Sunday, June 22, 2014

Was the world our horizon?: coming to terms with feminism and library women's history

I haven't published any scholarly material since January 2013 and books require an awfully long time between thought and print. So I decided to invest a few weeks this summer in revising half-written and rejected papers. I was able to rework one manuscript very quickly. Derived from two chapters of my master's thesis about libraries at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, it only needed some additional citations and editing for length. But I am struggling with another piece, about the early career of Hannah Packard James (1835-1903).

James was one of the first professional public librarians in Pennsylvania and a founder of the Pennsylvania Library Association. Back in 2011, I wrote a very successful article about her later years at the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre. I placed James within the Progressive movement, showing how an older, conservative woman responded to the professionalization of her work, increasing urban poverty, and other changes brought on by industrialization. In particular, James' efforts with the Charity Organization Society (now the Family Services Association of the Wyoming Valley) and the Reading Room Association (defunct) show how she embraced the technocracy of the era, but did not ascribe to liberal economic policies that other reformers felt were core to Progressivism.

Hannah Packard James (1835-1903), head of the
Osterhout Free Library and a founder of the
Pennsylvania Library Association. Image from
Proceedings and Collections of the Wyoming
Historical and Geological Society for the Years
 1902-1903 (Wilkes-Barre, PA: the Society, 1904),
pgs. 300-304.
Now, though, I am attempting to describe James' youth and early career in Massachusetts, especially trying to uncover her reasons for entering library work. The task is challenging because I have found no family correspondence or diaries to shed light on her experiences during the 1830s-1870s. By piecing together U.S. and Massachusetts census information, church records, local histories, and other documents, I have learned that economic necessity was likely a strong motivator for James seeking paid employment. Her father was a wooden shipbuilder, and that industry faltered in the 1840s. He died when Hannah was still a teenager. She moved to Newton, a suburb of Boston, to live with her sister. Welthia's husband was a machinist and inventor, and although he was steadily employed, the family had few assets. Assembling such facts is not difficult -- it's simply a matter of persistence. It only involves consulting guides to each and every collection in the relevant historical societies, and doggedly searching unlikely sources in hopes of finding the tiniest clues.

For me, the difficulty is shoe-horning James into existing interpretive frameworks about library history and women's history. It appears that if you write of females, you must always discuss gender, whether or not you're interested in it, and whether or not your sources say anything definitive. The editor who first received my manuscript could not accept my focus on household economics and my silence about the "statement" James may have been making about the role of women when she decided to enter the workforce. Furthermore, the editor demanded that I cite Dee Garrison's Apostles of Culture, a book that I believe is helpful for understanding generational differences among librarians (in fact, I used it in that way for my article about James and Progressivism), but is sometimes dead-wrong when discussing relationships between men and women in public libraries. Thus after I received a "revise and resubmit" notice, I was so frustrated that I cast Hannah Packard James aside. I preferred to move on, rather than wrestle with Garrison again!

As someone who grew up in the 1990s, it is tough-going for me to incorporate analyses written by feminists of the 1970s and 1980s into my work. Suzanne Hildenbrand may have observed this generational difference when she found that recent articles do not discuss equity issues as previous work has done. For me, earlier studies seem colored by a battle that has not been my own. Perhaps women writing 30-40 years ago felt especially compelled to explain how they struggled to enter various industries, how "pink-color" professions like librarianship became associated with low pay and status, and why many other inequities have continued to exist in the workplace. If you start from such questions, disputes between library men and women become very noticeable. There is also a tendency to speak of (all) women, rather than (each) woman -- in other words, to make broad generalizations across persons of various generations, family backgrounds, geographic areas, and other demographics. For example, in Apostles of Culture, Dee Garrison describes library women writ large as lacking “a professional sense of commitment to work, a drive to lead rather than to serve, and a clear-cut conception of professional rights and responsibilities." She viewed their mass entry into librarianship during the late nineteenth century as having created “a certain passivity” in the field that was only pushed aside when “gentry opinion was firmly behind them” or “library circulation was threatened" (pg. 50, 188). The same interpretive blinders can occur among scholars who refute Garrison's negative casting of women, and instead discuss the positive contributions females have made to the profession. As affirmed as I personally feel whenever I read Mary Niles Maack's "Gender, Culture, and the Transformation of American Librarianship", I am not sure that every librarian, either a century ago or today, has bought into the argument that our femininity in and of itself has transformed our workplace.

When I look to Hannah Packard James for answers, her statements don't fit Garrison's or Maack's models. In fact, James' words are not even internally consistent. For example, in 1897, she delivered a speech before an international audience about library training programs in the United States. She extoled women's executive capability, mentioning their "successful management of State libraries, college libraries, large city libraries, and hundreds of smaller ones." Further, she found that "the question of sex in library science seems not to be recognized, and, apart from occasional local prejudice or reason in favour of either man or woman, library positions are bestowed according to ability, and not according to sex." (see Transactions and Proceedings of the Second International Library Conference Held in London, Edinburgh: Morrison and Gibb Limited, 1898, pgs. 34–39). Yet, in the very same year, when Justin Winsor died and there was a possibility that James could have filled his vacancy as president of the American Library Association, she wrote that women should not be placed in such a position. She supported the appointment of Herbert Putnam instead.

What do you do with women like James? How do we understand her experiences? What light does she shed on our own?

I am slowly gaining insight by reading outside of the LIS literature. Over the past few decades, Linda Kerber, Alice Kessler-Harris, and other scholars have criticized scholars' projecting of 1970s-era Western feminism upon persons of different eras and places (for instance, see “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History,” Journal of American History 75, no. 1, June 1988, pgs. 9–39, and "Reframing the History of Women's Wage Labor: Challenges of a Global Perspective," Journal of Women's History 15, no. 4, Winter 2004, pgs. 186-206). There is even a rethinking of gender itself as a “category of analysis" (see Jeanne Boydston, “Gender as a Question of Historical Analysis,” Gender & History 20, no. 3, November 2008, pgs. 558–583). Yet I fear that if I write along such lines, I will be betraying many professional colleagues and friends. Many older librarians believe that gender discrimination has always been, and continues to be, endemic in libraries and in the wider workplace. Their lived experiences are hard to refute. Up until the 1970s, job advertisements often called specifically for male or female applicants. There was no Family Medical Leave Act or other benefits which help today's women to juggle both a career and a family.

Recruitment poster used in the 1950s or early 1960s by the
Pennsylvania Library Association. Found within the papers of
May Virginia Kunz Valencik, Allentown Public Library.
This said, vivid examples cannot lead us to conclude that men have always, everywhere, and for the same reasons been preferred to women in the library workplace. Taken out of context, recruitment posters like the one pictured at left can be read as examples of a widespread professional or social preference for male leadership. Further digging reveals, however, that they are documents of a phenomenon that is quite specific to a certain era and circumstance. The "Careers in Libraries" poster was part of a national post-World War II effort to find meaningful work for returning soldiers, especially officers who had gained command experience during the conflict. According to documentation I found in the archives of the Allentown Public Library, within the papers of an employee who had been a member of the Pennsylvania Library Association's recruitment committee, the profession aggressively recruited men in an effort that was not unlike today's "Hire Heroes"/"Show Your Stripes" movement doing its part to reincorporate veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq into civilian life. 

