I found a wonderful little collection of letters from a cataloger to library school students. They address common complaints and perceptions of cataloging as being monotonous and mechanical work, and the author tries to persuade her readers that cataloging is, in fact, a Great Adventure:

A Great Adventure: Twelve Letters to a Library School Student, by Esther Anne Smith, Head of the Catalog Department, University of Michigan Library. Ann Arbor: George Wahr, Publisher, 1930.

All of the letters are fun to read, but I think this is my favorite:

A Great Adventure, IX

There are catalogers who accept the dictum that cataloging is ‘mechnical’ work, and who act accordingly, and let me assure you, they are mighty poor catalogers.

It sometimes seems to me that I can almost hear the books chuckling to themselves when they get into the hands of such a cataloger (so-called). The tricky little ways in which they fool her. The perfectly absurd things that they ‘get away with’! I don’t wonder they laugh. And the cards–how they can tangle themselves into a maze wholly unintelligible to anyone! Books and cards can be perfect imps in the hands of the mechanical cataloger.

No sir! You’ve got to be on the alert every instant if you do not wish to be caught. That mind of yours must work, quickly, thoroughly, accurately, all the time, approaching every book with the suspicion that it is not what is seems. And your imagination cannot play hookey for even the fraction of a second. Oh, the trouble that is caused, both to the public and to the library, by the unimaginative cataloger, who cannot picture her cards in the catalog, cannot foresee what will happen if she does–or does not do–certain things! You must learn to follow with your thought, at least subconsciously, every smallest act, or failure to act, throughout your day’s work. And don’t stop until you can actually see some one using the resultant card, in the catalog. If you can do this, you will never be bored, and best of all, your public and your fellow-workers will rise up and call you blessed.


This passage is taken from Jesse Shera’s essay “The Book Catalog and the Scholar–A Reexamination of an Old Partnership.” It was a paper delivered at the RTSD/RSD Book Catalogs Interdivisional Committee Program at ALA, July 10, 1961.

For centuries, the scholar and the codex have been constant companions, and they have formed a kind of silent partnership in the search for truth. The bibliography in book form was, therefore, a simple and logical extension of this union to which the efficiency of the card catalog seemed to do violence. Such great bibliographic monuments as the catalogs of the British Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Surgeon General’s Library, the Astor Library and the Gesamt Katalog, to name but a few, commanded, and for that matter still command, a respect that one does not readily grant even to such a significant undertaking as the National Union Catalog at the Library of Congress.

There are probably a variety of reasons for this emotional reaction, certainly not the least of which is the identity that these catalogs have achieved through their association with their compilors. This is no mere catalog–who touches this touches a man. By contrast, a card catalog represents a continuing operation to which, though the years, many hands have contributed yet upon which no one has left the indelible mark of his own personality. Moreover, the card file has always been the symbol of impersonality, identified largely with personnel records of one kind or another, in which no one wants to be a mere cross-indexed annotation. That this is an irrational emotional reaction does not belie its potency. Perhaps it derives from the very virtue of the card catalog–its flexibility, and hence its impermanence. An entry in a book is there forever, but a card can be withdrawn from a catalog and departing leaves behind it not even a foot-print on the sands of time….

Shera concludes…

This revival of interest in the book catalog does not imply disillusion with the card form. Rather, it signifies a reexamination of the total problem of bibliographic organization, and a recognition that there is no universal, no one best, instrument that will meet all the needs of the scholar. At the same time that some librarians have been reconsidering the book catalog, others have been investigating a variety of mechanical and electronic devices for informational retrieval. Janus-like, the scholar is looking back to the past as well as forward to the future for more effective means for the organization of his materials. The book catalog, the card catalog, and the electronic mechanism–each has its own unique characteristics that endow it with its peculiar utility for certain types of library and research situations. This is in the bes traditions of librarianship, a reaffirmation of the need for an unceasing search for improvement, whether that search leads to a reassessment of the past or to areas that are as yet unexplored.

