Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Having a blast at the library: early public programming in Lock Haven

An interesting ad for a library program!
Lock Haven Express,
September 23, 1914, pg. 2
Those who aren't familiar with historical research may be surprised to learn that many public libraries have spotty records concerning their own beginnings. Even though they often serve as repositories for their communities' history, libraries don't always retain their own annual reports, meeting minutes, correspondence, and other documents. Several years ago, when I undertook a study of library ownership of Mark Twain's works, I contacted nearly 4,000 public libraries across the United States, asking whether they still possessed old printed catalogs, accession ledgers, or other lists of their materials. Only 48% replied, and of those, only a third (or about 16% of all libraries contacted) maintained the records I needed (for further details about that project, see pgs. 9-11 of the November/December 2009 issue of Public Libraries, and pgs. 189-224 of the September 2009 issue of Nineteenth-Century Literature).

Sometimes, the lack of documentation isn't the library's fault. Such is the case in Lock Haven, PA, a city of about 10,000 people on the banks of the Western Branch of the Susquehanna River. There you'll find the Annie Halenbake Ross Library, which is one of the older libraries in the region, has two branches (at Beech Creek and Renovo), and serves other Clinton County residents through the mail. Unfortunately, the Susquehanna flooded Lock Haven more than a dozen times between 1889 and 1972, repeatedly destroying artifacts and documentation of local heritage. When I visited earlier this month, director Diane Whitaker stretched to show me the high water mark left in her library in '72. Even today, Ross Library holds an incomplete run of its annual reports. Some early photographs are stained and warped by muddy water.

Thus I have been using Newspaper Archive to reconstruct the library's first days. Although the current institution recently celebrated its centennial, libraries actually have a long history in Lock Haven. Like many other Pennsylvania communities, the town's schools and YMCA offered libraries, as did several churches. Sometime in the 1870s, Philip M. Price, one of the largest landowners and benefactors in town, donated his ownership of Highland Cemetery to a corporation which would use the proceeds to establish a public library. His hope was that income from the sale of cemetery plots, plus modest annual subscriptions from library users, would support the library financially (S. R. Peale, "The Merging of Lock Haven's Two Libraries," news article in Ross Library scrapbook, November 26, 1908, original source and page not given).

Thus far, I have not found trustee meeting minutes or other records concerning the initial days of the Price Library. But as of the early 1890s, it had 2,000-3,000 volumes, was open Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, and charged $1.50 per year for members who did not own stock (Lock Haven Express, June 21, 1890, pg. 1, and January 4, 1892, pg. 1). In 1892, the Price Library expanded its hours, opening daily from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. (Lock Haven Express, November 28, 1892, pg. 1). Such terms were in place at least through the end of the decade (Lock Haven Express, September 16, 1899, pg. 1). A woman named Elizabeth Karskaddon apparently served as secretary of both the cemetery and the library associations. When Annie Halenbake Ross, surviving spouse of lumber dealer and banker Franklin M. Ross, bequeathed her home and part of her estate to the city, to be used as a free public library, Karskaddon wrote a substantial editorial to support the merger of the Price Library and the newer institution (Lock Haven Express, September 26, 1907, pg. 4; October 16, 1907, pg. 8; August 5, 1908, pg. 4; and September 8, 1908, pg. 3). Several years later, Karskaddon attended the unveiling of a memorial plaque which the Ross Library dedicated to Price, thus providing a living connection between Lock Haven's old and new libraries (Lock Haven Express, December 1, 1911, pg. 4).

As I page through thousands of online articles from the Lock Haven Express, it is particularly interesting to observe the beginning and development of library public programming. Although the Price Library advertized new reading material from time to time, the newspaper is largely silent regarding other activities. However, the professional librarians at the Ross Library soon introduced public events. Within days of opening its doors, librarian Anne V. Taggert instituted "story hours" for children. Typically held at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings from November through May, they introduced a generation of Lock Haven residents to the legends of King Arthur (Lock Haven Express, November 26, 1910, pg. 4). Florence Hulings, who arrived from Oil City when Taggert resigned in 1911, continued the successful children's program (Lock Haven Express, July 20, 1911, pg. 5). During her tenure, Ross Library also offered a series of lectures for adults, delivered by faculty from the local "normal school" (now Lock Haven University) and Pennsylvania State College (now Penn State University). The first one, featuring Professor Homer H. Gage, concerned what he called "the social burden." Arguing that it cost the state greatly to house Pennsylvania's population of persons with mental illnesses, it appears that Gage advocated eugenics, an effort to improve public health through human sterilization, immigration control, and other stern measures many would oppose today (Lock Haven Express, May 6, 1913, pg. 4).

Several weeks later, the library provided an entirely different event. Nelson P. Benson lectured on "Three American Poets of Originality," Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sidney Lanier (Lock Haven Express, June 3, 1913, pg. 5). Hulings herself delivered a lecture on the work of Charles Dickens (Lock Haven Express, March 17, 1914, pg. 4). Throughout the year, other speakers delved into "Our American Character,"  "The Social Problems of Today," and "the Home and the School," (Lock Haven Express, October 27, 1913, pg. 5; October 31, 1913, pg. 4; December 12, 1913, pg. 4; and February 23, 1914, pg. 4). For those not interested in literature or the social sciences, Ross Library offered other topics, including Alaska exploration and gardening (Lock Haven Express, February 24, 1913, pg. 4, and March 31, 1914, pg. 4). One item in particular caught my eye. Entitled "Dynamiting at the Library," it advertised an upcoming lecture by a "Mr. Twomey" who would demonstrate the latest methods farmers were using to loosen rocks, roots, and soil. Apparently, the Ross Library was willing to risk its apple tree being blown up on a Sunday morning in the name of attracting people to its events (Lock Haven Express, September 24, 1914, pg. 1)!

For reasons unknown, Ross Library pared down its adult lecture program by the end of the decade. Perhaps World War I, during which time Hulings was responsible for sorting and shipping all donations from Clinton and Centre County for a national books-for-soldiers campaign, left little energy for other initiatives (Lock Haven Express, November 17, 1917, pg. 5).  Maybe limited funding was a problem as well, for during the 1920s, Huling's successor, Mary E. Crocker, emphasized the need for additional money in many of her annual reports and public speeches (for example, see the library's annual reports of 1923 and 1924; Crocker's history of the institution, "Fifteen Years of the Ross Library," published in the Lock Haven Express, November 27, 1925, pg. 5; and her speech to the Rotary Club, published in the Lock Haven Express, December 9, 1925, pg. 1, 3). In addition, some libraries in Pennsylvania were looking toward underserved populations outside town borders. Following favorable state legislation in 1917 and 1931, those in rural areas shifted their attention to book wagon/bookmobile services. The fact that Clinton County commissioners began to provide appropriations to Ross Library lends to the idea that Crocker's interest in countywide service was growing (Lock Haven Express, January 13, 1925, pg 5). Also, more than her predecessors, Crocker took a leading role in the Pennsylvania Library Association, of which she was President in 1935.

Needless to say, any, all, or none of these reasons led to less experimentation in terms of public programming. Trawling Newspaper Archive, one find that Ross Library occasionally mounted art displays and other exhibits, but nothing like the course of adult lectures it provided before World War I. It appears that by the 1920s, it had settled into an annual routine of children's story hours during the winter and spring months with some additional activities during Children's Book Week, which was celebrated in November back then. Perhaps to free herself for other work, Crocker encouraged the formation of a "league" of local storytellers, whose members frequently "took charge" of the kids (Lock Haven Express, May 20, 1922, pg. 1).