I continue to struggle to understand gender issues in librarianship. But here are two things I know: Hannah Packard James did not feel she was discriminated against in her time, and I don't feel discriminated against in my own.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Beginning at the beginning: returning to work after 9 months

Is it possible to feel disconnected and in-sync, drained and re-energized, frustrated and fulfilled, all at the same time? If so, that is how I would describe my first 2 weeks back on campus.  

If nothing else, returning to Penn State Harrisburg after 9 months of sabbatical has been a lesson in how desensitized I had become toward my daily existence before I left. To give one example, my daily walk to work takes me past a lot of chipped paint, crumbling sidewalks, and a large cemetery, so I usually slip on headphones and try to ignore much of what is around me. Last Thursday, though, some parts of the path were refreshingly new. For example, a burned-out house on Spring Street has finally been demolished and rebuilt. Robert L. Sharp, Jr., whose lovingly-tended headstone marks one corner of Middletown Cemetery, is now joined by his father, who also died too young. Despite the obvious tragedy, the ever-changing decorations also strike me as an expression of enduring love. 
Sharp family headstones at Middletown Cemetery

Looking across the wheat field on the corner of Spring and Wharton, I noticed that a disheveled jungle of trees, brush, and fencing has finally been removed from the edge of campus. The new addition to the Education Activities Building is now in plain view, under construction. Feeling an unexpected strain in my thigh muscles as I walked up Wharton, I was reminded of the slight rise that leads into campus. I am eager to greet the colleagues and students who speed up that road. 
The Wharton Avenue entrance to Penn State Harrisburg.
Ahead is the new Education Activities Building

The campus gym was not new to me, since I had visited it periodically throughout the year. But entering the library was a sensory experience. Sitting at my desk for the first time in months, I realized I was in a space that was both me and not-me. I had straightened and thoroughly cleaned it in late July 2013. My books, Lego village, and pictures remained in place. But I had removed the most revealing items -- chewed pens, flavored lip glosses, and nests of pending paperwork. In other words, I had wiped away 10 years of my own habits and smells. Oddly, I didn't recall some of them until I was prompted. For instance, after turning on my desktop, I groaned as it churned through login procedures. How slow the damned thing seemed! Then I remembered that I had always used boot-up time for meditation. My eyes turned to the faded copy of the Prayer of St. Francis still taped to the wall. Later, when my lips became dry, my left hand automatically fumbled for Lipsmackers which I religiously line up at all my workstations. Finding none, I recalled the stash inside my desk and pulled out a fresh one (Grape Crush). In the afternoon, when a coworker stopped by to welcome me, I saw his employee name tag. I instinctively felt the side of my metal desk, pulled my magnetic tag apart, and clipped it just above my heart. After 9 months away from everyday routines, I am an odd mix of memories and forgetings. 

For the past two weeks, colleagues from the School of Behavioral Sciences and Education and other departments have been catching me up. Here is where I feel most in-step, in my relationships with other people. And still, time has marched on. One faculty member showed me pictures of his new home -- actually, a historic mansion -- in Harrisburg. A star student visited with his first-born son in his arms. He is now an employee in student affairs. Another frequent library customer spun around in a new sundress, showing off lost weight and a fresh master's degree. I wonder if they notice any changes in me. I hope they don't see the new curve under my chin or the scaliness of my hands -- signs that I did not take care of myself as well as I should have while on the road

Work has every potential to overwhelm me. By the end of my first full week back on campus, I had been: 
  • appointed chair of an employee search committee
  • directed to weed my call number areas of the library's oversize collection
  • asked to orient a graduate class in Education
  • contacted by the disability services office to provide intensive assistance to a student 
  • requested by another librarian to review some online tutorials she created
  • tapped to jury manuscripts for a scholarly journal
  • sent 10 applications to vet for scholarships
  • prompted to respond (repeatedly, as it turned out) to a disgruntled member of one of the professional associations I lead
and ... advised to use the summer to "get out some more publications" so that I could be recommended for promotion! 

Yeah, o.k.

So far, organizing my "loot" from sabbatical has done more for my mental state than anything else. Maybe if I organize one aspect of my work, I can make sense of the rest of it. On the days I am able to wring out a few paragraphs of the book I hope to write, I feel both disappointed and accomplished. As I plod home each night, I am utterly exhausted. Yet I am gradually refinding the girl who strode to campus at dawn, pedaled for an hour at the gym, worked a 10-hour day, trotted home in 15 minutes, whipped up dinner, emptied the dishwasher, and hauled out the trash before her husband crossed the threshold. Most importantly, each morning, I am (mostly) glad to walk back to campus again, ever-curious about what the new day will hold.  

My notes and photocopies, organized by research site

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

To be continued ...

At the beginning of April, I was feeling utterly overwhelmed. Looking at my map of research sites, I still needed to finish my work at historical societies in Harrisburg, Somerset, and West Chester. I had to begin research in Huntingdon. I hoped to salvage Easton, a casualty of winter weather, or replace it with at least one other site in Northeastern Pennsylvania. And although not the highest priority, I wanted to tap newspapers for Clarion, Franklin, Harrisburg, New Castle, and Wilkes-Barre. In addition, I committed to making Easter dinner for my in-laws and providing a 1-hour lecture for the Osterhout Free Library at the end of the month.

For a moment my head was in my hands. "There's no effin' way ..." I groaned. 

When faced with a long to-do list, some people feel like they are trying to walk through peanut butter. It destroys their mental clarity and inner motivation. Luckily for me, I tend to snap to attention instead. I decided which tasks were closest to completion. I noted ones that could be finished with the least effort or logistical arrangements. Then I made a mad dash. Two more visits to West Chester and that site was done. In the early morning and late evening hours, I used newspaper databases on my laptop. Soon, sheaves of printouts for New Castle piled up on my desk. Then, the library director at Huntingdon canceled. I substituted Bedford County Library, an institution with a shorter history, batched the trip with a visit to Somerset, and tapped online newspapers to complete Bedford. I made the hard decision to scrap Easton -- a site which would have required at least 2 weeks away from home -- in favor of Allentown Public Library, whose annual reports I could consult ahead of time at the State Library. Thus, I only needed to lodge in Allentown for 5 days. The time savings allowed me to add and finish an additional library (the Susquehanna County Historical Society and Free Library in Montrose). I banged out my presentation for the Osterhout in my hotel room in Binghamton, NY.

I return to work tomorrow. Some efforts remain unfinished. Nonetheless, I have decided to take Monday-Wednesday off to rest, begin my transition back to campus life, and most importantly, to reflect on my experiences of the past 9 months. 

