Eldon Ray James Oral History

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”

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”

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”

The Library Science Library at the University of Illinois, 1944-2009

Two library students stand just outside of the Library School Library, holding stacks of books.
Two library students stand just outside of the Library School Library, holding stacks of books.

People go to librarians when they need help researching, but where do librarians go when they need help with their own research? This post will explore the history of the Library Science Library at the University of Illinois, one of a few dedicated library science collections in the United States.

Continue reading “The Library Science Library at the University of Illinois, 1944-2009”

Library Service to Prisoners, 1936-39

Prison Library Unit, Chillicothe OH, 1941
From Record Series 18/1/57, Folder: “Prison Libraries, 1936-1957”

In the mid-1930s, the American Library Association formed a Committee on the Libraries of the American Prison Association.  Found in Record Series 23/40/5, this collection contains the Committee’s surveys[1] from 1936-38 of prison libraries across the nation; reports on prison librarianship which include historical information on recommended book titles and magazine subscriptions, cataloging, circulation protocols, staffing, readership habits, and testimony from prisoners; correspondence[2] of librarians, prison administrators, and prisoners; and a selection of prison newsletters and newspaper clippings. Continue reading “Library Service to Prisoners, 1936-39”

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”

“Capturing our Stories” Librarian Oral Histories Project Added to ALA Archives’ Digital Holdings

As part of her 2007-08 presidential term, Loriene Roy initiated an oral history program for retiring librarians, “Capturing Our Stories.” So far this program, which is still on-going, has produced 35 recordings with full transcripts, which have now been added to the ALA Digital Archives and made available to researchers online.

Librarians interviewed range from school librarians to public library directors to catalogers, from California to New York. One librarian of note interviewed is Sanford Berman, author of Prejudices and Antipathies, famous criticism of the sexism and racism inherent in the Library of Congress subject headings of the 1970s. Berman’s personal papers are also held in the ALA Archives.

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Explore the full holdings of these oral histories here.

If you’re interested in helping with the “Capturing Our Stories,” you can find more information at the project website.