andrew Carnegie’s bequest, however, did include funds for a separate library for African Americans. The racial climate in the South was reflected in ALA’s planning for the 1899 Atlanta conference. There was an initial proposal for a presentation on “How to Make the Library Do Its Part in Negro Education” by W. E. B. Du Bois.  According to Dennis Thomison in his A History of the American Library Association 1876-1872, a decision was made not to have the presentation “to avoid the risk of angering the association’s southern hosts”. It was not until the 1922 ALA conference in Detroit that an African American gave a speech at an ALA conference. The lineup of featured speakers at this year’s Midwinter meeting shows the dramatic change in ALA’s 21st century outlook on diversity in its programming and membership.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Looking Back at Library History 2016

Notwithstanding a not so great year nationally and internationally, it has been a good year for the promotion and celebration of library history.  An obvious highlight for me personally was my induction into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame at the Wisconsin Library Association Conference in Milwaukee in October (see photo above).

On the national scene it was a landmark year for the American Library Association which celebrated its 140th anniversary. Of particular note was the effort of the American Libraries magazine to call attention to this milestone. Several other major events also occurred in 1876, the founding year for ALA, and were less well noted on their 140th anniversary. They included the establishment of the Library Journal magazine; the publication of Melvil Dewey’s Decimal Classification System; the creation of the library supply company Library Bureau, also a Dewey effort; and the special report of the US Bureau of Education on the status of  Public Libraries in the United States of America (in actuality all libraries in the US other than personal libraries).  

The Wisconsin Library Association celebrated its 125h anniversary. I was privileged to serve on the committee which was charged with planning the celebration. One of my contributions to this effort was adding content to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center website about WLA’s history and events related to the anniversary celebration.  

I continued my efforts to collect and to exhibit postal artifacts related to libraries in 2016. My major philatelic exhibit for the year was “America’s Library – The Library of Congress”.  At national level stamp shows the exhibit received gold medals in St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Chicago. In St. Louis it was judged to be the “Best Display Exhibit”.  The exhibit was also selected as the best exhibit at the Wisconsin state stamp show.  It was wonderful to conclude the exhibit with a reference to the appointment of Dr. Carla Hayden as the Librarian of Congress.

My collection of Wisconsin Library Memorabilia was on display at the Milwaukee Public Library and the Middleton Public Library this year. 

It was not a great year for writing new blog posts for the Library History Buff Blog. I only published 21 posts for the year, an all time yearly low for me. On the positive side all time page views for the blog exceeded 600,000.  I hope to do much better in 2017. In the very limited world of library history blogging the ALA Archives Blog has set a high standard for quality posts. 

Have a happy 2017 everyone!