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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“Beyond the Hopes or Plans”: ALA at the 1893 World’s Fair

New York Library Club ribbon for the 1893 ALA Annual Conference. RS 5/1/15

With the approaching 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago on the horizon, Frank P. Hill addressed the American Library Association at the 1890 Annual Conference and proposed several suggestions for the ALA to showcase an exhibit at the fair. Hill proposed that for the fair, “That a model library, showing modern methods of classifying and cataloging books, be arrange in one of the room of the building.”[1] He also immediately suggested that Mary S. Cutler be put in charge, who was later placed on the planning committee with Hill himself.

The Chicago World’s Fair was an opportunity for libraries and the American Library Association to be represented on an international stage to educate visitors of the inner workings of a public library. And by holding the 1893 Annual Conference in Chicago, members were given the chance to see the World’s Columbian Exposition and observe the exhibit.

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