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: Continue reading “Oral Histories at the ALA Archives”

A Short History of ALA Headquarters

ALA Headquarters office in the Chicago Public Library, 1918.

Last summer, the American Library Association moved from its long-lived location at 50 E. Huron Street in Chicago to its new location off Michigan Ave. This office were the longest held headquarters that ALA had, it was by no means the first nor was Chicago ALA’s original location. ALA’s history is filled with debates about locations and new homes.

According to Virgil F. Massman, the Association had several temporary homes in its early years, with the saying being that the Association was in Melvil Dewey’s desk drawer or wherever the ALA Secretary hung up their hat. In reality, ALA established headquarter offices at 32 Hawley Street in Boston in 1879, which were maintained by Melvil Dewey. (1) Continue reading “A Short History of ALA Headquarters”

Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship

Blog post by Lauren Quinlan

Librarianship is a field that has long been dominated by women. According to a fact sheet published by the Department for Professional Employees, women compromise 81% of enrollment in graduate library science programs, 82.8% of all librarians, and 75.9% of all library workers [8]. However, this dominance in terms of numbers has historically not translated to true equity in other dimensions.

Conference attendees at the COSWL exhibit tables at the 1980 Annual Conference in New York (Record Series 81/2/10, Box 4)

According to a 1967 study of academic librarians, median salary differences between male and female librarians tend to widen as experience in the field increases – even when levels of education between the two groups are equal [4]. This study emerged at a time when roughly four out of five librarians in the United States were female, and the discipline of librarianship was gaining legitimacy, with some concerned that “librarianship cannot upgrade itself without upgrading opportunities for women… Nor should it expect to gain the public esteem that it seeks by tactically endorsing inequality of opportunity, and furthering, by its own inaction, the all-too-familiar image of librarianship as a passive, unchallenging, and low-paid profession” [4]. Continue reading “Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship”

50 Years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards

Glyndon Greer giving a speech at the Coretta Scott King Award breakfast in 1974.

2019 marks the 50 year anniversary of the founding of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. This book award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood. The award is given out every year to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.(1)

It was founded by librarians Glyndon Flynt Greer and Mable McKissick, and publisher John Carroll during the 1969 American Library Association Annual Conference in Atlantic City. According to McKissick, “We [her and Greer] met at the booth of John Carroll. Since it was the day before the Newbery/Caldecott awards, the discussion turned to Black authors …”(2) and their lack of representation. It is reported that Carroll overhead the conversation and asked, “Then why don’t you ladies establish your own award?”(3) Continue reading “50 Years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards”

Library Life: The Arthur Plotnik Photographs

Arthur Plotnik (second to the left) and other members of American Libraries editorial staff.

This spring, the American Library Association Archives acquired a generous donation of photographs from Arthur Plotnik, a photographer, journalist, writer, and librarian. Plotnik is the former editor of ALA’s flagship magazine, American Libraries, and his career with the American Library Association spanned over twenty years. Before coming to ALA, Plotnik worked at the H.W. Wilson Company, the Library of Congress, was a staff writer and reviewer at Albany’s Times-Union, and served in the US Army reserve. He is married to artist, Mary Phelan, who has claim to University of Illinois Library fame for her portraits of University Librarians Hugh Atkinson and Robert Downs. Continue reading “Library Life: The Arthur Plotnik Photographs”

Lotsee Patterson: Advocate for Library Services for Native Americans

Dr. Lotsee Patterson accepting a Beta Phi Mu Award in 2001. Image ALA0003570.

In 2005, the American Library Association announced that it was naming Dr. Lotsee Patterson as one of its honorary members, the Association’s highest honor. It is little wonder that the ALA gave this honor to Dr. Patterson given her lifelong passionate advocacy for quality library services and programs for Native Americans. Continue reading “Lotsee Patterson: Advocate for Library Services for Native Americans”

American Archives Month 2017

Photograph of ALA Archives Stacks in 2015.
A view of ALA Archives stacks, taken by ALA Archives staff in October 2015.

American Archives Month is upon us again, which mean it’s time to celebrate all things archives! At the American Library Association Archives, we’re celebrating by doing what we do best, working with archival collections! We’re busy processing new accessions that have come into the archives, such as the ALA Executive Director’s papers and materials on Banned Books Week. We’re also in the middle of a project to digitize large portions of the GLBT Round Table archives. And we’re always in the process of answering your questions that have come in via email, phone, and in person.

Join in on American Archives Month by asking a reference question at a local archives or archival repository, browse the National Archives website, follow an archives on social media (we have all the best photos!), or join us for #AskAnArchivist Day on Twitter! Continue reading “American Archives Month 2017”

35 Years of Banned Books Week

From Books Challenged or Banned 2014-2015

This year marks the 35th year of Banned Books Week! The week was inspired by the success of the Banned Books Exhibit at the 1982 American Booksellers Association (ABA) convention, which prompted the ABA to work with the American Library Association and the National Association of College Stores for the first Banned Books Week in August of 1982. More information on the founding of Banned Book Week can be found in this previous blog post.

The American Library Association and other Banned Books Week sponsors have continued to provide a number of resources to educate people on books that continue to be banned and challenged in schools and libraries. The American Library Association provides press kits, free image downloads for social media, Q&As, banned and challenged book listings, events, and evening a form for people to use to report challenges. Continue reading “35 Years of Banned Books Week”

Commemorating the Library War Service

With centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I coming up on April 6, the American Library Association Archives is commemorating the centennial of the Library War Service, which was formed shortly after the US entered the Great War. Keep an eye on our blog, social media, and our site for the different ways that we’re remembering the Library War Service! Continue reading “Commemorating the Library War Service”

The ALA Mexican Border Traveling Library Service

While most of the American Library Association Library War Service’s efforts were concentrated in camps and hospitals in the United States and Europe, there was also a need for books for the soldiers stationed along the Mexican border. Chalmers Hadley, the librarian of the Denver Public Library, surveyed the desire for books among soldiers at the border and found them wanting.

In early 1918, Hadley observed that, “It is vastly different to find thousands of men requesting books, and hanging on a promise of some … It will be a great misfortune to the men and a lost opportunity to the A.L.A. if the traveling libraries are not provided.” [1] To satisfy the demand for books, two traveling libraries were established by the ALA and headquartered in the San Antonio Carnegie Library and at the El Paso Public Library in Texas.

Continue reading “The ALA Mexican Border Traveling Library Service”