Oral Histories at the ALA Archives

File from the ALSC Oral History Project.

Alongside written records, photographs, and publications, the American Library Association Archives also holds over 150 interviews of individual librarians and library workers. These oral histories and interviews provide a vital resource of librarian recollections that may not be otherwise found in administrative records, photographs, and correspondence. These stories told by librarians and library workers provide context to their lives and career, how their experiences and education shaped their librarianship, and how certain events shaped their personal and professional lives.

While the ALA Archives does not currently have its own active oral history program, the Archives collects and supports projects that capture the voices of librarians and library workers as part of its mission to preserve the history of librarianship. Here is a small selection the oral history projects and interviews that the Archives holds:

Association for Library Service to Children Oral History Project File

This collection of cassette tapes, transcripts, and correspondence from the Association for Library Service to Children includes interviews with prominent American children’s librarians such as Effie Lee Morris, Spenser Shaw, Mildred Batchelder, and Peggy Sullivan. It also includes documentation of the project itself with meeting minutes, reports, press releases, and the charge.

Arro Smith “Capturing Our Stories” Oral Histories Program

The Capturing Our Stories oral history program started as an initiative launched by 2007-2008 ALA President Loriene Roy to record the oral histories of retiring librarians. A. Arro Smith donated the recordings and transcripts to the Archives, which include oral histories from notable ALA members such as Sanford Berman, Sarah Long, and Rita Auerbach. Smith published the interviews with Roy in the book Capturing Our Stories: An Oral History of Librarianship in Transition: https://www.alastore.ala.org/content/capturing-our-stories-oral-history-librarianship-transition

CDs from the “Capturing Our Stories” Oral History Program.

Herbert Biblo Interview

Not long before he passed away, the Library Pros podcast did an interview with the late librarian Herbert Biblo, retired director of the Long Island Library Resource Council and an ALA member who served on Council, as Treasurer, and was a prominent member of the Social Responsibilities Round Table. The interview covered Biblo’s personal life, education, activism, professional work, and service in ALA. The Library Pros generously provided the ALA Archives with a copy of the interview to preserve this record of Biblo’s life in his own words. The full interview and a video are publicly available here: https://www.thelibrarypros.com/episode-37-an-evening-with-herb-biblo-of-lilrc/.

Cassette tapes from the ALSC Oral History Project.

Preservation Librarians Oral Histories

This collection of oral histories provides a unique perspective into the preservation and conservation of library and special collections by interviewing preservation librarians from academic, private, and government institutions. This project was conducted by the ALCTS Preservation and Reformatting Section Oral History Project Working Group. The audio recordings and timed logs are available in the ALA Institutional Repository: https://alair.ala.org/handle/11213/10241.

“Women of Color in Librarianship: An Oral History”

Within the Kathleen de la Peña McCook Papers are the transcripts, correspondence, and project history of Women of Color in Librarianship: An Oral History, edited by McCook. These interviews provide a space for underrepresented librarians to tell their stories and experiences in the library profession. Interviewees include Augusta Baker, Clara Stanton Jones, Elizabeth Martinez, and Lotsee Patterson. Find a copy of the book at your nearest library! https://www.worldcat.org/title/women-of-color-in-librarianship-an-oral-history/oclc/39778791

Rainbow Round Table Oral History Project

This collection contains oral histories with Rainbow Round Table members for the fiftieth anniversary of the round table. Currently, the collection includes audio and video recordings of the interviews, along with transcripts. Interviewees include Kay Tobin Lahusen, Ann Symons, Dee Michel, and Michael McConnell. Look out for an upcoming web portal with access to the interviews!

Have a project pertaining to the oral histories of librarians and library workers and want to deposit them? Want to access any of the above oral histories or curious about our other collections? Contact the ALA Archives and we’ll be happy to help you!