Comparative Popularity of Books in Wisconsin Traveling Libraries Sent to Farmers’ Families

Madison, Wis., April, 1902

The Wisconsin Free Library Commission is constantly receiving inquiries form all parts of the country as to the classes of books that are most popular in the traveling libraries for farmers’ families. It is evident that the circulation of books of one traveling library, on one or two trips, does not furnish a sufficient basis to answer such questions. The tastes of the librarian at a traveling library station, the general intelligence of the readers, their occupations, or the fact that the same books may be found in the school, church or family libraries, may affect the circulation. As an illustration the history of a Stout library in Dunn county may be cited. It was sent at different times to two farming communities where, in each case, it was patronized by about twenty families. In both cases, the patrons were industrious farmers and their families, who spoke and read mainly, or only, English. Both communities had fairly good schools and thoroughly appreciated the libraries. In one community, which we will call Station A, the farmers’ wives had for a number of years maintained a study and reading club which met monthly. At Station B there had been no such local stimulus to serious reading. The circulation at Station A in six months was 266, at Station B it was 210. At Station A Hopkins’ Experimental science was drawn seven times, and Oman’s History of Greece six times. Neither of these was drawn at Station B. Flamingo feather, which is one of the two volumes by Kirk Munroe in the Stout traveling libraries, was drawn seven times at Station A, and thirteen time at Station B. Higginson’s English history for Americans was drawn six times at Station A, and once at Station B. Marion’s faith, by Col. King, was drawn seven times at Station A, and thirteen times at Station B. A copy of Merchant of Venice was drawn six times at Station A and once at Station B. In the use of all the libraries sent to the two stations, so similar in many respects, the same difference in the reading is shown. This difference not only shows  the need of studying the history of a number of traveling libraries to determine what books are most popular among the farmers, but it bears witness in a striking way to the benefit of well conducted study clubs maintained by the mothers in a rural community, and suggests the thought that our strong federations of women’s clubs might well endeavor to found more rural clubs.

In order to get a better basis for a statement of the comparative popularity of books among farmers, the writer has examined the records of circulation in three systems of traveling libraries for farmers which have been maintained for four years or more in Wisconsin.

One system of thirty-seven libraries has been supported by Hon. J. H. Stout, of Menomonie, in Dunn county, since May, 1896. Another of thirty-two libraries has been maintained by Mr. J. D. Witter, of Grand Rapids, in Wood county, since August, 1896. The third is a system of twelve libraries which were purchased in 1898 with a gift of $500 from Mr. Joseph Dessert, of Mosinee, by the Wisconsin Commission, and which has been entirely in its charge. The latter have been sent to farming communities in all parts of Wisconsin. In all these systems the libraries are sent to stations to remain six months, and the Commission aided in establishing all of them.

A number of popular books for children, like Robinson Crusoe, Hans Brinker and Little women were not included in some of these libraries because they are found in nearly all country school libraries.

A compilation of the statistics of circulation of the different systems showed sixty books which had been included in each of the three systems.

The following table shows the trips each of these books made in each system, the number of borrowers in each system, and the average number of times it was drawn. It also shows the total number of trips, the total number of borrowers and the average number of times it was drawn on all the trips. A comparison of the figures will give a very good idea of the classes of books that are most popular in farming communities in northern Wisconsin.

view table

In estimating the usefulness and comparative popularity of these books four facts should be remembered:

1. That the people who manage the traveling libraries try to place them, as a rule, in the communities which have the least educational advantages.

2. That the more popular books are generally read by two or members of a family each time they are drawn.

3. That each library contains quite a proportion of books for students, and that while these are read by fewer people, such people are generally the intellectual leaders, and the books which they read often have much influence in shaping the thought of the neighborhoods where they live.

4. The first of these libraries were purchased early in the year 1896, so that no books of recent publication are included in the tables.

The records of the Joseph Dessert libraries show that in three years the books of the twelve libraries were drawn 8,465 times, an average circulation for each library of 705. It is a conservative estimate to say that each book was read, on an average, twice each time it was drawn, so that the 600 volumes (each library contains 50 volumes), were probably read 16,930 times in the three years.

The Commission keeps an accurate record of the physical condition of these libraries, which shows their condition before and after each trip. Each library, when new, was marked 100. After three years the average was 80; the best used library being marked 92, and the one which had received the hardest usage, 72. The libraries will probably endure from seven to eight years’ service, and many of the books can then be given to small libraries for further service. The Commission takes great pains to teach people to use the books of the traveling libraries carefully, not so much for the sake of saving the books as because the training helps to make people thoughtful in care for all public property and public rights.

When one considers that these libraries cost by $50 each and that they go to isolated communities where the books are not only read, but talked over, again and again, and often change the whole current of the neighborhood thought and talk, it is apparent that few means of education can do so much for better citizenship in proportion to their cost.

The pity of it is that the Commission has not the means to establish more such libraries. The officers of the Commission are anxious to secure the aid of all good citizens in this work.

