Happy Birthday, Melvil!

ALA0000303The ALA Archives staff wants to say happy birthday to Melvil Dewey, who is a mere 164 years old today!

Dewey might be most famous for his Dewey Decimal Classification system for library books, though many American libraries now use the Library of Congress classification system, the Dewey Decimal System is still being used today. Dewey was active in the library profession and was also one of the founders of the American Library Association, opened the School of Library Economy at Columbia College, called for the formation of the ALA Council, and was involved in the founding of the Spelling Reform Association. Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Melvil!”

We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing

This is Our War - Let's Read about it!
Library promotional poster from World War II

For Veteran’s Day, the ALA Archives wanted to share how books can sometimes take us to strange and wonderful places.  James Whittaker’s We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing (a book about soldiers during WWII who survived a plane crash over the Pacific and were stranded on a life raft for weeks) took Suzanne Kelley and her students on a pursuit of knowledge that connected them with the WWII veterans from the book.  These veterans became a part of the students’ lives for years to come.  This is Ms. Kelley’s letter to the American Library Association from this past September: Continue reading “We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing”

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”

Miss “Public Libraries” Mary Eileen Ahern

Last issue of Libraries magazine.
The last issue of Libraries magazine.

Festschrifts are a common way to honor someone in academia, and line the shelves of many academic libraries. They typically contain academic essays related to the person’s life work, contributed traditionally by the person’s former doctoral students and colleagues. But what about a Festschrift that’s instead full of nothing but praise for the person being honored gathered from common workers in their field, and furthermore isn’t for an academic, but instead for a public-service librarian? This is the final issue of Libraries magazine, honoring one Mary Eileen Ahern. Continue reading “Miss “Public Libraries” Mary Eileen Ahern”

Have you a card catalog? Katharine L. Sharp’s Catechism for Librarians

Cover of "Catechism for Librarians"
Cover of “Catechism for Librarians”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so you will think when you look at this laundry list of key considerations Katherine L. Sharp outlines for someone setting up a library in her writing “Catechism for Librarians.” Unlike a religious Catechism, she outlines not what to believe but a series of questions a librarian must answer for herself. Despite being only 3 by 5 inches in size, 24 pages long, and never published, these 180 questions still provide a reasonable guide to someone setting up a library today. And their relevance is still more interesting when you consider that this was written in 1891, with no knowledge of the sweeping changes in librarianship and technology that were to come. A few of the more prescient questions are presented here in their modern context:  Continue reading “Have you a card catalog? Katharine L. Sharp’s Catechism for Librarians”

“The Best Man in America is a Woman”: Katharine L. Sharp and the First “Lady Librarians”

Katharine Sharp with Melvil Dewey and other librarians
Katharine Sharp and other librarians at an unknown event, c. 1900. Caption on the back reads: “Mr. Brunden, our host, Miss ‘Public Libraries’ Ahern; Mr. Dewey (with the Placid look upon his face); Miss K. L. Sharp; Miss M. McIlvaine.”

For an educated woman at the turn of the century, there were few options for a intellectually satisfying career, as Katharine L. Sharp discovered as a newly minted college graduate in 1885. She taught foreign languages at a high school in Illinois for two years, but then she took a position as Assistant Librarian at the Scoville Institute and seems to have found her calling. Believing so strongly in the burgeoning field of professional librarianship, she enrolled in the new New York State Library School in 1889, where she studied under Melvil Dewey. [1]  Continue reading ““The Best Man in America is a Woman”: Katharine L. Sharp and the First “Lady Librarians””