100 Years of the Newbery: “Publicity of the Best Kind”

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””

100 Years of the Newbery: Letters from the Authors

Letter from Meindert De Jong to Jane Darrah, January 14, 1955. Series 24/42/5.

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)

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100 Years of the Newbery: The First Medal

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.

Frederic Melcher in 1926. Image ALA0004587.

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”

The LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund

A poster of the Library Bill of Rights as amended by the ALA Council in 1967.
Library Bill of Rights, 1967 (Record Series 1/1/17). Copyright of this image is held by the American Library Association.

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)

Continue reading “The LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund”

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”

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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“Librarians Are More Freedom Fighters Than Shushers”: Carla Hayden

Carla Hayden, 2003 (Record Series 13/6/15, Box 4)

In a career that spans state and government agencies, Carla Hayden has always fought for the people who need library resources the most and championed their right to have equal access to these resources, free of any government intervention. In a June 2003 news release announcing Hayden’s tenure as ALA President, Hayden stated that, “Equity of access is not only one of the basic tenets of our profession but it encompasses all of our basic and pressing contemporary concerns as well. We need to recommit ourselves to the ideal of providing equal access to everyone, anywhere, anytime and in any format, particularly those groups who are already underserved.” [1] Continue reading ““Librarians Are More Freedom Fighters Than Shushers”: Carla Hayden”

Traveling Libraries: The Library Extension Board and Rural Library Service

Children listening to a story from Mrs. Rosetta Martin from the Boston Public Library bookmobile. 1961. Found in RS 18/1/57 Box 5.

The ALA Archives has an exhibit up this month up in the Marshall Gallery at the University of Illinois Library. Traveling Libraries: The Library Extension Board and Rural Library Service explores the varied history of the Library Extension Board and library extension services in the United States. You can see of preview of the exhibit content here, but be sure to stop by the Marshall Gallery June 1-30 to view the exhibit. You can also visit the American Library Association Archives to find more materials from the Library Extension Board. Continue reading “Traveling Libraries: The Library Extension Board and Rural Library Service”