The Commission is constantly refusing calls for traveling libraries because it has not the means to purchase them. The officers of the Commission have authority form the sate to accept contributions to buy books for such libraries and to arrange and circulate them without further cost to the donors. Six year of practical experience have proved the great vale of this plan of education and that it is simple, economical and effective. Careful philanthropists who have aided in the work unite in declaring that money expended in supporting carefully managed traveling library systems does great good in proportion to the cost. We send this circular as an appeal for aid in our work. Please send copies to your friends or send the Commission the addresses of friends who will be interested.

Further information will be gladly furnished by teh Commission. Small sums will be gratefully received and promptly acknowledged. The officers of the Commission are: James H. Stout, Menomonie, chairman; F. A. Hutchins, Madison, secretary; Miss L. E. Stearns, Milwaukee, organizer; Miss Cornelia Marvin, Madison, instructor; Miss K. I. MacDonald, Madison, assistant secretary.

Can you not help?

Address all inquiries to the

Wisconsin Free Library Commission,

Capitol, Madison, Wis.

I don’t believe I’d ever heard of package libraries before I came across this a couple weeks ago. In the case of Indiana University, it appears that the Bureau of Public Discussion (whose mission precedes the table of contents in this bulletin), distributed such packages. According to this document, the University of Wisconsin pioneered the Package Library movement.

I want to know more. I’ve found one other document in the library so far. If anyone has any knowledge of these libraries, please share!

Click on the image to view a pdf. (I seem to be rather inept at getting a pdf into this blog, so you’ll have to rotate it to read it…sorry.)

Package libraries (click to view pdf)

Package libraries (click to view pdf)

An Address given at the District of Columbia Library Association Dinner, Carlton Hotel, Washington D.C., April 1, 1936

It has been a great pleasure to be here this evening and to hear all the things that have been said about libraries in the district and in general, and the librarians, without whom the libraries would be of little use, I am afraid. But as I sat here I fear that I have thought a good deal about the fact that there are so many places in the United States that have no libraries and that have no way of getting books.

What the libraries mean to the nation is fairly obvious to all of us, especially to those who are here this evening. We know that without libraries, without education, which is based largely on libraries, we cannot have an educated people who will carry on successfully our form of government, and it seems to me that what we really are interested in is how we can make this country more conscious of what it has not got, because we do pat ourselves on the back for the things that we have and that we do. I was looking over some maps which were sent to me and I longed to have these maps very much enlarged and put up in many, many places throughout this country, because I do not think that many people know how many states do not spend more than ten cents per capita for library books a year, and how many states have large areas, particularly rural areas, where one cannot get books.

One of the things that I have been particularly grateful for in the years of the depression–and, of course, I think, sad as it has been, we have some things to be grateful for–is that we have discovered so many things that we had not known before. These facts have come to the knowledge of a great many people who had simply passed them by before, because they did not happen to think about them, and one of these things, that we used to be able to hide, is the areas of the country which are not served in any way by libraries. I have seen photographs, for instance, of girls going out on horseback with libraries strapped on behind them, taking books to children and grown people in places that have been without libraries. We know a good deal about Mrs. Breckinridge’s nursing service in Kentucky, but we know very little about the libraries that go out in the same way that her nurses do, on horseback.

I have lived a great deal in the country, in a state which prides itself in spending much money on education, and I am quite sure that some people think there is no lack of education and no lack of library facilities, and sometimes I long to take people and let them see some of the back country districts that I know, in New York State. I know one place in the northern part of the state where I camped for a while in the summer, and I went to the school and talked to the teachers. They are using school books which have been passed down from one child to another. They have practically no books outside of the textbooks. The children in the district are so poor and some of them so pathetic that I suppose the struggle to live has been so great you could not think much about what you fed the mind, but I came away feeling that right there, in one of the biggest and richest states in the country, we had a big area that needed books and needed libraries to help these schools in the education of the children, and, even more, to help the whole community to learn to live through their minds.

We are doing a tremendous amount through the home economics colleges to help people to learn how to live in their homes, to better their standards of material living. We have got to think in exactly the same way about helping them to live mentally and to attain better standards, and we can do it only through the children. We can do ground work with the children; we must begin with them; but we have got to do a tremendous amount with the older people.