Although Ross Library was not the first to offer public story hours or educational lectures, it is interesting to examine how this aspect of library work began and evolved in small cities like Lock Haven. It seems that the initiative of individual librarians was vital, and each person brought different interests and personal connections to the task. I am eager to learn whether Ross Library developed additional programs in the 1930s and 1940s, especially to help residents meet the challenges of economic depression and war.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Books and brews, ingroups and outgroups


United Brewers Industrial Foundation ad,
Lebanon (PA) Daily News, August 25, 1941, pg. 3
I belong to a facebook group called ALATT, or the "Awesome Librarians Associated Think Tank." Most of its active members are MLS candidates and new professionals, and their comments provide me with substantial insight into the concerns and ideals of the rising generation of librarians. Some use the group for quick polls of professional practice (questions such as "who is responsible at your school for helping students cite correctly?). Others share news articles about censorship, copyright, and other relevant issues. Sometimes, recruiters post job ads -- especially for positions which trend young, like "emerging technologies librarian."

And about once a week -- usually on Friday -- large numbers of ALATTers post pictures of their beverages of choice.

I'm not talking about exotic coffees, teas, or even energy drinks. I'm talking about all flavors of martinis; craft beers from every corner of the world; any concoction one could mix in a glass. Given our reputation for primness, outsiders would be surprised to know that a group of *librarians* uses "partying" as one of its tags.

This week I was reminded of the differences between ingroup and outgroup perceptions when I was slogging through the Lebanon Daily News. In my search for articles relating to the Lebanon Community Library's history, I uncovered a fascinating advertisement from the 1940s. Paid for by the United Brewers Industrial Association, it depicted an irate woman complaining to a librarian about a trashy book found in the library. Her moral rectitude is underscored by outdated styling, including upswept hair, a dark dress, and peter pan collar, but the artist also suggests the extremeness of her viewpoints by portraying her with flushed cheeks and hand on hip, as a wide-eyed librarian leans back in shock. The ad argues that people who oppose beer because of occasional "black sheep" retailers are similar to purists who demand that public libraries be shuttered because of a small number of objectionable books they find on the shelves. Such people infringe on American freedoms, including "your right to drink good beer, and our right to make it." It also reminds readers that beer is a substantial industry in Pennsylvania, employing more than 7 million people and funneling millions of tax dollars into government coffers. Having nothing to hide, the reputable trade group encourages the public to report any illegal activity to "dualy constituted authorities." Given that the United States had recently repealed Prohibition, had been suffering under a decade of economic depression, and was becoming involved in a global conflict against fascism, such arguments probably had a special resonance to people of the early 1940s.

It's interesting to ponder alliances between libraries and beer. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, a prominent argument for establishing public libraries was that they offered wholesome recreation, especially for young men. Along with free kindergartens and high schools, public art museums and concerts, Christian revivalism, Chautauquas, public parks, team sports, and vocational education, the development of public libraries was part of a tripartite effort to mold the "head, heart, and hands" of Progressive-era  American society. Thus we might interpret the UBIA ad as an effort of the association's marketing team to identify a demographic that would be polar opposites of beer drinkers -- woman library users -- and argue the beer industry's case in terms that female bookworms might understand.

The mental association many people have between libraries and education remains, even today. For example, in the Pennsylvania Library Association's PA Forward initiative, libraries' role in public literacy continues to be the primary appeal we make to government officials, corporate funders, and other community power brokers. I don't doubt this image is an asset, but does it speak to everyone? What group would librarians now identify as polar opposites -- who today is analogous to beer drinkers of the 1940s -- and how do we reach out to them?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lebanon, PA gets its first "Red Box": The Tabard Inn Library

All day today I've been cooped up at home, fighting a freezing rain that threatens to turn my front sidewalk into a lawsuit. Every few hours I pull on my boots, parka, and gloves, venture outside, chop up newly-formed ice, and throw down more salt. It is exhausting work. After I step through my front door and peel off my outerwear, I flop helplessly on the couch. Then I open my laptop and continue searching an online version of the Lebanon Daily News for articles about the history of the Lebanon Community Library.

By noon I was getting stir-crazy. So rather than go back inside, I laid my shovel against the porch and shuffled down to Turkey Hill, a convenience store a few blocks away. Just outside the entrance, several mothers and young children were shivering beside a Red Box, the saving grace of many a snow-day.  I didn't pay much attention -- just stomped my boots on the pavement, entered the store, bought a bucket-sized cup of Coke Zero, and returned home.

When Red Boxes first appeared about a decade ago, I remember the media marveling at such an "innovative" service. But as any historian knows, today's "new" is often older than we think. As it turns out, partnering with local stores to rent cultural materials has been a business model for more than a century.

Coincidentally, today I found some articles pertaining to Lebanon's Tabard Inn Library. As Larry Nix describes, the Tabard Inn Library was a subscription service which provided small towns with access to new fiction. Apparently, its founder, Seymour Eaton, targeted communities with at least 2,000 residents. He sought "men of good standing and education" to represent his company and "attend to the distribution and exchange of books" (for example, see ad in Williamsport Gazette and Bulletin, May 8, 1902, pg. 8). These men installed revolving cases of books which held about 120 volumes, and refreshed them with new materials once or twice each week (for example, see Bucks County Gazette, May 8, 1902, pg. 3). For a few dollars' fees, members obtained cards which enabled them to borrow and return volumes from a network of "stations" nationwide. Each time they borrowed items, they paid an additional few cents per week.

Since the company was based in Philadelphia, it's no surprise that Tabard Inn Libraries were quite common in Pennsylvania. I have found articles about them in many local newspapers, including the Bedford GazetteBucks County Gazette, the Chester Times, the DuBois Morning Courier, the Gettysburg Star and Sentinel,  the Lock Haven Express, the New Oxford Item, Titusville Herald, the Tyrone Daily Herald, the Wellsboro Agitator, and Williamsport Gazette and Bulletin. In Lebanon, a Tabard Inn Library opened in August 1902 at Ross's Drug Store on Cumberland Street. Later, it moved to Boger's Drug Store on South 8th Street.

Unfortunately, Eaton's incarnation of this sort of business didn't last long. According to Larry Nix, he declared bankruptcy in 1905. Perhaps Eaton was unable to compete with free public libraries, which were beginning to become ubiquitous in American communities around the same time. Inexpensive books and periodicals were also widely available. I have yet to explore newspapers from 1905 and later to learn what happened to the Pennsylvania collections.

Good ideas sometimes revive, though. Watching the line of eager customers outside of Red Box today, I pondered the fact that both a 19th-century children's book author, and one of the world's largest corporations (McDonald's) established the same type of business. The notion of placing books and DVDs in commercial places, where nonreaders congregate, is apparently a popular idea, but it is one which professional librarians have been slower to embrace.





Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thaddeus Stevens, library advocate

Photo of Thaddeus Stevens by Saylor, not dated. Image courtesy
of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division,
image LC-USZ62-15441. Available online at 
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004672777/ .
Among Civil War-era figures, one person I have long admired is Thaddeus Stevens. When I was in high school in Massachusetts, I learned very little about him other than that he was a leader of the Radical Republicans. But during my first week as a college student in Washington, D.C., I walked by Thaddeus Stevens School which was quite close to GW's campus. An historical plaque nearby told of his pioneering roles in civil rights and education. This prompted me to write a paper about him. Although he was thoroughly despised by some of his contemporaries, I would like to think that I would have cheered him on if I'd lived in his era and had the chance to hear him speak on the floor of a legislature. One quote I particularly remember, made in the 1830s when he was defending Pennsylvania's public school law, was: "Build not your monuments of brass or marble. Make them of everlasting mind!" The facts that he had a disability (club foot) and often employed wicked sarcasm in his correspondence and speeches struck me on a human level, too. When the movie Lincoln was released last year, Tommy Lee Jones' portrayal of Stevens was my favorite part. I am certainly not Stevens' only fan -- there is actually a society based in Gettysburg dedicated to him.