As I write this, I am pedaling on an elliptical machine, starting to get my body back in tune. One of my keenest disappointments is that I let my weight get away from me. I remember exactly when it started to happen: in Erie, when I drove by Menchies on a regular basis. It was all too easy to con myself about eating "low fat" frozen yogurt while ignoring the spoonfuls of cookie dough, gobs of hot fudge, and mountains of whipped cream I piled into my cups. Since then, I have gained almost 25 pounds which will be very hard to sweat off.

Rainy window. Image courtesy of Wikimedia
My skin has taken a beating, too. Hard water, institutional bathroom soap, frigid cold, and handling reams of dry paper has scaled my hands and cracked open my knuckles and fingertips. Slathering Eucerin on them has helped, but time is the best healer. Marathon stints of research and computer work have fuzzied my eyesight, and the lenses I now wear are thicker than the ones I had in August. I am lucky that hipsters have made heavy plastic frames fashionable again. A failing root canal, long neglected, aches in my lower right jaw, too. 

As I glance out at the heavy rain which splatters the windows of the gym, the day's dreariness mires me in my other shortcomings. I hardly took any personal days for recreation or rest. I didn't carve out much time for family and friends. I wasn't the contributor I should have been as past-chair of LFO. I wasn't the leader I could have been as chair of LHRT. I chimed in remotely during my campus's and library system's strategic planning processes, but didn't critique or offer as many ideas as I would have in a normal year. I tell myself that my silence gives others a chance to shine, but it still nags me. 

From what I've described so far, it may seem that the effort wasn't worth it. But it has been, absolutely. I may be worse for the wear -- especially physically -- but so is a first-time mother after giving birth, or a marathoner who has run her 26th mile. Even though Harrisburg and Somerset aren't finished, completing 20 sites in 20 different counties is a major accomplishment -- especially considering that I do not have a research assistant and I had less than $10,000 in grant funding. Although I dropped Easton, Hershey, and Huntingdon from the project, I added (and finished) Allentown, Beaver Falls, Bedford, Carlisle, Connellsville, Lock Haven, and Montrose.

I also used additional sources which were not initially part of my project's design. For example, I took advantage of a new database -- Newspaper Archive -- to enrich my findings for Bedford, Connellsville, Lebanon, Lock Haven, New Castle, and Warren. After discovering the role that the Pennsylvania Federation of Women's Clubs and the Pennsylvania Y.M.C.A. had in library development, I used both organizations' records at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Thus I don't think there is any question that I used my sabbatical wisely in terms of collecting data.

As regards thinking through my results, sharing them with others, and raising awareness about Pennsylvania's library history, this blog is the best decision I made. Some of my mentors discouraged me from writing it, because they believed it would drain my energies from authoring "real" publications for professional and scholarly venues. But in fact, blogging has opened doors to several opportunities. On at least 2 occasions, I was able to walk into a public library without prior contact, and was allowed to use its historical records no questions asked, simply because the directors knew and enjoyed my work. After my post about women in library history was noticed by another blogger from American Libraries, I was invited to write a brief piece for Women in Libraries, the official newsletter of ALA's Feminist Task Force. Similarly, a post about the Pennsylvania Federation of Women's Club led to an article in its newsletter and a possible spot on the program during its 2014 conference. Most rewarding of all is the reach of the blog -- nearly 7000 page views at this point -- and dozens of  e-mails from readers. Nothing else I have written is accessed by so many people! Originally I had thought I would end the blog on the final day of my sabbatical, but the positive response has encouraged me to continue it.

Another point to be proud of is the service I have provided to libraries which participated in my project. Upon meeting each library director, I introduced myself as a possible "history detective" willing to investigate any unresolved questions about their libraries' pasts. Quite a few took me up on the offer. After seeing each location's records and further discussion with its staff, I offered to do additional work. In Allentown, I arranged records by date and wrote a brief inventory. For Beaver Falls, I compiled a chronology. I shared the results of my newspaper searches with the libraries in Bedford, Lebanon, Lock Haven, New Castle, and Warren, who didn't have the abundant digital access that I enjoy through Penn State. For Wilkes-Barre (a site I completed prior to sabbatical) I was interviewed for its 125th anniversary documentary. I have agreed to provide historical presentations for Johnstown and Susquehanna County in the near future.

When I think of the worst days of the past 9 months, I recall sleeping on the floor beside Fili, who was emaciated and wracked with pain from irritable bowel syndrome we couldn't cure. I also remember when Gabby dislocated her hip for the second time and I knew I couldn't afford to fix it again. I never imagined I'd euthanize two cats in the same winter. Even now when I enter my house, I am crestfallen when I realize, again, that they aren't there to greet me. Another ugly moment was when I was in the wrong place at the wrong time in Black Moshannon State Park. Three men with guns -- literally loaded for bear -- tried to force me out of my (their) cabin. I'll don't think I'll ever tell anyone all the details because I can barely face them myself. But I can still feel the rusty fire shovel I gripped tightly as my only defense, the gritty wooden floor under my bare feet, and a dusty gingham curtain brushing against my cheek as I crouched behind my bed and shouted back at them through my window.

The best times? Fortunately, there have been many. Rare days when I started work late or ended early to go hiking. Jogging around the entire peninsula of Presque Isle -- equivalent to a half-marathon. A dark night when I borrowed charts from a park ranger, sat on the porch of my cabin, and picked out constellations invisible from Harrisburg. Trying Thai food and listening to Klezmer music for the first time with my friend Sharlene. Enjoying homemade tortilla soup and talking shop with librarians in Johnstown. 

Even though my project focuses on the 19th and early 20th centuries, I now have first-hand knowledge of some of the challenges public libraries and historical societies face today. State budget cuts in 2009 haven't been restored, and they have not always been replaced by county or local funds. The impact is evident in shortened hours, Friday closures, directors who unwillingly spend a lot of time on fundraising, and employees who bounce between disparate departments because of shortstaffing. To give one example, I encountered a library director frantically counting jellybeans into a guess jar. She no longer employs a children's librarian to assemble the customary decorations and games for Easter, so she takes on the work herself. At more than a few historical societies, I squeezed between dangerous backlogs of uncataloged and unshelved material. One time, I got beaned when an overloaded and poorly assembled bookshelf collapsed overhead. Today, most county societies have only one paid library worker and they are receiving far more artifacts, manuscript collections, and other materials than they can establish intellectual and physical control over, much less preserve or promote. The quality of data in PastPerfect and other software programs is deteriorating, as the volunteers now using these systems are not trained in cataloging methods, or even in using their institutions' computers. Several times, I "saved the day" when I overheard a yelp and showed someone how to undo previous keystrokes and restore erased information. Although I have no official role in Penn State's humanities library or preservation department, I would gladly lend my hands and voice if asked to help empower such organizations. 