I had a letter the other day which was pathetic. It was from a man who said he was 74 years old. He wrote to ask me to see that the adult education classes in that particular community were not stopped, because it had meant so much to him to learn to read. He did not think that I could understand what it meant never to have been able to understand a word on the printed page. He said, “I am not the only one. My next door neighbor is 81 and he learned to read last winter, and it has just made life over for us.” It gave you the feeling that there is a good deal of education that is not being done in this country, in spite of all that is done.

We have come a long way. We have done a great deal, but we still have a lot that can be done to improve our educational system, and we still have a tremendous amount to do with our libraries. We have got to make our libraries the center of a new life in the mind, because people are hungry to use their minds.

We are facing a great change in civilization, and the responsibility, I think, for what we do with our leisure time is a very great responsibility for all of us who have intellectual interests. Somebody said to me, “I would not be so worried and I would not mind facing the fact that we are working fewer hours, if I only knew what people would do with their free time. I would not know what to do myself if I had only to work six hours a day.”

That is a challenge. We, here in this country, ought to know what to do with our time, if we have it. I do not know whether we are going to have it, but if we are going to have more leisure time, it is the library, and people who live in the libraries and work in libraries, who are going to lead the way, who are going to give other people the curiosity and the vision of useful things, and pleasant things, and amusing things which can be done in those hours in which we may not have to work in the ways in which we have worked before. It is a very great responsibility, but it is also a very great interest.

Now, I think here in the city of Washington, and in nearly all big cities, the problem is a different one from the one I know so well in the country districts. I think that perhaps there are more facilities and, for that reason, there are more stimulating people engaged in solving the different problems that affect education in cities. But there is a great need, a very great need, in rural America. There is a great need for imagination in the ways used to stir the interest of old and young to use what library facilities they have, and to insist that they shall have more and to make them willing to pay for more, because, in the end, they will get something that they want out of it.

The more I have thought about the problem, the more I have felt that we do not use all our opportunities to stimulate an interest in books. Everything today in which people are interested, the radio, the movies–all of these–should, if properly used, stimulate the use of books. For instance, if there is a remarkably good movie, like “The life of Pasteur,” it seems to me that it should be used by people in our rural schools and rural libraries to create an interest in the life of Pasteur, the things that Pasteur did, the people around him, and all the discoveries that have come from that time on. I am sure that if we put our minds on it, there are a great many ways in which we can use the things which are coming constantly into the lives of people throughout the country to stimulate an interest in the oldest and most interesting recreation there is.

But you do have to learn to love books, you do have to learn how to read them, you do have to learn that a book is a companion, and this is done in a great many different ways. I think we can do a great deal by having more copies of the same book, perhaps less expensive books, in the libraries so that we can have a good many people reading the same books and coming together for discussion.

I know, for instance, that even in a small group, like a family, we all want to read one book at the same time, and we all want to tear each other’s hair out when we can’t get a copy. It seems to me that here is something we should be thinking about, to stimulate the reading of books in families and large groups of people. I think the C.C.C. has made me realize this. One boy said to me, “Do you know about that book? I am so glad to be able to talk about it…. You know, it takes such a long time to get a book around.” Now, if there had been a dozen or more copies of that book, the group would have talked about that book and it would have been a valuable contribution. It would have stimulated their intellectual thought.

I feel that the care of libraries and the use of books, and the knowledge of books, is a tremendously vital thing, and that we who deal with books and who love books have a great opportunity to bring about something in this country which is more vital here than anywhere else, because we have the chance to make a democracy that will be a real democracy, that will fulfill the vision that Senator King has just given us. It will take on our part imagination and patience and constant interest in awakening interest in other people. But, if we do, I think we shall find that our love of books will bring us a constantly widening audience and constantly more interesting contacts in whatever part of the country we may go.

What I find most striking about this interview is the rhetoric surrounding the demand for men in corporate libraries and the promotion of the idea that men will secure an important standing in the community by becoming a librarian, rather than a focus on promoting the social good, as with so much of the Progressive Era rhetoric targeted at women. It is clear that men should anticipate low salaries, but their motivation for taking such work is expected to be different from women’s:

‘Although most library positions are held by women, there is a real opportunity for men as heads of technical libraries and as directors of city public libraries. An energetic man who is at the head of a public library can be more than a librarian to the community. He can act as a leader in public thought by speaking before meetings and as a member of various clubs of the city. The need for a well-trained executive as the head of a city library system is being given more recognition than formerly.’

Mr. Dana is perhaps the best known librarian in America and has written books and many articles on the subject of this interview. This statement was his answer to my question about the library field as a vocation for young men.