So this week I was delighted to learn that I have another reason to like Stevens. I was visiting the Adams County Historical Society as part of my effort to document public libraries in Gettysburg and surrounding communities. The Adams County Library System was founded in 1944, but I figured there must have been earlier attempts to establish libraries. After all, Gettysburg was a county seat, hosted a college and seminary, and was a crossroads for anyone traveling through the region.  As early as the 1850s, it had a chapter of the Young Men's Christian Association, an organization which frequently offered libraries and reading rooms to its members.

Sure enough, looking through the historical society's vertical files, I found a transcription of the constitution of a "Library Society of Gettysburg," as well as related articles from the Adams Centinel newspaper. Glancing over the list of officers, I spotted a "Thaddeus Stevens, Esq." who was a member of the library's "Committee on Superintendence and Selection." This prompted me to consult several biographies about Stevens. I was slightly deflated when I found that at least some historians already know about the Great Commoner's library interests. For instance, Hans L. Treffouse's Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian and Bradley Hoch's Thaddeus Stevens in Gettysburg: The Making of an Abolitionist mention the 1822 library as well as the Gettysburg Literary Association, another organization which was founded in 1841 and over which Stevens presided. But given that scholarly commentary on these libraries is brief, I imagine that others have not been as interested in the topic as I am. And given that their works were written a decade or more ago, they may not have had the same access to period newspapers as I currently do.

Newspaper Archive seems to have complete (or near-complete) runs of several antebellum Gettysburg publications. Using the database, I learned that a group of local citizens published notices in both the Adams Centinel and the Republican Compiler, inviting those who were interested in "devising some mode of purchasing books" and able to "contribute the only real and substantial aid, pecuniary aid" to attend a meeting the following day at the county courthouse (Adams Centinel, April 17, 1822, pg. 3). At the gathering, which occurred on April 18th, 1822, Thaddeus Stevens was among 3 men appointed to draft a constitution for the new organization. The resulting document, which was printed in local newspapers, stipulates that each member purchase at least one initial "share" for $5.00 plus pay a semiannual subscription of $1.00 for each share he held. Volumes could be borrowed and returned on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and were to be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis (Adams Centinel, May 8, 1822, pg. 3.). Stevens was also placed on a committee to develop a list of titles for the group to purchase.

For the next several years, documentation in the newspapers is sketchy. It appears that the group met on a quarterly basis. During its February 5th, 1824 meeting, items on the agenda included "reducing the amount of the semi-annual installments, and of extending to a longer period the time limited by the Constitution for retaining books" (Adams Centinel, January 28, 1824, pg. 3). Other than announcements regarding elections, subscription dues, and upcoming meetings, nothing is said until a series of ominous advertisements in the May 7th, 14th, and 21st, 1828 Adams Centinel, urging all subscribers to return the society's books to S. S. King. Apparently, there was an urgent need to account for each volume, because a second series of notices, appearing in the July 16th, 23rd, and 30th issues of the Adams Centinel list specific titles that have yet to be returned. It is only from these articles that one learns a few of the titles the group owned, including "The Sketch Book, The Federalist, Johnson's Works, Percival's Poems, Junius' Letters, ... Rob Roy, Beauties of Shakspeare, ... Dwight's Travels, and ... Fielding's Works." Between mid-July 1828 and mid-December 1833, I found no further articles about the Gettysburg Library Society. Then, an article invited all stockholders to a meeting to be held on Christmas Eve at S. S. King's office regarding "business of interest." (Adams Centinel, December 23, 1833, pg. 6). One might presume that the organization folded around that time. Furthermore, when a Mechanics Institute was founded in Gettysburg a few years later, and its continuance was being debated in the news, one advocate mentioned that that it was only through the institute that members had the opportunity to borrow reading material -- added evidence that the Gettysburg Library Society had ceased to exist. By 1843, additional notices requesting patrons to return the society's volumes mentioned that the collection was now "in the care of the Franklin Harmony Society," so perhaps it donated them to the other organization (Adams Centinel, August 14, 1843, pg. 3). Similar notices appeared in the Adams Centinel throughout August, September, and October of that year.

Despite the apparent demise of the Gettysburg Library Society, Thaddeus Stevens wasn't to be discouraged. He joined other residents in a gathering at Thompson's hotel on February 4th, 1841 to establish a local chapter of the National Society of Literature and Science, to be called the "Literary Association of Gettysburg." He was promptly elected president, with Reverend S. S. Smucker and Reverend James C. Watson as Vice-Presidents. Although this new group aimed to subscribe to and share periodicals, the newspapers place more emphasis on its public lecture series. I found no information about any books or magazines the group may have purchased. However, notices of upcoming lectures, as well as their full-text, appear in the Adams Centinel. The first was provided by Dr. Henry Krauth, and delivered on April 5th, 1843 at Christ Church. As appropriate for an organization that aspired to circulate reading material, Krauth discussed the importance of thoroughness over quantity. Likening reading to eating, he described that books must be "chewed ... masticated ... swallowed ... triturated ... pounded ..." In other words, thoughtful "reflection" was essential to digesting the ideas found in print (Adams Centinel, April 19, 1841, pg. 1).

Over the next year, the association offered public lectures on a variety of topics. For example, on April 4th, 1842, Henry W. Thorp, the principal of the local female seminary, spoke on the history of the Anglo-Saxons (Republican Compiler, April 18, 1842, pg. 2, and April 25, 1842, pg. 1). In July 1842, Reverend S. S. Smucker, a vice-president of the association as well as president of the local Pennsylvania College, spoke about "the monetary derangement and difficulties of the the times; their causes and remedies" (Adams Centinel, July 18 and 25, pg. 1). On November 7th, Daniel M. Smyser provided a lecture on the crusades (Adams Centinel, November 14, 1842, pg. 6), and on December 19, 1842, Professor W. M. Reynolds of Pennsylvania College entertained an audience with poetry (Adams Centinel, December 25, 1842, pg. 1, and January 2, 1843, pg. 1).

Unfortunately, it appears that this group suffered its demise soon after Stevens moved to Lancaster in 1842. Searching Gettysburg newspapers 1843 through 1850, I found no further articles about the association. I cannot say that I am certain I found every item that was published about the association, since I was using an online database -- a mere "copy of a copy" -- rather than hand-searching the printed papers. However, given that the association's vice president, S.S. Smucker, was president of Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College), it is interesting to observe that around the same time, ads appear in local newspapers welcoming the public to attend events organized by his students. For example, a series of notices in the August 28rd, 1843 issue of the Adams Centinel invited residents to come to commencement exercises at Christ Church, a lecture by Reverend James R. Keiser before the Alumni Association, and an address before the student literary societies by Reverend John Todd -- all scheduled in September (see pg. 3). Locals were also welcomed to annual "literary contests" between the student Philomathian and Phrenokosmian Societies (for example, see Adams Centinel, April 3, 1843, pg. 3). It appears that these or similar public events continued to occur at least through 1850, when I stopped searching the newspapers. Perhaps the local college absorbed some of the literary society's activities, or the college's programs made the society's less necessary after Stevens departed.

If only I had the resources and time to pursue this fascinating topic further! For one thing, I wonder if the Papers of Thaddeus Stevens at the Library of Congress or the Papers of Samuel S. Schmucker at Gettysburg College offer any additional material. Also, in light of Stevens' commitment to racial equality, one topic worthy of pursuit is the particular wording of the constitution for the Gettysburg Library Society. Perhaps indicative of Stevens' egalitarianism, the constitution refers to "persons" rather than "men," and states that all individuals who comply with the organization's rules would be "entitled to equal rights and privileges" in the library. It may be insightful to compare this to other library documents of the era to learn whether it was unique in employing language that was neutral in terms of gender and race. I'm also curious whether Stevens was involved in any library movements while he lived in Burlington, VT (1810-1814), York (1815), Lancaster (1842-1858), or Washington, D.C. (1859-1868). As with many pathbreakers in American History, there may be much more to Thaddeus Stevens than we ever knew.




Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Haynes, Davies, and Statistics of Public Libraries: the next chapter

Haynes McMullen was a pre-eminent scholar of early libraries in the United States. He wrote a series of articles documenting libraries in various states, including an article on Pennsylvania. Several years ago, his notecards were added to the Davies Project, a database compiled by Harold Shapiro, Vivian Shapiro, and Stephen Ferguson which attempts to identify all the libraries that existed in the United States prior to 1876.

When I first learned of the Davies Project, I was floored by the amount of painstaking effort it represents. I was especially impressed by McMullen's use of state-level legal resources. At first, such tomes might seem like odd sources for library historians, but for states like Pennsylvania, they are very helpful. Prior to 1874, when a new state constitution and incorporation law was enacted, citizens who wished to organize a company of any kind needed to obtain a charter from the state legislature. Thus, pre-1874 volumes of Laws of Pennsylvania include documentation of the founding of dozens of libraries and related associations. For libraries after 1876, there is no equivalent to the Davies project. Most historians rely on Statistics of Public Libraries (title varies), which was published every few years by what when then the U.S. Bureau or Office of Education. To this day, the U.S. Department of Education maintains a national directory of public libraries and collects data about their staffing, collections, and funding. In Google Books, one can find the full-text of the 18761886, 18931897, 1903, 1909, and perhaps other editions. Tables within these volumes attempt to list every library in each state having a certain minimum number of volumes (300 in early years, 1,000 in later years).

Although all these resources are invaluable starting points, I am learning that they are far from comprehensive. This week I have been "laid up" with a bad back. Wanting to remain productive from my sofa, I have been searching a digital version of the Lebanon Daily News. I am hoping to reset communal knowledge on a certain point. 'Word around town is that no public libraries existed in Lebanon prior to the 1920s, when the local Women's Club opened its book collection to residents. Yet my gut instinct, formed from years of researching library history in dozens of Pennsylvania communities, tells me that there were likely attempts to establish libraries long before then. Using the Lebanon County Historical Society's collection of city directories, I found listings for various libraries and literary associations over the years. However, it is impossible to tell from a name and address how long each one existed, how many books it had, whether its collection was open to the public, or whether it was widely used. Since neither Lebanon Community Library or LCHS held records of these organizations, the Lebanon Daily News was my last resort.

Given my past experiences searching newspaper databases, I was skeptical that a long run of the Lebanon Daily News would be available cover-to-cover as the vendor claims. Yet for this particular title,  I haven't yet noticed any substantial gaps in Newspaper Archives' offerings. So far, I have used all issues from 1873 through 1887. I can confirm that there were in fact *many* libraries in Lebanon prior to the 1920s, including one which called itself a "Public Library."

In Lebanon, one could find libraries in churches and among religious groups. The local Catholic Club, the St. Mary's Literary Institute, the Salem Lutheran Church, the First Reformed Church, and the Chestnut Street Evangelical Church all had book collections for their members (LDN, April 8, 1873, pg. 1, September 8, 1874, pg. 1, August 27, 1883, pg. 1, February 19, 1885, pg. 1, and September 25, 1886, pg. 4). The Sunday School of the Methodist Episcopal Church held a strawberry and ice cream "festival" and a "pink tea" to build up its library (LDN, June 8, 1882, pg. 4, and March 8, 1887, pg. 1). When a new building for the Young Men's Christian Association was erected in 1872, the space included "library rooms" on either side of the entrance (LDN, December 7, 1872, pg. 1). Of these libraries affiliated with religious organizations, it appears that the YMCA was the most enduring, visible, and widely-accessible in the community.

Lebanon schoolchildren, educators, and professionals also organized libraries. Within the school system, the Gibraltar Literary Institute, a club for high school girls, repeatedly raised funds for a book collection as did the Franklin Literary Institute, a club of grammar school boys (for Gibraltar, see LDN, February 14, 1881, pg. 1, October 28, 1882, pg. 1, February 17, 1883, pg. 1, and February 5, 1885, pg. 1; for Franklin, see March 21, 1882, pg. 1, March 24, 1883, pg. 1, and December 2, 1884, pg. 4). A library for county teachers was proposed, but as of 1887, prospects were "not flattering" (LDN, January 26, 1887, pg. 1, and February 15, 1887, pg. 1). The G. Dawson Coleman Institute, which offered educational courses to working class men, mentioned a library in its advertisements (for example, see LDN, November 1, 1883, pg. 1). Lebanon's Amateur Scientific Association had a library as well (LDN, March 8, 1879, pg. 1). At the same time, attorneys in Lebanon formed a county law library (LDN, February 26, 1878, pg. 4).

In addition, some fraternal organizations and social clubs possessed book collections. For example, the local camp of the Patriotic Sons of America frequently sought funds for its library and occasionally exhibited their collection to the public (LDN, June 11, 1881, pg. 1, June 22, 1883, pg. 1, September 26, 1883, pg. 4, July 26, 1884, pg. 4, June 16, 1885, pg. 1, and June 20, 1885, pg. 1).

There were even some attempts among business entities to avail reading material to Lebanon residents. For example, from 1875 to 1881, Miss Clara A. Sherk operated a "circulating library" of popular fiction out of her stationery shop on Cumberland Street (LDN, May 18, 1875, pg. 1, and March 28, 1881, pg. 4). Even Miller & Co., an organ manufacturer, invited the public to use its book collection of more than 3000 works on organs (LDN, April 17, 1876, pg. 1).

The most tantalizing one I have found so far, though, is a "Public Library" started by the local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. The library got off the ground around 1879 and was still in operation as of 1887, where I left off in my newspaper searching this morning (LDN, January 30, 1879, pg. 1). Using fundraising methods strikingly similar to the Warren Library Association, this group held a "Loan Exhibition" during the winter of 1883 to raise money for books, and required users to purchase "tickets," a form of annual subscription (LDN, January 19, 1883, pg. 1, January 22, 1883, pg. 4, January 26, 1883, pg 1, March 13, 1883, pg. 1, March 19, 1883, pg. 1, January 13, 1885, pg. 4, and January 20 , 1885, pg. 4). The Public Library opened on April 4, 1883 at 618 Cumberland Street with about 625 volumes with hours on Wednesdays and Saturdays (LDN, April 4 , 1883, pg. 1). I'm definitely eager to trace it in subsequent pages of the Lebanon Daily News.

Checking these institutions against the 1876 and 1886 editions of Statistics of Public Libraries, I am struck by the federal government's  poor grasp of the number and variety of libraries in our country. There are no Lebanon libraries listed in the 1876 volume. The 1886 edition lists only a "Public Library" (probably the one established by the WCTU), which was then a subscription library of 2,000 volumes; an unheard-of "James Coleman Memorial Library," which was a free, general library of 1,300 volumes; and a "Public School" library of 1,000 volumes. Of course, any experienced library historian would tell you that the government's classification of libraries during this time is problematic at best. Yet it still seems troubling that Lebanon's YMCA, church, and club libraries seem to go unmentioned.

Historians who look no further than federal sources may fail to understand the pervasiveness of literature and reading activities in their communities. Given that newspapers come online each day, I wonder if we are approaching the next chapter to McMullen's and the Shapiros' grand projects. When will scholars use newspapers to uncover additional libraries during the colonial and antebellum period and add listings to Davies? When will we use newspapers to supplement any database that may be created from Statistics of Public Libraries? I am not sure I want to spend thirty years of my life, as McMullen did, on a national undertaking. But I now know that I need to use more newspapers as I expand my knowledge about Pennsylvania. Instead of limiting my searches to the date when the current public library was founded, it may be fruitful to search all years available.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Calling architectural historians!: visit the James V. Brown Library!

