Just for Fun: Librarianship Theater

Although a significant amount of an archivist’s work is spent communicating with donors and researchers, in addition to arranging and conserving or preserving a continuous influx of documents, there is always time for a little fun too.

Archives are not exclusively repositories for records of historic value; but, they are also home to a great variety of documented human experience! Don’t believe us? Then read on about early theater and librarianship connections!

Why Not? A Drama with a Purpose

For centuries, two great actors sharing influence on the national stage have been theaters and libraries. Among the many A.L.A. members, at least a few have written or performed in theater related to librarianship.

At least as early as October 1925, in Wisconsin, librarians wrote and performed a play to demonstrate county library service for the audience of the Wisconsin Federation of Women Clubs. As former Mexican Board Traveling Service Service Librarian Harriet C. Long (Record Series 89/1/27) describes in a January 1926 Wisconsin Library Bulletin article “WHY NOT? A Drama with a Purpose”, the performance was repeated successfully at multiple sites across the state, including the State Conference of Social Work at Stevens Point, the Madison Women’s Club Good Book Week celebration, and a Fond du Lac County Club meeting too.

With a fictional county map hanging on a wall, the audience was invited to imagine that they were taxpayers at their local county meeting, and they were invited to participate in asking questions. The librarian performers were both on-stage and sitting in the audience with attendees. The performance began with scripted lines to guide the discussion; however, audience participation was anticipated and performers were free to respond extemporaneously. Each librarian performer played the role of a different county stakeholder, ranging from a farmer, to a shopkeeper, to public school administrator, to a housewife, and a lawyer. Each community member asked the fictional County board for explanations of how county library service would benefit them.

Bringing Up Nine

Meanwhile, the one-act “Bringing Up Nine” January 1929 adaption of a 1923 work “Any Book You Want–Uncle Sam bring it to your door” by another Wisconsin librarian writer and playwright, Mary K. Reely, was published by the A.L.A. in 1930. The 1923 work described how the parcel post system worked and the services of traveling libraries.

The 1929 “Bringing Up Nine” takes place in a farm house sitting room, where a mother of nine children is visited by friend who is astonished by the role books play in helping the mother maintain a calm, orderly household.

In the second half of the act, the guest is also informed about how the services of the county library and traveling library have enabled the family to access many more books than they could have managed on their own.

If that weren’t enough information, then the rear cover of the book answers frequently asked questions about county library services and management.

Copies Available at Your ALA Archives

Physical copies of the publications are available for viewing at the ALA Archives. Please view the Record Series 29/5/11 database record entry, for more information too.

Got Something to Donate to the Story So Far?

Do you have information about a historic ALA publications or theatrical library performances which more of us should know about? Let us know through email, phone, or social media. We and our readers would love to read about it.