One of my motives for undertaking a statewide project was to explore regional cultures, natural resources, and social issues in Pennsylvania. I didn't sample local foods or attractions as much as I'd hoped because it seemed I needed every waking minute for research. Yet after traveling thousands of miles, I return to Harrisburg with a partial understanding of why so many of our youth come to college with strong personal beliefs but few worldly experiences. I have lodged in and driven through dozens of small communities with spotty internet access, where the only afterschool spaces are churches, gas stations, fast food restaurants, dollar stores, and the great outdoors. Growing up in rural areas isn't necessarily a deficit -- in fact, there are definite benefits in terms of less crime and stronger family ties. But I know that if I had spent my childhood in such a town or village, I certainly would be a very different person today.

Burning candle. Image courtesy of Wikimedia
Over the past 9 months I have learned things great and small about myself. The strength of the tiny pilot light that has kept me at work for 12-16 hours at a time, day after day, astounds me. After living weeks by myself in isolated cabins and cheap hotels, I know I can get by in a Spartan manner and that I am never thoroughly lonely if I have something to do and books to read. I am also more cognizant of, and thankful for, unexpected graces whenever and however they come. For instance, I've developed an appreciation for Old Country Buffet, Hoss's, and other all-you-can-eats. For part-time vegetarians like me, they've been the best dining options in many rural communities. Through hours of driving outside the range of my favorite radio stations, I started to explore bluegrass, country, classical, and other types of music. 

In the months ahead, I intend to finish my work in Harrisburg and Somerset. Since I have a few hundred grant dollars left to spend, I am also considering including another rural library in my study: perhaps Bloomsburg, Bradford, or Danville. I would also like to finish using legal references at the State Library and the records of the Pennsylvania State Grange and WPA at the State Archives. But the major task this summer will be writing. I have an outline and  title for a book and I'm eager to get started. Although returning to campus on a daily schedule will be an adjustment, I am very grateful I had a year to learn more about my profession, about Pennsylvania, and myself. 

The human side of May Virginia Kunz Valencik

She was described as "half cyclone and half woman" who "thrive[d] on opposition and [swept] it up like a vacuum cleaner."

She didn't mind pushing a lawnmower because it was "good for the waistline." Handwashing dishes was a pleasure because her kitchen window looked out over South Mountain.

Her neighbors knew her as "the lady with the dachshund" who wrapped her head in a babushka at the crack of dawn to walk her dog before she went to work.

When she traveled to Harrisburg, she wore particular millinery "in the belief that if the legislators didn't remember her face, they would never forget her hat."*

And when Allentown soldiers returned from World War II, she sent each one a "welcome home" letter.

Her name was May Virginia Kunz Valencik and she was the "chief librarian" of the Allentown Public Library (APL) from 1942 to 1963.

I had known of Valencik long before I visited Allentown this month. From the 1920s through the 1940s, dozens of younger women like her replaced "pioneers" who had opened many of Pennsylvania's public libraries during the 1890s-1910s. Typically, the newer generation was more formally-educated and brought additional knowledge of business management and public relations to their positions. For her part, Valencik had a love of quiz-shows, trivia, and other question-and-answer games. She graduated from New Jersey College of Women (now the Douglass College of Rutgers University) in 1931. Over the years, she attended postgraduate courses at Columbia, Cornell, the New York School of Social Research, and the University of Chicago. After working for several years at the Passaic Public Library, Valencik was the senior circulation and reference assistant at Utica Public Library. Then, during the 1930s, she directed the WPA's statewide library projects in Kentucky, including the famous "packhorse librarian" program. After her move to Allentown, Valencik was highly active in the Pennsylvania Library Association. She served as PaLA president in 1951 (see "Library Board Meets, Choose May V. Kunz New Chief Librarian," June 17, 1942; "The Other Fellow's Job," Allentown Chronicle, August 29, 1942; and Valencik's obituary, Allentown Morning Call, June 14, 1988).

The (old) Allentown Public Library and May Valencik.
Images courtesy of APL.
As I entered APL, I anticipated I would find evidence of Valencik's innovations. I wasn't disappointed. Within two years of her hire, APL opened a "young people's section" (young adult department). Valencik also closed a branch that wasn't well-patronized. She studied hundreds of unfulfilled customer requests and argued for a larger book budget. In November 1942, she collaborated with Community Book Associates to produce an authors dinner in the ballroom of the Americus Hotel. The following year, she co-organized an auction that raised more than $800,000 in bonds for the war effort. She also began to advocate bookmobile service to outlying neighborhoods of the city (APL 1942/1943 and 1943/1944 annual reports).

This said, I became fascinated with what I would call the "human side" of Valencik's story. Ordinarily, it is difficult to learn about librarians' off-desk personalities and their lives outside of work. In Valencik's case, though, available documents reveal much about her character. For example, the board of trustees meeting minutes illustrate Valencik's advocacy for her staff. During her first month at APL, she "interviewed" each employee in order to understand everyone's "educational background, experience, preferences, and personalities." Based on these conversations, she informed the board that they were going to begin a revolving schedule of weekend desk coverage and re-registration of all library borrowers as her colleagues requested. Valencik also worked various service desks during rush hours to assist her employees (APL September 1942 librarian's report). Several years later, when the new children's librarian was criticized for prioritizing kids over parents, teachers, and other adults, Valencik stood behind the decision, voicing her belief in "equal service for all" and her determination that young people should not be treated as a "side issue" in the very department designed to help them (APL November 1945 librarian's report). Valencik's concern for coworkers extended beyond the library's walls, too. In her September 1944 report to trustees, she asked to enroll the staff in the American Library Association's retirement plan -- an important lifeline for elderly employees. As far as I can tell, APL's board acceded to all these plans. 

To me, the most poignant entry in the board minutes is January 3, 1944. In her report for that month, Valencik asked the trustees whether they might begin their meetings with silent prayer "to ask God to guide our deliberations, to ask his blessing on the library, to guide its work and development, to be with the staff, and, if you will, to show this librarian the path and policies best suited to the service the library should render in Allentown." I found no evidence that the trustees honored her request. Perhaps most librarians today would support board's (in)action on this point. But the context and urgency of Valencik's words seemed understandable when I found an April 14, 1944 article in the Allentown Morning Call. May Kunz had married later in life, just before her boyfriend, Technical Sergeant Gus Valencik, was shipped overseas. In other words, she was a World War II bride. In November 1943, less than a year after her wedding, she received a telegram that her husband was missing in action. Finally, in April 1944, she learned that he had been killed in Italy the previous September. Thus, when she asked the library trustees for their prayers, she didn't know whether her husband was alive or dead. Or, perhaps in her heart of hearts, she did know his fate ("Husband of Head Librarian Here Killed in Action," Allentown Morning Call, April 14, 1944). Reflecting on this tragic aspect of her life, I am all the more amazed at her professional leadership. 