There are many subtopics in library history that I would love to explore if only my grasp exceeded my reach. One of them is architectural history. What does it say about the audience of a library, when the building is sited near fraternal lodges and social clubs, versus near churches, or schools, or low-income districts? How should we interpret a children's department that is located in a basement or on an upper floor? Does it mean anything when a building's design employs Grecian columns and pediments? Why did so many libraries choose green wall paint and oak furniture?

Since I am not well-trained in analyzing architecture, I will tip off other researchers: check out the James V. Brown Library in Williamsport (JVB). Designed by architect Edgar V. Seeler, built by E. S. Gilbert and Company, and opened in 1907, JVB is one of the oldest purpose-built libraries in its region. Judging from early floor plans, it had a different layout than many I have seen. It was partially-closed/partially-open stack -- meaning, many volumes were stored in a "stack room" at the back of the building, but alcoves and shelving in the reading room enabled customers to browse new titles and displays on special topics.

First floor plan of JVB. From the 1908 Annual Report. 
Original reading room of JVB. From the 1909 Annual Report. 
Although the original circulation desk has been replaced with an iron, gazebo-like sculpture, this part of the building retains much of the character of the old library. Outdoors, the front facade has not changed much in a century.

Front of the James V. Brown Library, Williamsport, PA.
Inside, natural light still streams in from a beautiful stained-glass skylight above, and staff still use the alcoves in the reading room to promote materials on special topics. During my visit, there was a display of histories and travel guides for the "Pennsylvania Wilds" -- the forests and mountains of which Lycoming County is a part.
Inside the JVB reading room today. 
The building itself is one primary source for architectual historians, but JVB has retained a substantial archive of correspondence and photographs as well. One binder, labeled "Letters from Architect Seeler to the Board," contains voluminous letters. In addition, JVB has retained another binder, labeled" "Letters and Invoices from the Contractor." There is also a copybook containing letters to Seeler, Gilbert, and others involved with the building. This material provides much information about the materials used in the construction and their costs; the contents of the building's cornerstone; even the equipment and supplies from the Library Bureau that early staff used. One reads of concerns over the likeness of donor James Brown in the bust above JVB's entrance. There is also evidence of conflict between contractor E. S. Gilbert and Pennsylvania Marble and Granite Company over the quality of stone and the promptness of its delivery.

Added to such textual records, there is a photograph album which documents several months of construction. Having an interest in non-librarian workers, I was delighted to catch a glimpse of the working-class people who actually "built" JVB. The album might also provide clues to researchers who are interested in how buildings were physically erected -- what types of processes and tools were used. Downstairs in JVB's local history room, the photograph collection contains additional images pertaining to construction.

Photograph album showing unfolding stages of JVB's construction. 
A photograph from early in the library's construction. From the JVB's photograph collection. 
It seems to me that there is much research to do in terms of library architecture. There is Donald Oehlert's classic Books and Blueprints, as well as Black, Pepper, and Bagshaw's book on British libraries. There are works about specific buildings, such as the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. Carnegie libraries have been the subject of studies by Dierickx, McCormickJones, Van Slyck, and others. Certain architects, like Henry Hobson Richardson are popular, too. Yet there may be many architects and buildings of regional importance, like Edgar V. Seeler and JVB, that are worth consideration as too. I hope some of my colleagues and students will attempt such efforts!









Sunday, November 24, 2013

Old swag from the James V. Brown Library

Last week, while combing through historical records of the James V. Brown Library (JVB) in Williamsport, I braced myself to heave a large carton which I assumed was filled with 40 pounds of paper. Yet when I lifted the box, I found it surprisingly light. After I cracked the lid and sifted through wadded-up craft paper, I found some delightful artifacts from the library's opening days: matching cups, pipe dishes, plates, and other ceramics decorated with an image of the library building; a silver spoon, also showing an image of the library; and a silver trowel which was used at a ceremony to lay its cornerstone.
Ceramic pipe dish showing the James V. Brown Library.
The library also has cups, plates, and
other items with the same design.
Silver spoon showing the
 James V. Brown Library. 
Ceremonial trowel used to lay the cornerstone
of the James V. Brown Library
I didn't find many clues about these items in extant records at JVB. The trowel's inscription indicates it was presented by the contractor, Edwin Gilbert, to the library's Board of Trustees. Other than crude "Made in Germany" stamps on the bottom of the cups, the ceramics provide no hint where and when they were made or sold. Unfortunately, in trying to fill the gaps I have little personal knowledge to draw upon. I have published a scholarly article about the benefits and difficulties of using old postcards as primary sources, but "librariana" (ephemeral artifacts which depict libraries, librarians, or librarianship) is mostly uncharted territory for me. When members of the Library History Round Table ask questions, I can only answer, "yeah, what Larry Nix said" or "read Norman Stevens' book."

Still, I sense that these artifacts could prompt valuable insights about everyday people's relationships to new libraries. For example, the silver spoon reminds me of souvenir spoons which were often sold at amusement parks, county fairs, capital cities, and other popular destinations during the 1880s-1910s. If JVB's spoon is of the same vintage, it lends to an interpretation of the new building as a tourist attraction -- a "sight to see." The ceramics remind me of commemorative plates that have long been used to celebrate historic events or important people. If JVB's items are part of this genre, this points to a library opening as a significant happening in the life of the community.

One could also think about JVB's items and the evolution of library "swag." Our tastes have changed in terms of the items we like to use. A century ago, a ceramic pipe dish was a common and useful item; however, in many circles, smoking is no longer socially accepted -- especially not in libraries, where the stock-in-trade could easily go up in flames! Also, new technologies make it possible to create bric-a-bric that our grandparents couldn't imagine. For example, companies like Janway print library logos on ear buds, and on cups that change color when you fill them with liquid.

Do you collect librariana? If so, what types of items? What does your collection tell you about the history of libraries?







A new muse?: O. R. Howard Thomson

After years of learning about the lives and careers of other people, you sometimes begin to think of them as friends. Gradually uncovering and assembling biographical details great and small makes dead people seem just as alive as your neighbors, work colleagues, and, sometimes, even family members. Your attachment to their stories can be so compelling that these people from distant eras fill your work hours, your social conversations, and even your wee-hour thoughts. 

Much like some of my relatives gossip about soap opera characters as if they were real, I sometimes find myself talking about -- and *to* -- "Hannah."  Hannah Packard James (1835-1903) was the first librarian of the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre and a founder of the Pennsylvania Library Association. I spent nearly 3 years seeking out any scrap of paper that could help me understand her  -- not only library records and professional correspondence, but even the deed to her home and the epitaph on her tombstone. I spent another 2 years struggling to make sense of all the material and trying to interest a scholarly journal in publishing it. After "Yankee Librarian in the Diamond City" made it to print, though, I hadn't come across another librarian that could motivate me to research his or her life story so obsessively. 

Until now.  

His name is O. R. (Osmund Rhoads) Howard Thomson. Born in London in 1873 and educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Ursinus, Thomson was working at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, a branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, when he learned that Williamsport was building a public library. 

Although O. R. H. was the son of nationally-known librarian John Thomson  and was working within one of (if not the) largest library systems in Pennsylvania, the Williamsport job wasn't necessarily his for the taking. Correspondence files reveal that some trustees were concerned about hiring Thomson because he had no formal library education and had never organized a library from the ground up. Furthermore, he was working in an institution run by his father, a situation which could be professionally limiting or overly forgiving of his faults (letter from JVB board of trustees to Melvil Dewey, April 16th, 1906, JVB). Yet, Thomson came highly recommended by Thomas Lynch Montgomery, the State Librarian of Pennsylvania, who happened to be Thomson's predecessor at Wagner (letters from Montgomery to Edmund Piper, January 23rd and February 19th, 1906, JVB). Thus despite the board's temporary misgivings, Thomson was hired. From 1906 until his death, he remained head librarian of the James V. Brown Library (JVB) in Williamsport. In 1915-1916, he was also president of the Keystone State Library Association (the forerunner to the Pennsylvania Library Association). 

