Mary Wright Plummer

To continue our blog series highlighting pioneering women librarians, this next post will focus on Mary Wright Plummer (1856-1916).  A member of Melvil Dewey’s first class in librarianship at Columbia College, Plummer went on to establish an impressive career in librarian education, children’s librarianship, and international librarianship, and served as the ALA’s 2nd female president from 1915-1916.

Born to a Quaker family, Plummer attended Wellesley College from 1881-1882, studying languages and creative writing.  Her librarianship career began when she enrolled at the age of 30 in “the first class in library science on the planet”[1], Melvil Dewey’s 1887 class in the School of Library Economy at Columbia College.  Distinguishing herself immediately in her studies, she was selected to present her experience in library school at the American Library Association’s 1887 meeting (“The Columbia College School of Library Economy from a Student’s Standpoint,” printed in Library Journal, September-December 1887). Continue reading “Mary Wright Plummer”

Celebrating National Bookmobile Day at the ALA Archives

Fraser Valley Union Library Bookmobile. ALA0002246. Found in record series 18/1/57, Box 5, Folder: Bookmobile - Outside Shelving, 1939-1976
Fraser Valley Union Library Bookmobile. Found in record series 18/1/57, Box 5, Folder: Bookmobile – Outside Shelving, 1939-1976

A relatively new addition to National Library Week, the first National Bookmobile Day was celebrated in 2010, to recognize over one hundred years of service that bookmobiles and direct-delivery outreach services have contributed to bringing information, technology, and resources to all readers.[1]

Continue reading “Celebrating National Bookmobile Day at the ALA Archives”

National Library Week: “For a Better-Read, Better-Informed America”

National Library Week 1958 letterhead
National Library Week 1958 letterhead

Sponsored by the National Book Committee, Inc., and in cooperation with the American Library Association, the first National Library Week was launched on March 16-22, 1958.  Citing a 1957 survey showing that only 17% of Americans polled were reading a book, the inaugural National Library Week slogan was “Wake Up and Read!”  The National Library Week initiative was the first nationwide effort to promote literacy for personal and national improvement, to celebrate the role of libraries in making reading materials accessible to everyone, and to highlight the varied career opportunities available within the library profession.[1]

Continue reading “National Library Week: “For a Better-Read, Better-Informed America””

Faxon’s Traveling Conference Albums

Faxon cover
1897 Photo Album

This “Traveling” Souvenir is sent to a few friends, and I hope it may give enough pleasure to offset cost of postage. (Preface, 1897 Photo Album)

“To say that Mr. James lost his head would seem no more than the truth if we look at the picture, where he sits back to us in the foreground. He only removed it for a moment however in order to allow Miss Rathbone’s countenance to be seen.” (1897 Photo Album)

As described in an earlier blog post: Frederick Winthrop Faxon (1866-1936) was the early bard of the American Library Association.  Although he was not a librarian, he was memorialized as someone who “for almost forty years,[…] devoted himself to serving librarians and promoting the library idea.”[1] Attending 43 annual conferences throughout his lifetime, Faxon’s humorous reports enliven several years of the American Library Association Papers and Proceedings. Continue reading “Faxon’s Traveling Conference Albums”

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015): Live Long and Prosper

Leonard Nimoy, 1976The ALA Archives staff found a picture of Leonard Nimoy (March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015) in our Record Series 13/5/15.  ALA conferences have a long tradition of distinguished guests and author signings, and Nimoy was at the 1976 ALA Annual Conference, signing pictures for his newly released memoir I am Not Spock. Apparently he got tired of smiling for the camera.

This picture, and a write up of the event, was featured in American Libraries Vol. 7, No. 7 (Jul. – Aug., 1976), p. 473. Copyright of this image is currently unknown and is provided in low resolution.