It is easy to develop hero-worship for a woman like Valencik. Since my research ends in 1945, I witnessed only the beginning of her long tenure in Allentown -- and only a few years within a career that spanned 4 decades. After leaving APL in 1963, Valencik directed the White Plains (NY) Public Library until her retirement in 1976 (see Valencik's obituary, Allentown Morning Call, June 14, 1988). Before writing further about her, I believe it would be important to learn more about Valencik's youth and early career, her social life in Allentown, her contributions to PaLA, her subsequent work in New York, and her final years, since unfolding decades can change one's perspective and priorities. I would especially like to locate oral histories from supervisees and customers, to find out whether they remembered her in the same manner as she presented herself to the trustees and as she is described in the colorful article I quoted above from the early 1950s. I may never have the time to write an article solely about her, but May Virginia Kunz Valencik remains near the top of my list of the most important librarians in Pennsylvania during the mid-20th century.

*Quotations are taken from a profile of Valencik published as a human interest story in the Allentown Morning Call, October 25, 1951. Copies available in the APL vertical file, folder "Allentown Public Library."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

In search of Pennsylvania's first county bookmobile

Earlier this week, I noticed the frequent change in pitch and volume as my compact car's engine growled up and down the "Endless Mountains" of Northeastern Pennsylvania. I was already aware that Susquehanna County Historical Society and Free Library (SCHS&FL) had established one of, if not *the* first county bookmobile services in our state. But I gained new respect as my chassis thumped over innumerable potholes left by frackers' trucks and a frigid, long winter. My eyes drifted over the forested and rocky terrain. It offered few amenities for distressed travelers. Female bookmobilers of the 1920s rumbling over dirt roads were intrepid people. 

In the early-mid 20th century, Susquehanna County was well-known in library circles for its efforts to provide reading material to all its residents. SCHS&FL had begun as a historical society in 1890 with a mission to collect relics and encourage research on local events and people. Like most Pennsylvania historical organizations, it was headquarters at the county seat (Montrose) but had a wider geographical perspective. Local circumstances encouraged a broader purpose, as well. A gift  from the Boyd estate -- to be shared by the historical society, a library, and the Y.M.C.A. -- prompted the historical society to consider adding library work to its efforts (SCHS meeting minutes, January 19, 1901). The library role was officially adopted in 1902-1903, after Roger Searles, a library advocate who chaired SCHS's building committee, visited Wilkes-Barre and noticed the close proximity of its historical society and free library. He and school superintendent Benton E. James were determined that SCHS expand its mission. After quite a bit of debate, members voted to change the society's name (SCHS meeting minutes, February 1, 1902 and January 17, 1903). By the time members of the Cope family stepped forward to donate a building, the free library was an important element, if not the major focus, of the society's work. Francis R. Cope, a representative of the family who would become a long-serving member of SCHS&FL's board of trustees, lived in Dimock, several miles south of Montrose, rather than in the town proper. Thus it is no surprise that the library retained the countywide approach of the historical society. 

Starting in 1907, SCHS&FL sent "traveling libraries" (preselected crates of 40-50 books) to Susquehanna County communities that requested them. By the mid-1920s, SCHS&FL was delivering more than 100 traveling libraries to schools and other locations (SCHS&FL annual meeting proceedings, 1926). Because of these innovative efforts, the State Library of Pennsylvania recognized Susquehanna County as the "first county library extension system to be established in the state" (SCHS&FL 1913 annual meeting proceedings). 

Currently, I do not know how and when the board of trustees first learned about bookmobile services. Within the library's historical records is a copy of Mary Holland Burchenal's The Story of a Book Wagon, an undated booklet written around 1915 which describes the Delaware State Library Commission's efforts. The seed was planted in Susquehanna County no later than 1917, however, for the report of SCHS&FL's activities for that year stated that "some officers have a vision which is as yet, alas only a vision. It is of a book wagon, which shall take books to the very door of the farm houses on highways and by-ways all through the country" (SCHS&FL 1918 annual meeting proceedings). 

In the fall of 1923, Francis R. Cope wrote to Anna A. MacDonald, consulting librarian within the Library Extension Division of the SLP. It appears that she helped Cope find an experienced librarian to organize Susquehanna County's bookmobile service. The woman MacDonald recommended, Beulah K. Eyerly, was employed under Mary Titcomb at the Hagerstown (MD) Public Library. Hagerstown had pioneered book wagon service to surrounding Washington County in the early 1900s. Thus Eyerly was well-prepared for her work in Pennsylvania (see SCHS collection #1373, Cope Papers, letter from MacDonald to Cope, November 8, 1923). MacDonald also traveled to Montrose in late November 1923 to provide further advice and motivation to the trustees. By May 1924, a truck was on order and 2 drivers, "Miss Cruser and Mr. Hart," had been secured for 15 cents an hour (SCHS&FL board meeting minutes, November 27, 1923 and May 8, 1924). 

Eyerly mapped out 19 routes and made her first trip on June 11, 1924. In the first 5 months, the book wagon reached 799 people who borrowed 3826 items. The truck also made appearances at several fairs and picnics to promote the library's services (SCHS&FL annual proceedings, 1926).

SCHS&FL employees Beulah K. Eyerly, Fannie Bunnell,
and the library's first bookmobile, 1924.
Image courtesy of SCHS&FL
A fascinating article by Eyerly in the February 1925 issue of Pennsylvania Grange News documents the exhausting but rewarding enterprise of being a bookmobile librarian in the mid-1920s. The truck was mainly stocked with fiction, but also contained informational works on nature study, agriculture, gardening, housekeeping, and other practical topics. When rural children spied a cloud of dust rising down the road, they ran into their homes to grab any volumes they needed to return. Alice in Wonderland, Black Beauty, adventure stories, "Indian stories," and works by Thornton Burgess were particular favorites (see Eyerly, "Susquehanna County Book Car is Popular in Rural Districts," Pennsylvania Grange News, February 1925, pg. 4-5). According to SCHS&FL's 1925 annual meeting proceedings, the bookmobile also supported the efforts of the county Red Cross by offering material on "sex eugenics, marriage, prenatal care, nourishment, hygiene, and sanitation" (see pg. 4). 

Adequate financial support was always a challenge. The first year, Francis R. Cope paid the bookmobile librarian's salary out of his own pocket. From 1925 to 1931, he continued to make up the deficit in the bookmobile's operating expenses to the tune of $375-$800 per year. However, this was not merely a pet-project. Reverend Ralph A. Weatherly, a board member who oversaw the library's operations, vigorous defended it against critics who believed that a trained librarian and a chauffeur was unnecessary expenses. "Let any farmer's wife or flapper drive a hundred miles a day and make a regular thing of it ..." he wrote. Weatherly viewed those who believed that the library only benefitted Montrose were "sapheads" and noted "the word saphead is a mild term used with discrimination" (SCHS&FL 1926 annual meeting proceedings, pg. 3-4). 

