Fifty years ago on this day, ALA announced the transfer of its archives to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The genesis of the ALA Archives can be arguably traced back to 1910 with the acceptance of the S. Grant Hastings Papers and to the 1940s when serious discussions at headquarters on how to deal with their archives started. However, it is with establishment of the archives at the University of Illinois that an organized and accessible archives was realized.
Since the initial transfer of materials in 1973, the archives has seen significant growth in its collection, digital resources, staffing, and programming. The archives physical collection has expanded to over 3,900 cubic feet, along with tens of thousands open access digital items and collections available for research. This is thanks to the generous support of the ALA and its continued investment in its heritage and the history of the profession in general. Because of the partnership between ALA and the University, the ALA Archives has grown to be one of the most significant primary source collections in the history of American librarianship, serving researchers from across the country and around the world.
During the summer of 1918, Charles Green, a librarian from the Massachusetts Agriculture College, served as the Acting Librarian for Camp Johnston in Jacksonville, Florida. While his tenure was brief, the Charles R. Green Papers in the ALA Archives reveal Green’s rapid appointment and promotion. It also shows how quickly circumstances could change within the ALA’s Library War Service and the adaptability of its volunteers.
Camp Johnston presented unique challenges for a librarian. Not only was it a large base, but it was also a school that taught technical, engineering, and scientific subjects to servicemembers. These challenges led the camp’s librarian, L.W. Josselyn, to send a distressed letter to ALA. His letter from May 18, 1918, opened with, “A crisis has come in the work here which will have to be met within the next ten days at the very latest. I shall try to put the whole problem before you.Continue reading “Charles R. Green at Camp Johnston: “We Can Find Such a Man””→
One fixture of ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, and now the LibLearnX conference, is the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observation and Sunrise Celebration. The event celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. King, featuring a keynote speaker, representatives from National Associations of Librarians of Color, the ALA President, and the singing of “We Shall Overcome.” The celebration started in 2000, but efforts to observe the MLK Jr. Holiday during the Midwinter Meeting started long before.
Who was one of the first Mexican American librarians in California? Who was one of the co-founders of REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking? Who was the first Mexican American women to hold the office of ALA Executive Director? If you answered, “Elizabeth Martinez,” you’d be correct!
Elizabeth Martinez was born on April 14, 1943 in Pomona, California. Growing up in Orange County, she always wanted to promote cultural understanding no matter what field she worked in. Martinez didn’t originally focus on working in libraries, but they held a special place in her heart since she was a child, as she often went to her local public library. However, while pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies at UCLA, she took a course in children’s literature to fulfill a credit. This course opened her eyes to the world of librarianship and her goal was set. She then graduated from the University of Southern California with a Master’s in Library and Information Science in 1966, becoming one of California’s first Mexican American librarians.
Clara W. Hunt, chair of the Children’s Librarians Section, had noted that the Newbery Medal provided children’s literature with “publicity of the best kind.” But ALA did not always rely on the Newbery’s popularity to capture the public’s attention. Publicity around the Newbery Medal has drummed up excitement amongst librarians, readers, and the public for the past century. Often this has meant events, press releases, newsletters, radio programming, television broadcasts, and newspaper and magazine articles. Even the medal’s donor, Fredric Melcher, was part of the pageantry by holding press conferences at his New York office to announce the awardee of the Newbery Medal. However, some publicity ideas were more daring than press conferences and radio programs. The two stories of Rachel Field and Misty the Horse highlight a couple out of the box stunts. Continue reading “100 Years of the Newbery: “Publicity of the Best Kind””→
For a century, the American Library Association has honored children’s authors with the John Newbery Medal. From the earliest years of the award, its prestige was not lost upon the authors who received it. Letters written by awardees to the Newbery Medal Committee chairs reveal their excitement upon receiving the news.
In 1934, author Cornelia Meigs was selected for the Newbery for her book Invincible Louisa. Meigs wrote to the selection committee chair, Siri Andrews, and was delighted to have her book honored, acknowledging that the Invincible Louisa was in good company:
Your letter, with its very delightful and astonishing news, has given me much pleasure. The Newbery Medal is an award for which everyone has the most profound respect, so that I am fully sensible of what good fortune it is to me to have it offered to Invincible Louisa. Some such extraordinarily fine books have been on your list in the past that it seems a very impressive thing have an invitation extended to join that distinguished company.(1)
The John Newbery Medal, established in 1921 for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and the centennial of its first award ceremony is quickly approaching.
In 1921, Frederic Melcher, a publisher, bookseller, and chairman of the Children’s Book Week Committee, proposed the idea of a medal to be awarded in recognition of children’s literature and for it to be named after John Newbery, an 18th century British bookseller and children’s books publisher. With a growing audience for children’s books, more librarians being trained in children services, and the emergence of children’s book departments in publishing companies, the time seemed right for such an award and the idea gained traction.(1) Melcher paid to have the medal struck, while the Children’s Librarians Section (predecessor to the Association for Library Service to Children) organized the selection of the first winner through a vote of children’s librarians from across the country. Continue reading “100 Years of the Newbery: The First Medal”→
Censorship is the act of preventing or obstructing another’s ability to express their thoughts through media, actions, and speech. American citizens are taught from an early age that the United States government will protect its people from censorship, as seen in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. However, this document was originally created to protect citizens from government censorship, not necessarily censorship coming from other citizens (5). Because of this, newer state legislation and court opinions either increase or decrease the ability to censor others in non-federal situations, and both public and private organizations get involved. One of the United States’ most iconic institutions, the public library, is a contested site in the discussion of censorship.
When the American Librarian Association Council accepted the Library Bill of Rights as a governing document in 1939, they also took a stand against censorship:
“Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” (4)
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”→
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”→