Thomson was a prolific author and public speaker. Within the library profession, he may have been particularly recognized for his expertise on tax levies for libraries, and for his knowledge of library budgeting. In 1920, 1927, and 1939, JVB won increased municipal funding through public referendum, a feat that is hard to accomplish once, let alone 3 times. Following a KSLA conference presentation about library budgeting, Thomson wrote a handbook, A Normal Library Budget and Its Units of Expense (1913), which was published by the American Library Association. He later revised and expanded this work, titled Reasonable Budgets for Public Libraries and Their Units of Expense (1925), which was again published by the American Library Association.

I am fascinated by the fact that Thomson stayed in Williamsport until the end of his career. Over the years, I have come across many other competent men of Thomson's era who would vie for positions in larger libraries whenever opportunities arose. For example, Charles E. Wright, who organized the Erie Public Library, soon left it to head the Carnegie Library of Duquesne, PA, a grander building close to Pittsburgh. Edwin H. Anderson, who once directed Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, moved on to the New York Public Library. Unlike such men, Thomson became and remained a Williamsporter. 

As Hannah Packard James was intimately involved in numerous social welfare causes outside of her library, Thomson made himself a "leading part ... of the cultural life" in Williamsport ("Library and Librarian," Williamsport Sun, February 19th, 1937). Local residents were more likely to know Thomson as a bibliophile, historian, and poet. Soon after JVB opened, it offered annual lecture series and art exhibitions. Thomson himself was a frequent speaker, alongside faculty from regional schools and colleges. At JVB and the Lycoming County Historical Society, one can find scripts of dozens of talks he provided to regional groups of librarians, teachers, churchgoers, women's clubs, and the general public. In addition, LCHS preserves copies of "Every Other Saturday," a twice-monthly column on historical and literary topics Thomson wrote for the Willismsport Sun in the 1920s. The historical society also offers copies of original poems that Thomson composed and distributed to friends each holiday season from the 1910s through the 1940s. Importantly, it seems Thomson was not an egoist who only enjoyed his own work. Trying to instill a similar love of poetry in young people, for decades he personally sponsored an annual poetry-writing contest among area high school students. Finally, LCHS also has delightful photograph of Thomson in a tennis uniform -- apparently he enjoyed some team sports as well! 

O. R. Howard Thomson, n.d..
From the Lycoming County Historical Society. 
Some of the annual Christmas poems published by Thomson.
Copies available at the Lycoming County Historical Society. 
As Thomson grew older, his correspondence at times seems cantankerous. For example, an undated copy of a letter to the editor of the American Library Association Bulletin, protesting the development of rental book collections in public libraries, bellows about "the betrayal by those now high in the counsels of the Association, of an ideal that men in the Library profession fought for when these defeatists were in their cradles" (JVB). Similarly, when Thomson became frustrated that the concerns of mid-sized public libraries were becoming a "side-show" within PaLA conference programs, he contacted all libraries in Pennsylvania which served populations of 15,000-100,000, and hosted his own forum for them at Williamsport (letter from Thomson to libraries, June 30th, 1942). These curmudgeonly aspects endear him to me, though. 

I have been told that biographers are most attached to subjects whose experiences or personalities are like their own. That is true in my case. I grew up in New Bedford, a short distance from the James homestead in Scituate, so I readily identify with the culture shock Hannah Packard James encountered when moving from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania. In contrast, O. R. Howard Thomson and I seem to have nothing in common geographically. Yet I feel a connection to his love for scholarship. Like him, I write about history and I dare to take the podium in academic settings even though I am a "practitioner." I also empathize with his bluntness and his apparent impatience when "leadership" becomes more chain than command. It would be a long quest to track down comprehensive biographical details and to analyze all Thomson's writings, but I hope I will make the effort someday!

Pennsylvania libraries and the floods of 1936

If you were to ask someone to recall an environmental disaster of the 1930s, most likely he or she would mention the drought which turned much of the southern plains into a Dust Bowl. However, Pennsylvania experienced quite a different catastrophe: the Great Flood of 1936.

In the winter of 1935/1936, many areas of the state received unusual amounts of snowfall. Across Pennsylvania, an average of 5 extra inches fell in December, plus nearly 9 extra inches in January. Temperatures remained lower than normal through February, enabling the ice and snow to accumulate. In contrast, March 1936 was warmer than typical. Then, two storms hit. The first, on March 11th-12th, dumped 1-4 inches of rain on much of the state. While such precipitation wouldn't normally cause rivers to overflow, this time the rush of water was amplified by melting snow. A second storm, pelting west to east on March 16-18, "resulted in the greatest floods known" along the Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio, Susquehanna, and other rivers. Ultimately, at least 80 people were killed, 2,800 were injured, and more than 57,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. In addition, millions of dollars of repairs were needed for Pennsylvania's bridges, roads, rails,  mines, and utilities (J. W. Mangan, The Floods of March 1936 in Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA: Department of Forests and Waters, 1936, pgs. 14-20, 119).

Map showing rivers affected by the 1936 flood. 
From the J. W. ManganThe Floods of March 1936 in
Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, PA: Department of Forests and Waters, 1936).
Public libraries were among the many institutions struggling to recover from the great flood. Interestingly, when doing so, they may have set important precedents in terms of state funding for Pennsylvania libraries, and in best practices for reclaiming water-damaged materials.

I have yet to find a list of all the public libraries damaged by the flood, but an April 1936 article in Pennsylvania Library and Museum Notes mentions that Harrisburg, Huntingdon, Johnstown, Kingston, Lock Haven, Milton, Pittsburgh, and Williamsport were among them (see "Flooded Libraries," vol. 15, no. 3, pgs. 57-59). Of these, I currently know the most about the James V. Brown Library of Williamsport (JVB) which I visited this month. Both JVB and the Lycoming County Historical Society maintain papers of O. R. Howard Thomson, JVB's director during the flood.  Also, within JVB's correspondence files is a copy of a sworn statement by Thomson enumerating the damage to his library -- a claim of more than $40,000. Within these documents he stated that "water commenced to seep into the Library building on March 12th," and he used nearly 30 volunteers to lug 7,000-8,000 items from the cellar to the first floor. When the water continued to rise, they carried as many books as possible up to the 2nd floor, but available space couldn't hold all the library's contents. By March 18th, 22 inches of mud and water stood on the library's main floor.

View of the back of James V. Brown Library during the flood of 1936.
 From Cliff Waters, Flood: West Branch Valley's Answer to Disaster
(Williamsport, PA: Cliff Waters, 1936).
 
Wanting to salvage as many items as possible before mildew set in, as well as to clear the building promptly for cleaning and repair, Thomson decided to immediately truck thousands of items to the Universal Publishing Syndicate of Philadelphia, a bookbinder with the capacity to dry and fumigate large quantities, rather than task his staff with making salvage decisions and recording each book's disposition at the flood site. Later, he sent 3 staff members to Philadelphia to assess each title coming from the ovens and decide which ones were worth rebinding, versus those that should simply be discarded and replaced. The librarians then contacted colleagues at other institutions to request duplicates from the other libraries' collections. The State Library of Pennsylvania, Penn State libraries, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore all provided replacement copies for JVB (letter from Thomson to Superintendent of Public Instruction Lester K. Ade, August 20, 1936, JVB). In addition to Thomson's narrative statement and official correspondence, JVB retained a ledger, the "Flood Fund Journal," which itemized all expenses related to rehabilitation.

