Starting early this fall, as the ALA Archives Graduate Assistant, I had the privilege of transcribing the oral history of Eldon Ray James, retired librarian, formerly incarcerated person, and advocate for the rights of incarcerated people. After transcribing over three hours of dialogue between Ray James and Deputy County Librarian at the Alameda County Library, Deb Sica, I believe I just got paid to listen to the most interesting story I’ve ever heard.
Ray James, before becoming a figurehead in the movement to secure information access for incarcerated people in the United States, served in Germany during the Vietnam War, ran for office in the Colorado House of Representatives, won awards for his amazing journalism in multiple publications, and was reportedly a part of the (unconfirmed) first interracial double date in Baylor University history. He did all of this before being sentenced to 70 months in prison for aiding in the distribution of cocaine and methamphetamines. Continue reading “Eldon Ray James Oral History”→
The Rabbits’ Wedding, by Garth Williams, is a children’s book about two rabbits getting married in a forest. While there doesn’t seem to be much to object about the book, in 1959, Alabama State Senator E.O. Eddins wanted it removed from Alabama public libraries. The reason was because the rabbits in the story were of different fur colors, black and white, and he viewed it as “integration propaganda.”
Emily Wheelock Reed, the Director of the Public Library Service Division of Alabama, met with Eddins and the Alabama State Senate Interim Taxation Committee to discuss the upcoming budget in March of 1959. Eddins, however, wanted to speak about several books in the public libraries that he thought dealt with segregation and communism. Reed deflected, but she was confronted by Eddins again several months later and he demanded The Rabbits’ Wedding be removed from the libraries. Reed refused to abide by his demands . Continue reading “The Rabbits’ Wedding: Emily W. Reed and the Freedom to Read”→
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.
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”→
The ALA Archives holds many treasures in unexpected places. The Issue Photographs files of American Libraries magazine in one such place, holding materials like original art and illustrations, such as original cartoons by Richard Lee. Lee’s cartoons for American Libraries are a treasure trove of classic and original library humor and were mostly published in the 1990s and 2000s, though many of the jokes are still relevant to libraries today. Continue reading “Richard Lee’s Cartoons: Illustrations of Librarian Humor”→
In the middle of all of the holiday cheer, December is also a month for librarians across the country to think back on those who gave back to their communities. The late Lutie Eugenia Stearns, born on September 13, 1866, influenced many within the field of librarianship. With the holiday season upon us, who better to write about than a woman who selflessly dedicated her life to advocate for those whose voices went unheard?
Lutie Stearns began her career as a teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools. With her apt skills in book collecting, she soon caught the eye of the Milwaukee Public Library’s, Minnie M. Oakley. After Minnie’s death in 1895, Stearns was then appointed head Librarian. Continue reading “The Gift of Literacy: Lutie E. Stearns”→
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”→