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”

Spooky Stacks: Viewing Haunted Libraries of the Midwest through Library Postcards

According to a scientific survey by Chapman University, a little more than half of all Americans believe that places can be haunted by spirits, with three in four believing in some kind of paranormal phenomenon [9]. The history of ghosts in America is a storied one and can generally be charted as first being thought of as “agents of God, then the devil, and now are seen as entertainment, to a large extent”, according to Tamara Hunt, a History professor at University of Southern Indiana and collector of ghost stories. Generally speaking, the way ghosts are seen in culture and society reflect the temperature of the era. Those in the 18th century viewed ghosts as the spirits of the dead who had unfinished business on Earth. Later on, ghosts helped people deal with the rapid changes of the 19th century, and when seances and Ouija boards rose in popularity, so did the belief that people could communicate with any spirit – not just a loved one. Throughout all time, ghosts provided a link between the present and the past, and the living and the dead – a connection that brings comfort and peace of mind during turbulent times. Some of the most haunted libraries in the Midwest can be viewed – from a safe distance – through the American Library Association Archives’ extensive postcard collection. More information about haunted libraries throughout the United States can be found through the Haunted Libraries LibGuide, courtesy of the University of Illinois Library. Continue reading “Spooky Stacks: Viewing Haunted Libraries of the Midwest through Library Postcards”

You’ve Got Mail: Carnegie Libraries, As Seen Through Library Postcards

The history of public libraries in the United States is as vast and varied as the histories of the towns and cities they inhabit. Despite providing essential services since their inception, the spaces libraries inhabited were not always befitting of their importance. Many were kept in small backrooms or were forced to share space with other local organizations, impeding access to information and depriving citizens of a central gathering space. In this dearth, Andrew Carnegie – an enterprising businessman who at one point was the richest man in the world – saw an opportunity. Between 1893 and 1919, Carnegie gave away $60 million of his fortune to fund 1,689 public libraries across the country [1, 2]. Adjusted for inflation, that figure today reaches towards $1.3 billion. These “Carnegie libraries” became cultural centers in towns big and small and were instrumental in constructing the blueprint of small-town America as we know it today.

These towns were often so proud of these monuments of culture that they distributed postcards celebrating the new library. Many of these postcards, along with thousands of other postcards of libraries around the world, are housed at the American Library Association Archives in the Sjoerd Koopman, Celene Bishop, Judy Muck, and Daniel W. Lester Library Postcard Collections.

Carnegie Library, Washington D.C., 1910 (Record Series 97/1/55)

Continue reading “You’ve Got Mail: Carnegie Libraries, As Seen Through Library Postcards”

Publications: Interpreting America, 1942-1947

From at least 1942 through 1947, known under the series title Interpreting America, the American Library Association produced a series of lists to support reading about cultures, histories, and politics of people in the United States. Each installment is rich with recommendations of contemporary writings on the peoples of the USA. Read on to learn more about early Interpreting America!
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Publications: Books and Pamphlets on Library Work, 1921-1937

As early as the 1920s through 1930s, the American Library Association published Books and Pamphlets on Library Work to organize the many new expanding catalog of A.L.A. publications about library services and administration. Each publication is a helpful bibliography of extant library publications of its time. Read on to learn more about Books and Pamphlets on Library Work!

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Social Gatherings of Times Past: Century 21 Exposition (Seattle, 1962)

It doesn’t seem too long ago that gathering in large groups was a normal part of life, but the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the world has made such gatherings feel like a distant memory. In the absence of any significant social gatherings in the near future, take a tour through one from the past – the Century 21 Exposition, also known as the Seattle World’s Fair, which over the course of its run attracted over 10 million people from all over the world to its many exhibits. One such exhibit was sponsored by the American Library Association, who showcased the importance of libraries to a world yearning for innovation.

Fair map from 1959 promotional booklet (Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives)

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Publications: Library Video Magazine, 1986-1990

From 1986 through 1990, the American Library Association produced a series of videos about general issues in library administration known as Library Video Magazine. Each installment is rich in the experienced perspectives of library leaders of its time. Read on to learn more about Library Video Magazine!

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Publications: Books for Young People, 1922-1940

As early as the 1920s through 1930s and known under a variety of titles, the American Library Association produced a series of resources to support popular young people’s reading in libraries. Each publication is rich in the experienced perspectives of library leaders of its time. Read on to learn more about early books for young people!

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