The LCHS collection includes friendly letters between Thomson and Helen Vogel (later Helen White), the secretary of his close friend, Henry F. Marx of Easton Area Public Library. This informal correspondence compliments official accounts by revealing Thomson's personal reactions to the flood and its aftermath. For example, on March 13th (after the 1st storm), he wrote to Vogel that the Susquehanna River had gone "on a rampage," but it appears that he felt a crisis had been averted. Items previously stored in the library's cellar had been successfully shifted to 1st floor, and a "light freeze" in temperature had slowed the rush of water from surrounding mountains. The Susquehanna River had begun to subside. Although Thomson "suppose[d] that two or three of us will have colds," it was "a great blessing to be safe for the moment." He was confident that the library was "built sufficiently high to be out of reach of any flood less than thirty-four feet" (letter from Thomson to Vogel, March 13th, 1936, LCHS). But little did Thomson know, rain would fall again a few days later. Cresting at 33.6 feet, the Susquehanna flooded more 6,000 buildings across more than 3,000 acres of Williamsport.

Aerial view of Williamsport during the flood of 1936. From Cliff Waters,
Flood: West Branch Valley's Answer to Disaster
 
(Williamsport, PA: Cliff Waters, 1936). 
 
Since correspondence with Vogel is sparse over the next few weeks, Thomson may have been in crisis mode. Such interpretation is reinforced by the half-sentences he typed to Vogel on April 11th:
"Well we're up for breath anyhow. Fifteen thousand volumes water soaked ... Frantic appeals to Washington, Harrisburg, and other places for duplicates of documents and Pennsylvaniana. Years of correspondence ... destroyed beyond salvage; records being ironed and the staff attired in overalls, knickers, pants. The Librarian in hip-boots and leather jacket as he had to wade around in the cellar. No heat for a week so whiskey administered to everybody twice a day and anti-typhoid injections made once a week. Bills being contracted for up to $25,000 and not a cent in sight! Great time."
Letters to Vogel further reveal that the clean-up process proceeded slowly. More than a month after the flood, the walls of the library's cellar still "weeped" water and the building remained closed (letter from Thomson to Vogel, April 22th, 1936, LCHS). A month later, JVB was still receiving materials back from the bindery (letter from Thomson to Vogel, May 29th 1936, LCHS).

Records available at the Pennsylvania Library Association Archives show an additional side of the story. PaLA President Frances H. Kelly appointed a special "Flood Relief Committee" to obtain rehabilitation funds from the state. The group consisted primarily of librarians at flooded institutions, including O. R. Howard Thomson; Mary E. Crocker of the Annie Halenbake Ross Library, Lock Haven; Alice R. Eaton of the Harrisburg Public Library; Margaret Jackson of the Hoyt Library, Kingston; and "Mrs. Hasenplug" (possibly Louise Hassenplug?) of Milton Public Library. 

Interestingly, Kelly chose Charles W. Carroll, the President of Universal Publishing Syndicate, to lead this group. Although not a librarian, Carroll had first-hand knowledge of the damage the floods wrought. His Philadelphia-area bindery was one of few, if any, companies in Pennsylvania equipped with large-scale drying ovens, fumigation equipment, paper-presses, and other machinery necessary to handle thousands of waterlogged volumes. As previously mentioned, his company had processed flooded materials from Williamsport.

More importantly, it appears from PaLA's Flood Relief Committee records that Carroll was politically well-connected and savvy. No later than April 4th, 1936, he had already spoken to 2 state legislators. While 1 was fully supportive of providing rehabilitation funds to libraries, the other was "a bit skeptical," but might agree if libraries made "an honest effort to salvage their books," rather than just "throw[ing] their stuff out on the junk pile." Thus at this early stage, Carroll advised librarians to generate, collect, and forward news stories which could illustrate both how the floods had affected institutions statewide (i.e., in all voting districts), and how librarians were making heroic efforts to refurbish their buildings and collections (letters from Carroll to Ralph Munn, April 4th and April 16th, 1936, PaLA). He also directed libraries to compile itemized lists of their losses, obtain at least 2 bids on repairs, and submit the information into "one folder so that it will be in presentable form." Carroll believed that "if you have an equitable case presented in an honest and straightforward way, [legistlators] will always give you consideration," and he was determined not to give them any "fake figures" (letter from Carroll to Frances H. Kelly, May 4th, 1936, PaLA). This said, when the bill was first introduced on May 12th, 1936 by Representative Joseph A. Simon of Lock Haven, it asked for $150,000, which was substantially more than the libraries needed. Figured in was probable "paring down" by the House Appropriation Committee and the Governor (letter from Carroll to Ralph Munn, May 21st, 1936, PaLA).

When the ink was dry, flood-damaged libraries in Pennsylvania obtained $100,000, about $16,000 less than they actually wanted (letter from Carroll to Frances H. Kelly, July 1st, 1936, PaLA). Reading the legislation, the money was actually appropriated to the state Department of Public Instruction. In order to receive any funding, libraries had to "file sworn proofs of loss," which were reviewed by the department. DPI then made recommendations to the State Council of Education, which set the dollar amount that each library would receive (H.R. Act 60, introduced May 12th, 1936, copy at PaLA). Carroll wisely counselled libraries to meet together ahead of time, to plan how they would trim each institution's request, thus shaping how funding would finally be apportioned. He himself believed that the larger libraries, like Pittsburgh, could better afford less-than-complete reimbursement than smaller institutions, and he hoped that they would "scale down their losses voluntarily" (letter from Carroll to Frances H. Kelly, July 15th, 1936, PaLA). This claims process likely generated Thomson's official correspondence and the Flood Fund Journal that exist at JVB today.

Although today's librarians probably don't remember the Great Flood of 1936 as a major date in the history of public library funding, Carroll viewed it as an important historical moment. The library law of 1931 had recently appropriated funds to the State Library, which could then buy books and reappropriate money to county library systems; yet there was no authorization for the state to provide funding directly, nor to individual, (municipal) libraries. Carroll hoped that emergency funding following the 1936 disaster had "broken down a precedent of many years standing," and that sometime in the not-too-distant future, Pennsylvania would provide direct assistance to public libraries on an annual basis (letter from Carroll to Frances H. Kelly, July 15th, 1936, PaLA). He was right in expecting the task to require "the patience of Job" -- the hoped-for appropriation did not come to fruition until 1961!

Interestingly, it appears that Pennsylvania public libraries' experiences after flood may have also helped to advance professional knowledge about disaster response in libraries. In 1937, Carl Milam, the Executive Secretary of the American Library Association, apparently contacted Ralph Munn of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for advice about treating water-damaged materials. Munn referred Milam's letter to O. R. Howard Thomson in Williamsport, who sent a 2-page reply and encouraged contact with Charles W. Carroll (letter from Thomson to Milam, January 29th, 1937, JVB). Furthermore, when St. Louis libraries were swamped floods that year, Harold F. Brigham telegraphed Thomson asking for "essential dos and don'ts." Brigham found Thomson's detailed instructions, sent on February 8th, a "God send." Furthermore, when Thomson read an journal article by John Archer on the "Treatment of Water-Soaked Books," he wrote to the publisher that Archer's method was utterly impractical for libraries dealing with thousands of wet volumes. He shared personal knowledge about another library which had followed methods similar to Archer's and was now rueing its decision. In Lock Haven, trustees had "haggled about costs of salvaging" the library's books and sent fewer than 2,000 to Carroll's commercial bindery (letter from O. R. Howard Thomson to Frances Kelly, April 21st, 1936, JVB). Instead, librarian Mary Crocker used WPA workers "spreading, turning, drying, and cleaning books for weeks," often laying items on the library's lawn during sunny days. However, the slow drying process led to mildew and stains. Worse, the library reopened prematurely in June, and dampness spread to other materials. In the end, Lock Haven "had to discard as a total loss nearly all of the books retained" (letter from Mary E. Crocker to Franklin Price, undated, copy at JVB). Judging from his correspondence files at JVB, Thomson shared his and Crocker's experiences with various colleagues at the state and national level.

