Archive for the ‘Library history’ Category

I don’t suppose a week goes by when ALA’s Library History Round Table doesn’t send me something of interest. Today was an especially fascinating link to the blog of Charles A. Seavey, Desert Sailor.Info. There are several interesting library matters to be found there but his essay “Books for Swabbies: Ship’s  Libraries in the “New” Steel Navy, 1880s-1930s was a fascinating glimpse of a world I never suspected.

Seavey writes at the outset that “by comparing the contents of ship and crew libraries with the recommendations of the American Library Association (ALA) we can see that fundamentally differing approaches to book collections were in place. I[t] will be argued that the ALA recommendations were for an “ideal” library only partially grounded in real world conditions. The Navy, on the other hand, was basing their selections on both the nature of their ship-borne libraries, and the world in which those ships operated. The Navy, in this instance, was far more aware of what their readers might actually want to read than was the ALA”.

USS Franklin

USS Franklin

 Seavey goes on to describe a rather complex history of ship libraries which got their start aboard the USS Franklin in 1820.  According to Seavey libraries on ships became “institutionalized” at this time.

Moreover, he reports that the US Navy was far ahead of all others. Great Britains’s Royal Navy did not place books on ships until 1913.

All in all, this is a fascinating look at a type of library I had never known existed.


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American troops on parade in Vladivostok in August 1918. Japanese marines are standing at attention as the Americans pass a building occupied by the staff of the Czecho-Slovaks.

The Library History Buff Blog is always a wonderful read but Mr. Nix has been hitting ’em out of the park recently. There are two posts, in particular, that I recommend. His Sunday, Dec. 14 post is entitled Christmas in Vladivostok, 1918.  The ALA War Service and the American Expeditionary Force sent postcard greetings to the troops in Siberia, where Harry Clemons was working for ALA to provide services to the troops. This is a lovely post and I cannot help but feel proud, once again, to be part of a profession and tradition that takes books and learning and their critical importance in everyone’s life so seriously and with such dedication.


 On a lighter note the post for Friday, Dec. 12 is entitled, Library tim-toolman-taylorArtifact from Hell, and recounts a most amusing salvage operation carried out to preserve the old-fashioned iron shelving that was discarded when the Wisconsin State Law Library was restored. I don’t know why but the story reminded me of Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor for some reason. 

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From an article about librarians at the turn of the century:

Hearne read stories of graduates who would, after a fire, start a new library in a gym; who walked through 8- to 10-foot snow drifts to get to the library; and who brought books to World War I soldiers recuperating in hospitals.

“The librarian was a kind of apostle for culture. They were missionaries for literacy, knowledge and culture,” Hearne said.

This seems to be a week for looking back. The quote above comes from a very nice story in the Chicago Tribune today about librarians at the turn of the century.


Larry T. Nix, whose blog and history website I linked to a couple of posts back, has a delightful post up today about Mabel Wilkinson who was a Wyoming librarian in the first decade of the 20th century:

Wilkinson gave a presentation at the American Library Association conference in 1916 in Asbury Park, New Jersey entitled “Establishing Libraries Under Difficulties”. Wilkinson’s presentation concerned a trip on horseback to organize library service that she made in Platte County, Wyoming.

Nix links to the entire presentation she made, which is available on Google Books. Do take a look!

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Interested in library history? I want to mention two sites that I enjoy very much. I have linked to Judy Aulik’s historical library postcard site before but I want to mention it again. I am a collector of vintage postcards myself, although I collect in different subject areas. Old postcards are an amazing visual record of popular culture, as well as, social and political history. Judy has a particular interest in Carnegie libraries and her collection, from almost every state that was given grant money, is simply wonderful. Although I have lamented in the past that there don’t seem to be many Alabama cards to be found anywhere, she managed to find two Alabama Carnegie Libraries: the Montgomery Public Library and the Decautur Public Library, pictured here (by permission!)

The Decatur Public Library was built in 1905

The Decatur Public Library was built in 1905 (used by permission)

Judy is working on a section of university libraries. I imagine she would be very interested, if any of us could send her a scan of early views of any of our libraries. They must surely exist, even though I have never seen a single one.

 Postcards are one obvious sort of postal memorabilia. But there is quite a bit more to “going postal” and Larry T. Nix is your man, if you are interested. He has a more general library history blog: Library History Buff Blog , so named to differentiate it from his website, Library History Buff . There are many links on the blog (and on the web site) to other library history sites. I must say that the website is worth visiting just for the Tribute to Bookmobiles and Travelling Libraries alone. If you are interested in postal memorabilia, his website is the place to find information and photos of library-related stamps, covers, post cards and much more.

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The Library History Round Table was alerted by a member some months ago that Google had scanned many library classics. A fellow member has followed up and made many of the titles available through his own Google “My Library” page.  My library for the Library History Buff brings together some amazing titles, e.g. The very first issue of Library Journal, Traveling Libraries by Frank Avery Hutchins (1902), A Library Primer by John Cotton Dana (1920), Simplified Library School Rules: Card Catalog, Accession, Book Numbers by Melvil Dewey (1904), and many more. Do check this out; I have not even begun to indicate adequately how many interesting titles are there.


Some of the titles are not full text because of lingering copyright issues. Most that I have actually clicked on are.

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Two of the things I most enjoy in this world come together very nicely at the Library Cats map.

ACRLog celebrates or, at least, enumerates obsolete library skills. Now that was a trip down memory lane! 

Then there are an amazing number of librarians to be found at YouTube, for instance: Super Librarian

And then there is: Librarian Lays Down the Law:

Searching on the title ” I am a librarian” will bring up quite a few videos– and, judging by the ones I looked at, most are just plain weird.

Also in the weird category are a series of short films called Erik the Librarian Mysteries. Erik is our favorite stereotype- the reclusive, nerdy reference librarian, who, in this case, appears to be listing towards insanity. The series is supposed to be funny but … judge for yourself. The episodes are short!

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I collect vintage postcards. They are a fascinating mini-documentary of life, fashions, and attitudes (political and social) at the turn of the century (the “golden age” of postcard production ran from (ca.)1898-to 1915). I don’t suppose that a single topic under the sun was not documented on a postcard.

While views of cities, buildings and tourist attractions are not my particular interest, I was, nevertheless,  delighted to find this site which documents America’s public libraries. It is heavy on the midwest with respectable offerings from around the nation. But I was struck by the complete absence of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi … really, the entire south. I know that public libraries were a relatively later phenomenon here and that might be enough to explain the absence. I don’t recall seeing any libraries portrayed on postcards, even as late as in the 20s and 30s. Does anyone know if such cards exist? Does anyone collect them?

I wonder too about early views of our Alabama academic libraries. Do they exist? It seems like such a collection of either academic or public (or both) might make an enjoyable session documenting the history of libraries in Alabama at some future ALLA.

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