‘The opportunities in this field,’ he continued, ‘are sure to increase in number and worth. Large business houses are coming to realize the value of private libraries and many good positions are made available through these libraries for trained men and women. Public libraries are always losing their workers because they are accepting positions in these private libraries. Most of our large technical corporations require men for their libraries, and the demand for well trained men must soon raise the salaries and library positions will become more attractive.’

Good Fun and Low Pay

“‘A man must be born to library work. If he feels called to this field of activity he may look forward to a life of great pleasure, but of modest income. His position is generally secure and he has an opportunity to assume a place of importance in the community.’

“‘The use of books is still growing rapidly. It is only a little over a hundred years since any large part of the people learned to read. Exact knowledge is more in demand and libraries are branching out into new lines which will help business and industries in gathering facts pertaining to their problems. For instance, the Newark Public Library is adding a pamphlet department, in which a mass of pamphlets, articles, and clippings on all subjects and of the most recent publications will be found. This collection will supplement the bound books and in many cases take precedence of them in up-to-dateness. It will be classed as are the books, but will be marked with colored bands representing the class numbers.’

‘I would advise a young man to get a general college training before entering a library school. Preferably he should spend a year in a library before taking this course to see if his tastes will be satisfied by this field. Most library schools demand a high school training before entrance.’

‘The lowest salary paid to a trained librarian after leaving school is about $1,200 a year. An average salary for an assistant librarian would be about $2,000 a year. Private libraries pay from $2,500 to $4,000 a year.’

‘It is absurd for a young man to enter this profession unless he is attached to his fellow men. If he is purely a maker of things or seeks only money he does not belong. He must have a sympathetic spirit and a love for the community.’

from New York Evening Post, 1921

“What Can I Do to Help?: A Program for Immediate Library War Service,” from War Library Bulletin, v.1:no.1, Aug. 1917

No questions were oftener asked at the Louisville meeting of the A.L.A. than ‘What war service can my library render?’ ‘What can I do?’ This statement aims to answer these questions for the smallest library and the younge’t assistant.

1. The A.L.A. has been asked by the War Department to undertake the collection, distribution, and circulation of reading matter in the thirty-two principle army camps. For this purpose it expects to have its own building at each camp. For this work every library in the land is to be a collection center, not only to gather material, but to take the lead in presenting this appeal and in representing this work throughout the country, and especially to correlate and unify at the library all similar efforts. Every library should give the widest publicity to this campaign of book collection, through the press, through slips put in books circulated, through the churches, the movies, and through other agencies cooperating in the same work.

The Subcommittee on Organization has distributed full account of all kinds of books wanted and what is to be done with them by each library. Briefly, this is to secure all material offered, to sort it, to sell inappropriate material, using proceeds for shipping charges and other expenses or remitting to the General Committee, and finally to ship according to instructions form the Subcommittee on Organization. The committee hopes to have shortly a list of 7,000 titles available for every library on request, to be used in sorting material and in suggesting titles to donors.

2. Every librarian should join the ‘Dollar-a-Month Club’ and make an individual money gift for this work. The Finance Committee has already addressed all members of the American Library Association, but such contribution should not be limited to members only. Return or send pledge promptly to Dr. Frank P. Hill, Chairman, Finance Committee, 26 Brevoort Place, Brooklyn, N.Y. This is our work, and every librarian should lend a hand in its support.

3. The library should give as an institution.

4. Volunteers will be needed for two lines of work:

a. Sorting and shipping all material in local libraries and to some extent in regional libraries (probably one in each State). Men or women can be used for this work.

b. Men are needed to volunteer for camp library service. The A.L.A. has undertaken to furnish without charge sufficient personnel for this work during the duration of military training. Some have already volunteered. Many others are necessary. Each librarian can help to enlarge the honor roll.

-J.I. Wyer, Jr., Chairman, A.L.A. War Service Committee

An elaborate fund-raising campaign was launched in 1917 with the goal of raising a million dollars for a Library War Service. Each public library director was expected to lead the campaign in his/her community. Prior to this campaign, the ALA had been working with the YMCA, the Knights of Columbus, and the Young Men’s Hebrew Association to collect book donations, but this was considered to be insufficient to meet the needs of soldiers. By April of 1918 the campaign raised $1,700,000 for the Library War Fund. This money served 464 camps, stations, and vessels by erecting 36 camp buildings, placing 117 librarians in the field, purchasing 300,000 books, collecting 1,349,000 gift books, sending 109,403 books overseas, and distributing 5,000,000 magazines.