Thus the dark clouds of 1936 seem to have had some silver linings. It would be interesting to probe this topic further, supplementing the material I found at JVB, LCHS, and PaLA with contemporary articles in the professional literature, newspaper coverage, material from the ALA archives (if information about the 1936 flood can be found there), and any extant documentation at other flooded libraries. Is there anyone who would like to collaborate? I think this is a very achievable project for a graduate student or newbie researcher who has access to library records in Lock Haven, Johnstown, Pittsburgh, or other localities. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering the little gal I left behind

"It's funny how silence speaks sometimes when you're alone and remember that you feel" (Creed, "Faceless Man")

There is a stretch of US 11/15 south of Selinsgrove that is particularly scenic by day but quite desolate by night. On one side of the road is the Susquehanna River, which sparkles through the trees on any sunny day. On the other side of the pavement, craggy cliffs rise. Only occasionally are they punctuated by villages that haven't changed much in the past century. This time of year, candles wink from the windows, and evergreen wreaths hang on the doors, of the federal and gothic-style homes. Seeing them, you might be convinced that you've been transported into pages of a old sentimental novel. Yet when it's late on a Saturday night and your car is running on fumes, the same place can seem frightening. You might encounter an adult video store or Amish gone a-courting in their buggies -- sights that seem to be equally probable on rural Pennsylvania byways. But on this part of 11/15, you won't pass an open gas station for miles. Say a Hail Mary before you try to call someone on your cell phone. 

I was speeding along this road, groggily sipping the flat dregs of a Coke Zero when my car's low fuel light came on. My range was approximately 35 miles. And then I passed a highway sign that said Harrisburg was 42 miles away. "I guess I can walk 7 miles if I need to," I told myself. 

Yeah. In utter darkness. In 20-something degree weather.

In order to take my mind off my dilemma, I commanded my car to shuffle and play some favorite tunes I'd downloaded to my phone. I commanded myself, "think happy thoughts." 

I mentally climbed above the nitty-gritty of my recent trip to Williamsport and wandered broadly over all the sites I'd visited. Having been on the road for more than 3 months, I had a choice of terrain. I thought with gratification about an outline of a book that has been forming in my head. I also remembered some of the fantastic hiking I had done, especially at Seven Springs Resort in Fayette County,  and on the Pine Creek Trail in Clinton County. 

At that moment, a favorite song by Creed blasted from my speakers. As the lyrics begin by describing a walk through nature, it matched my thoughts. I cranked up the volume. Yet, perhaps  because of my fueltank anxiety, my thoughts began to crawl down a thorny path. Ultimately, I think "Faceless Man" is about having the courage to acknowledge and confront who you are, where you have tread, and how you respond to your experiences. 

It had been nearly a month since my cat Filomena had died, but I scarcely acknowledged her passing. My stomach turned when I imagined her unburied ashes still in their small cardboard box on my fireplace mantle. She had been ill, vomiting regularly and losing weight for several months before my sabbatical began. Multiple veterinary visits only offered a continuum of uncertain diagnoses ranging from irritable bowl syndrome to cancer. No treatment worked. Just before I left home for Warren in early October, I held her in my arms, gently fingered the protruding bones along her shoulders and spine, touched my forehead to hers, and commanded, "you must get well." I prayed for her. 

Then I left. 

I was in Franklin about a week and a half later when my husband called and somberly suggested maybe I should come home. Fili hadn't eaten for days and was barely moving at that point. I laid on the floor beside her that night, awakened repeatedly by her pained cries. I brought her to the vet the next morning and had her put down. 

It took a week for the crematory to return her to us. By that time I completed my next research site, Lebanon. I didn't have the guts to bury her, so I left her on the mantle and headed on the road to Williamsport. 

Driving home from Williamsport on a dark night with nothing but my thoughts, the enormity of what I'd lost -- and what I might be losing by undertaking such an intense project -- hit me. 

Filomena hadn't stayed with us long, but as her name suggests, she was much loved. As many pet adoptions are, meeting her was happenstance. One night I was mourning the loss of another cat and procrastinating an errand to Home Depot when I walked into the PetSmart in the same plaza. I hadn't meant to visit the adoption area but soon found myself on the other side of the glass, peering at the sleeping kitties. I quietly opened the door, and "Floppsy"'s ears and nose twitched. She stood, arched her back, and reached with a white-tipped paw through the cage. Among a dozen or so animals, she alone seemed interested by my presence. We silently looked into each others' eyes, and then I acknowledged, "you don't belong in a cage." The next day, which was a few days before Christmas, I brought her home. She was my 2nd most loyal friend (yes, humans included) until her death.


Fili on her first night with us, December 2010. 
And I left her. Again and again.

Driving home from Williamsport, I realized  she would no longer greet me at the door or curl up in my lap when I arrived. I pulled to the side of the road and bawled as I should have done weeks earlier. Guilt, anger, and despair washed over me. Research seemed bloody well pointless, really. I couldn't help but imagine a future where hundreds of unsold copies of my stupid work shared the $1.98 bargain bin with Sarah Palin's damned Christmas book. 

So what to do? 

After wiping the snot from my face, I opened a window and gulped the icy air. I started up the engine and resumed driving. It's all you can do. All I can do. 









Saturday, November 9, 2013

Laborers and library history, part 2: the death of John Anderson in Warren

This week, while searching the Newspaper Archive database for articles concerning the history of the Warren Library Association, I came across a story that I didn't recall finding in any published description of the library. On Monday, August 13, 1883, while the Struthers Library was under construction, a worker named John Anderson fell from a ladder and died of his injuries. The article mentioned that this was "the first accident to life since the work began," so he definitely perished while on the job (Warren Ledger, August 17, 1883, pg. 8).

The Struthers Library Building in Warren,
 soon after its completion.
Image courtesy of the 

Warren Library Association. 
The Ledger doesn't mention the man's specific occupation, or the precise circumstances or location where he met his fate. But apparently some people in the community thought well of him. Unusual for many laborers of the time, Anderson received a substantial obituary in the local newspaper. It mentioned that he and a brother had emigrated from Sweden approximately 10 years earlier, and that he was married. Although "poor and entirely ignorant of our language" when they arrived, the Andersons "by industry and economy and a strict regard for good morals ... acquired a comfortable little home, and a familiar knowledge of our language, with the respect of all who knew them." Construction on the library was halted so that other laborers could attend the funeral, and the services were paid for by the library's donor, Thomas Struthers (Warren Ledger, August 24, 1883, pg. 5).

I wanted to learn more about Anderson. From Our Scandinavian Heritage, a recent book by Barbara Ann Hillman Jones, I learned that there was a Swedish "enclave" in Warren County which extended north to Chattauqua County, New York. A search of the 1880 U.S. Census via Heritage Quest showed there were at least 3 men named John Anderson who were born in Sweden and living in Warren County in the 1880s -- never mind additional men with variant spellings of the surname! Comparing their home addresses to an 1878 map of Warren County, the likeliest was a John Anderson who lived in Conewago Township, which at that time included North Warren, where "my" John Anderson was residing when he died in 1883. Other bits from this census record matched the obituary: John Anderson of Conewago Township was born in Sweden, a laborer, and married to a woman named "Sharlott." Also, an Erick Anderson (possibly the brother mentioned in the obituary?), also born in Sweden, a laborer, married, and in his 30s, lived next door. Given how common the name is, however, I can't be sure.

It isn't my task to uncover every detail of such men's lives. Hopefully a descendant or local historian will find this post and figure it out. But I think it's important for people in Warren and beyond to know the bodily sacrifices some families made in building the institutions we enjoy today.