Luckily, Susquehanna County residents answered the call for additional funds. SCHS&FL received periodic grants from the county grange, whose members (farmers) would directly benefit from rural outreach. The grange's support was greatest in the early years, when it sometimes gave as much as $200. Schools also raised funds for the bookmobile, especially during the 1920s when their total contributions amounted to hundreds of dollars per year. Such support was crucial before 1927, when Susquehanna County commissioners made their first appropriation, and 1931, when the State of Pennsylvania started to provide matching funds (see "Book Truck Data," a compilation of statistics gleaned from SCHS&FL's annual meeting proceedings and board minutes, in "bookmobile" folder in the library administrator's office). In the early 1940s, the Men's Community Club, led by George Little, successfully raised funds for a new vehicle. 

What staggers me, though, is the number of individual families SCHS&FL's book truck visited. In 1924, it stopped at 1262 homes, in addition to schools and other points. By the 1930s, it was traveling 3000-4000 miles annually. This amount of personal contact could only be sustained by library workers thoroughly committed to the effort. As Anna L. Smith, who staffed the bookmobile in the late 1920s wrote, "I have always felt a burning indignation that the boys and girls of the rural districts have not the educational advantages that the city children enjoy" (SCHS&FL 1928 annual meeting proceedings, pg. 3).

The SCHS&FL's bookmobile visits a school in Ararat, 1924.
Image courtesy of SCHS&FL
The proceedings of SCHS&FL's annual meetings are a rich source of first-hand accounts, as they customarily contained reports authored by the library's "county workers." Their writings are more detailed and personal than a library director could have composed. For example, Catherine Sampson found that bookmobile work changed some of her preconceived ideas. She learned that "health, tact, and an understanding of people" -- and not necessarily literary knowledge -- were "near the top of the list" of her job requirements." Her "firm conviction" that all books should have "literary, educational, or inspirational value" melted before desperate neighbors who needed "diversion" from the "enforced leisure" of the Great Depression (SCHS&FL 1933 annual meeting proceedings, pgs. 3-4).

Vivian Place, bookmobile librarian during the 1930s and early 1940s, also had surprising encounters along her route. One day, a "roughly-dressed" farmer "pounced" on books about chemistry and medieval history. When told that the service was free but that the library gladly accepted donations, he gave Place 50 cents (SCHS&FL 1936 annual meeting proceedings). As she gained more experience, Place mastered the art of anticipating the difficulties of travel on dirt roads, as well as the diversity of her customers' needs. Since she often didn't return to Montrose until after dark, she spent about an hour in the morning tallying the previous day's statistics and removing books that needed mending. She then ensured that the truck was "gassed" and that "oil, water, battery, and air" were checked. Place stocked the bookmobile for 3 days' work, typically keeping materials for farm visits and school sites on different shelves. Frequently, she had to drive for an hour before reaching her first stop. Being the only visitor that some families received for weeks at a time, "conversation" was a "commodity most desired" and it wasn't uncommon for people to show her bushels of produce, sewing projects, and other accomplishments. Neva Parlette, a schoolteacher who accompanied Place during the summer of 1943, noted the appreciation and generosity of rural people. One woman regularly emptied the contents of her coin bank into the librarian's hands. Other families set aside magazines to donate (SCHS&FL 1940 annual proceedings, pgs. 6-7; 1941 annual proceedings, pgs. 6-7; and 1944 annual proceedings, pgs. 7-8). 

Given Susquehanna County residents' obvious desire for books, it was tragic for me to read that service was suspended from 1945 to 1951. On June 25, 1945, the vehicle was involved in a serious accident (SCHS&FL 1946 annual meeting proceedings). Wartime shortages and postwar inflation made it difficult to replace. Fortunately, the bookmobile resumed in 1951 and a van continues to deliver reading materials to county residents today. 

I have been asked whether Susquehanna County had the first bookmobile in Pennsylvania. Knowing the long history, large number (67 counties!), confusing legislation, and organizational complexity of libraries in our state, I shy away from crowning anyone as the "first" to do anything. Lending libraries have existed in Pennsylvania since Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731, yet the state government had no mandate for encouraging public library development until the late 1890s, when the Pennsylvania Free Library Commission was established. This, plus the fact that I have been unable to locate PFLC's/SLP's archives, means that it is difficult to find authoritative reports that survey a particular activity across the entire state, much less describe its history.

These disclaimers made, at this point I believe that SCHS&FL was the first to provide countywide bookmobile service. To me, the key elements of the question are 1) when did the library use a wagon or truck to present residents with a collection of books, 2) when did the bookmobile reach residents beyond a city's geographic borders with the goal of serving people throughout the county, and 3) when did such service become "regular" -- including an established schedule of routes visited repeatedly over the course of months and years (in other words, more than an "experiment" or publicity stunt)? By these definitions, Susquehanna County is the earliest I know of.

Yet, as I've explained to many publicity-minded administrators over the years, it is possible for 2 or more libraries to claim that they were "first" in something and for each to be correct in different ways, especially depending on how their claims are worded or interpreted. For example, it is worth considering whether Philadelphia, which comprises both a city and county, may have been the first to attempt countywide service (without a bookmobile) when it built Carnegie-funded branches throughout the city in the early 1900s. Here is another perspective: among the 30 institutions I have researched to date, Erie, in 1919, was the first to purchase a vehicle for library outreach services. However, the truck circulated books to Erie schools, not to county residents. To Harrisburg Public Library/Dauphin County may go the laurel of being the earliest government-funded county bookmobile service. Although it began its rounds in December 1925, a full year and a half after Susquehanna County, SCHS&FL did not receive county appropriations for its bookmobile until 1927. According to a 1941 study by the Pennsylvania Library Association, 11 counties were operating countywide bookmobile services at that point: Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Dauphin, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lancaster, Lycoming, Monroe, and Susquehanna. Although most of these were inaugurated in the late 1930s or early 1940s, I don't doubt that researchers will identify "firsts" of this or that type among them (Frances K. Reed, "Pennsylvania Bookmobiles," Pennsylvania Library Association, County Library Section, October 10, 1941. Copies available at the PaLA archives and SCHS&FL). 

Today as I weaved around jagged potholes on Interstate 81 South, I came to the conclusion that whoever was (or wasn't) first seems immaterial given the challenges everyone faced, and the perseverance they showed. 

Uncovering the state's role in rural library development: SLP and Susquehanna County

One of the most difficult articles I've written was a history of the State Library of Pennsylvania (SLP) during the crucial years when it expanded its mission from an information source for the government employees, to a preserver of state history and an active promoter of public library development. The topic was challenging because I have been unable to locate SLP's archives. Although printed annual reports exist, and there is a smattering of material within the personal papers of past governors and state librarians, I haven't found any troves of correspondence. So I wove the best story possible using published reports and articles, scattered letters, and biographical information. 