Snowed in at Midwinter: the ALA Players

Party like it’s 1906! Image from the F. W. Faxon Collection

A recent acquisition to the archives is a small packet containing the bylaws and related documents of the ALA Players (“ALAP”).  As described in the ALA Archives transmittal form, the ALAP was established when a huge snowstorm descended during the Midwinter conference of 1978, causing the group to be snowed in and looking for ways to occupy their time.  The documents reflect the playful attitude of the members during their confinement.  The ALA Players “continued for many years with dancing on Tuesday (or other) nights of each conference.” Continue reading “Snowed in at Midwinter: the ALA Players”

Library Service for the Blind

Painting by Denman Fink, commissioned by the ALA for the United War Work Campaign, 1919. Record Series 89/1/60, Box 1, Folder: “ALA Library War Service Special Publications (1919)”

“[T]he blind soldier is the spirit of war, of the battlefront, of France,” said Jerry O’Connor, a blinded Cantigny veteran from World War I, during his award-winning speech titled The Duty of the Blind Soldier to the Blind Civilian at the Red Cross Institute for the Blind’s Public Speaking Contest in 1920.  “We have the mud of the trenches upon our feet, gold chevrons upon our sleeves, and the scars of War upon our faces.  Whether we deserve it or not, people stare at us, send us gifts, invite us to their homes, give us sympathy.  Such circumstances place the blind soldier in a position where, when he speaks, he can be heard.  Consequently, if the conditions of the blind can be improved, the blind soldier should speak – and be heard.”  Identifying two major obstacles for blind people as “the habit of the public to look upon the blind man as incapable, sensitive, and helpless” and the lack of educational opportunities for the adult blind person, O’Connor called for public programs to address these obstacles for the blind.  One of the institutions responding to this call for action would be the American Library Association. Continue reading “Library Service for the Blind”

Burton E. Stevenson: ALA Representative in Europe

ala 0000337
Found in RS 89/1/13, Box 2, Group #7 – Personnel

Burton Egbert Stevenson (1872-1962) was surprised to find himself named the foremost ALA representative in Europe for the Library War Services campaign during the first World War.  A college dropout from Princeton University and aspiring novelist, he fell into the library profession after marrying Chillicothe Public Librarian, Elisabeth Shephard Butler and accepting a librarian position at the same library in 1899. Continue reading “Burton E. Stevenson: ALA Representative in Europe”

Library Service to Prisoners, 1936-39

Prison Library Unit, Chillicothe OH, 1941
From Record Series 18/1/57, Folder: “Prison Libraries, 1936-1957”

In the mid-1930s, the American Library Association formed a Committee on the Libraries of the American Prison Association.  Found in Record Series 23/40/5, this collection contains the Committee’s surveys[1] from 1936-38 of prison libraries across the nation; reports on prison librarianship which include historical information on recommended book titles and magazine subscriptions, cataloging, circulation protocols, staffing, readership habits, and testimony from prisoners; correspondence[2] of librarians, prison administrators, and prisoners; and a selection of prison newsletters and newspaper clippings. Continue reading “Library Service to Prisoners, 1936-39”

Audiovisual Collections at the ALA Archives

Often when we think of archives, we automatically think of the paper items which document the decisions and actions of an organization or individual; be they correspondence, agendas, or photographs.  But the ALA Archives also contains audiovisual materials, which can bring can bring a living action to past events.

Within the ALA Archives, we have many historic films on library services and literacy such as “Help Yourself,” a 1950 film about library services by the Cambria County Public Library.  This and other films can be found in Record Series 18/1/13.

One of the most recently processed acquisitions was from the Public Relations Office (Record Series 12/3/63), which included videos and films promoting the @ Your Library campaign, interviews with ALA Presidents, public service announcements featuring celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick Stewart, and the American Library Association as featured on local and national news broadcast.

Another recently digitized item in our collection is “Loss and Recovery: Librarians Bear Witness to September 11, 2001,” oral histories by New York Librarians describing their experience during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 from Record Series 18/2/13.

Although the challenge most often faced when accessing audiovisual material is the ability to navigate obsolete media formats, these materials are preserved with the goal of access.  We are currently working with the University of Illinois Library Media Preservation Program to digitize our materials by request, and will be happy to assist you in accessing our holdings.

To browse more of our audiovisual collection, please click the following links:

ALA Archives database search: “audiovisual”

ALA Archives database search: “video”