The Susquehanna County Historical Society
and Free Library, Montrose, PA
I was thrilled when I visited the Susquehanna County Historical Society and Free Library (SCHS&FL) this week and uncovered dozens of letters between Francis R. Cope, Jr., its long-serving board president, and various state employees. The Cope Papers (SCHS collection #1373) include several folders on Helen U. Price, the Pennsylvania Free Library Commission's (PFLC's) "library organizer," and a folder on Robert P. Bliss, coordinator of the state's traveling library program. Complimenting these materials, which date from 1907 to 1908, and 1913, are board minutes and other documents which shed light on interactions SCHS&FL had with Anna A. MacDonald, SLP's "consulting librarian," during the 1920s and 1930s.

It appears that the relationship started in 1907, when the board member appointed to oversee the library, H. A. Denney, wrote to Henry J. Carr of the Scranton Public Library. Carr had recently served as president of the American Library Association (1900-1901), and would soon become president of the Keystone State Library Association (the forerunner to PaLA). Since SCHS&FL hoped to open its free library in a few months, Carr suggested that Denney contact the PFLC to request Helen Price's aid (letter from Denney to Cope, September 14, 1907). Within a week, Cope wrote to her, explaining that although his library could not afford the salary of a trained librarian, it had hired Amelia Pickett, a local woman with "high school training, anxious in every way to purpose herself for her new position." Rather than sending Pickett to apprentice in Scranton and lose her needed labor at Montrose, Cope hoped that Price could visit for a few weeks to assist them. As it turned out, her busy schedule did not allow her to visit Montrose for more than a few days at a time -- which she did in early November and in late December. But she sent another commission worker, "Miss Reutter," free of charge to help with accessioning and processing books. Price promised to be "in close communication" with Reutter to resolve any "serious problems" that might arise (letter from Cope to Price, September 21, 1907, and letter from Price to Cope, November 4, 1907). 

Among the various tasks involved with starting a public library, it appears Price was especially involved in recommending and ordering books. She prepared a list of recommended reference titles for Cope, who forwarded them to Pickett to check against the library's holdings, and to the local library committee for approval. Then Cope returned the marked-up list to Price and she obtained the volumes from vendors with the best prices. Between November 1907 and September 1908, it seems that Price did the same for magazines, novels, religious works, poetry, juvenile books, and the history collection (letters from Price to Cope, October 14, 1907, November 26, 1907, January 9, 1908, March 20, 1908, September 22, 1908, and October 21, 1908; letters from Cope to Price, January 8, January 10, and September 23, 1908; letters from Cope to Pickett, November 14, 1907-December 5,1907; and library committee meeting minutes, November 2, 1907-December 9, 1907). 

In addition to book selection and ordering, the commission furthered Susquehanna County's traveling library and bookmobile efforts. Commission staff recognized that SCHS&FL's efforts were unusually ambitious, intending to reach all residents thinly spread over more than 800 square miles. In 1908, Price helped SCHS&FL determine the policies of its traveling library service. She shared the language used in the PFLC's documents, and the local library committee approved similar regulations for Susquehanna County's program (library committee meeting minutes, February 12, 1908). For instance, SCHS&FL followed the state's example in requiring participating communities to identify local taxpayers who would sign a form, agreeing to be personally responsible for box of books sent to them. They also agreed to designate a "Librarian" to circulate materials using cards and according to rules stipulated by the county library ("Rules and Regulations for the Government of Susquehanna County Traveling Libraries" and "Rules and Regulations for the Traveling Libraries," n.d., SCHS&FL historical files, director's office). After several years, the commission was satisfied enough with SCHS&FL's work that it gave Susquehanna County 6 traveling libraries that the state had previously used to serve that region (see SCHS&FL librarian's report, 1910 and SCHS&FL Addresses and Reports Presented at the Annual Meeting, 1912). One of the state's wooden traveling library cabinets still sits in administrator Susan Stone's office. 

Traveling Library Case from the Pennsylvania Free Library
Commission, ca. 1910. Typically such boxes held 40-50 volumes. 
By the early 1920s, when SCHS&FL was planning a bookmobile service, the work of the commission had been subsumed by the Library Extension Division of SLP. Cope turned to its consulting librarian, Anna A. MacDonald, for advice. Judging from a November 8, 1923 letter from MacDonald to Cope, it appears that she obtained recommendation letters from Mary Titcomb, head of the pathbreaking Hagerstown Public Library (now the Washington County Free Library). Based on Titcomb's advice, she recommended that he hire Beulah K. Eyerly, one of Titcomb's employees. Later that month, MacDonald traveled to Montrose and met with the board of trustees. She motivated them by reminding them that Susquehanna County was a "pioneer" in library extension, and she described how World War I had exposed "the mental deficiency and lack of education" in "isolated" areas. Thus, SCHS&FL was advancing public librarianship in Pennyslvania, as well as doing patriotic work. She advocated that the trustees devise a fundraising plan that would anticipate the "extra financial needs" of growing services. MacDonald also reiterated the importance of hiring of a full-time "county librarian" and obtaining "a book wagon or book truck" to distribute library materials more frequently to county residents (SCHS&FL board minutes, November 27, 1923). With a year, Cope and the trustees implemented all her suggestions. When Governor Gifford Pinchot signed legislation to provide funding to county libraries, MacDonald wrote the SCHS&FL board and advised them to "act at once in accepting its share of this money" (SCHS&FL board meeting minutes, June 26, 1931). 

At this point, I do not know whether the PFLC and SLP provided as much assistance to other public libraries. It is certainly possible that the state was more invested in Susquehanna County's success because it was the earliest to develop countywide services, but I have no way of confirming or denying that. Although I have found numerous mentions of Price and MacDonald in other libraries' board minutes, I haven't found similarly rich documentation which helps distinguish instances where the state simply offered advice, versus provided actual free labor. 

Based on the materials I found in Susquehanna County, it appears that the PFLC, through the position of the "organizing librarian," was willing to assume a hands-on role in assembling opening-day collections for small libraries which could not afford the expertise. In later decades, the state may have shed this role. Yet the "consulting librarian" within the Library Extension Division of SLP continued to help communities plan new services and hire appropriate staff. Although my research project ends in 1945, I am curious to know if I have observed the origins of Pennsylvania's current "district consultant" model, whereby state-designated "district library centers" provide advice, training, and other services to smaller libraries in their vicinities. As far as I know, DLCs began in the 1960s, but perhaps the function began at a much earlier date. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Keeping the service in and the red tape out: the Allentown Free Library and Camp Crane during World War I

Earlier this week, I thundered east on Route 78 toward Allentown.

I was on a mission:

Find out about Isabel Turner and the library at Camp Crane

Several years earlier, I was retrieving an article in the Bulletin of the American Library Association when I stumbled upon a "Library War Service Directory" (see November 1918 issue, pg. 494). I instantly realized it was valuable documentation of libraries during World War I. So I made a hasty photocopy and jammed it into my bulging office file cabinet. Then, last year, when I was preparing for sabbatical, I shimmied the list out of its folder to check if there were any listings in Pennsylvania. 

As it turned out, there were relatively few camp libraries here, as compared to California, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas. Franklin H. Price of the Free Library of Philadelphia was the contact for the Library War Service's dispatch office in Philadelphia. He also provided books to the Frankford Arsenal, various naval installations, and the United Service Club. Robert H. Bliss, an employee of the State Library of Pennsylvania who sent traveling libraries to rural communities, was servicing the middle of the state -- the Army Reserve depot in Cumberland, a recruiting station in Harrisburg, the Quartermaster depot in Marsh Run, and the aviation and general supply depot in Middletown. He also assisted military hospitals in Gettysburg and Markleton. It seems books were also provided at the military hospital in Carlisle and at an undescribed site in Tyrone, but no further information about these locations appeared in the directory. One more military library, at Camp Crane in Allentown, was being served by Isabel Turner. I recognized her as the head of the local public library. 

Price's role did not surprise me. He was an ambitious man who would become the director of the Free Library of Philadelphia (1932-1951) and president of the Pennsylvania Library Association (1944). Also, FLP was Pennsylvania's largest public library with dozens of branches. So, serving additional sites would not have been a "stretch." Likewise, Bliss's service to the military could be seen as a natural outgrowth of his work as a library organizer for under-served populations. Yet unlike FLP and the State Library, Allentown Free Library (AFL) was only a few years old, struggling to fulfill the needs of a city of 70,000 residents with barely more than an $8000 appropriation from the local school district. What motivated Turner to help? Was there a particular reason why Camp Crane needed reading material? Given limited resources, how did she pull it off?

Turner, who had become head librarian in 1915, pioneered many of AFL's outreach efforts. She purchased foreign language books, inaugurated library service to Allentown schools, sent a "loan collection" to employees of the Consolidated Telephone Company, and advertised the library's collection through window displays at Cut Rate Drug and Dietrich's Ice Cream Parlor.  To her, the military camp was "a new opportunity for the library to extend its usefulness." To her knowledge, establishing an outreach effort there would have been one of the first of its kind in the country (for Turner's early outreach activities, see AFL 1916-1917 Monthly Reports; AFL 1915/1916, 1916/1917, and 1917/1918 Annual Reports; and undated typescript, AFL Miscellaneous Documents). 

AFL, like many institutions of the time, contributed to the war effort in a variety of ways. It collected 1500 books and more than $1100 toward the American Library Association's Library War Service. At Mayor Alfred L. Reichenbach's request, the library also served as a site for registering soldiers and female volunteers. In addition, AFL sold thrift and war savings stamps. It also displayed government information about employment opportunities, food conservation, and gardening (see AFL 1917/1918 Annual Report; and AFL May-June 1917, November 1917, January 1918, March-April 1918, and June 1918 Monthly Reports).

Sorting through minute books, reports, and correspondence, I uncovered a fascinating story that went above and beyond such common activities. Within a few weeks of the United States' formal entry into the war, an Ambulance Service Camp was established at the Allentown Fairgrounds. Because these particular recruits were training to provide health care, quite a few were well-educated. They had come from colleges and large cities all over the country and yearned for the reading material previously available to them. According to Turner, the first soldier to apply for an AFL borrower's card was a "Harvard boy," still in civilian clothes, who wanted a book of modern poetry. After consulting with the library's trustees, Turner suspended the usual fees and registration procedures for out-of-towners. Soon, AFL was "besieged by requests for books." On at least one rainy day, the library was "overflowing with dripping soldiers" occupying every available seat, leaning against walls, even sitting on the floor. Buying dozens of folding chairs scarcely alleviated the situation. The library cancelled Saturday story times for children because of the lack of space. Regardless of weather, 50-150 men used AFL's reading room daily and it was not uncommon to see them "sitting on the steps leading to the second and third floors." As one soldier put it, AFL was "the only place in the city where a fellow could go without it costing him something" (see AFL June, September, and October 1917 Monthly Reports, and undated typescript, AFL Miscellaneous Documents).

Since serving soldiers within the library was becoming untenable, Turner seized the opportunity to help them directly at the camp. In the summer of 1917 she collaborated with Mayor Reichenbach and the Y.M.C.A. to collect about 125 books and periodicals for the Y's tent. Inside, the book "deposit station" was periodically restocked with fresh literature handpicked from APL's shelves. Her motto was to "keep the service in it and the red tape out of it,"

By November 1917, AFL and Camp Crane had the good fortune of a former New York Public Library employee, Ralph Cossage, as one of the soldiers in the barracks. Also around this time, the Y.M.C.A. moved from its tent to a wooden building. A more secure space encouraged the camp library's growth. AFL obtained 500 volumes from nearby libraries in Bethlehem and Easton, as well as additional books and magazines from the State Library of Pennsylvania. The local library functioned as the "collecting agent" for incoming donations. It accessioned, cataloged, and prepared each item for use, though processing was minimal in order to get books into soldiers' hands more quickly. Soon the collection expanded to 4500 volumes through contributions from ALA's Books for Soldiers campaign. When these resources weren't sufficient, AFL filled soldiers' title requests from its own shelves and through interlibrary loan. The men simply placed slips in a "Books Wanted" box at the camp desk. It appears that there was some attempt to make the library inviting to the men. Photos available at the Lehigh County Heritage Center show that the Camp Crane library had various pictures on its walls, at least one potted plant, a mailbox for sending letters home, and rocking chairs encircling a large stove. Unfortunately, I am prohibited from including LCHC images in this blog (see AFL July 1917, November 1917, and May 1918 Monthly Reports; undated typescript, AFL Miscellaneous Documents; and LCHC photo collection, items PST USAAC CC 1-15).

Turner noted that the soldiers' reading interests were eclectic, ranging from European fiction and language books, to technical works that would enable them to resume employment in the private sector when the war was over. Although Turner constantly felt pressed to meet their needs, the men were highly appreciative. Particularly during epidemics when Camp Crane was placed under quarantine, conditions would have been "well-nigh intolerable" without AFL and the on-base library it supported. Within a year of helping its first recruit, Turner and her staff had provided borrower cards to about 1030 soldiers and placed 4500 volumes in the camp library. During the war, AFL's circulation jumped 33% (see AFL May 1918 Monthly Report; AFL 1917/1918 Annual Report; and typescript, AFL Miscellaneous Documents).

Although AFL was providing a useful service, it inevitably ceased after the war's close. Allentown's pioneering camp library was "broken up" in February 1919. Thirteen cases of books -- about 3000 volumes -- were shipped to the American Library Association for dispatch to overseas installations. Yet even at the end, Turner reinvested the camp library's resources for local soldiers' benefit. She used the final pennies of their overdue fine account to purchase 2 large flags and a "welcome home" banner "to participate a little in the parades to our home coming boys" (AFL May 1919 Monthly Report). 

Allentown Public Library's camp library is a great illustration of the many, but heretofore unsung, contributions Pennsylvania has made to both American history and library history. As Turner said, the Camp Crane library was "only a little 'bit' compared to the magnificent war work so many women are doing, but it is *our* 'bit,' *our* job at hand, and *our* opportunity for service."