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


From The Chicago Public Library Staff News, v.3:no.3, Nov. 1924

This is addressed to the Juniors–you who come to us in such numbers, usually on temporary appointment until the next Civil Service examination, which you must take and pass before you can begin to be promoted. You come into our staff, mostly, straight from school or college and have never been regularly employed before. Usually you were led to seek employment with us because you thought you would like our kind of work, or because someone else who directed you thought you would like it, and that your tastes and capacities fitted you for it.

We hope you do like it, and find it interesting and congenial. If you do not, you are wasting your time here and we are wasting ours in trying to teach you even the simple duties of the positions to which you are assigned. You are just beginning at the bottom of what really is a very fascinating and somewhat complicated kind of work, and your part of it for the time being is quite apt to appear both simple and mechanical. But you are a part of a big machine which works smoothly only when all of its parts work smoothly together. If your part goes wrong the whole machine may go wrong. If, for example, in charging books, you copy a borrower’s card number incorrectly, say, by writing a 6 where an 8 ought to be, you are charging a book to an entirely different person from the one to whom you gave it at the desk. And if it would become overdue, our notices would be mailed to an innocent party, who would have a right to feel offended and to hold a very low opinion of the Public Library. Your acts or your conduct in general may, thus, become a direct cause for making or marring the reputation of the Library as a public institution.

Truly inspiring. Really makes you want to be a librarian, doesn’t it?

These lucky juniors would likely enter a training program with the public library. Some of the more fortunate ones attended library school, whereas people hired as library clerks had no opportunity for promotion without formal training. Entrance to the public library’s training program required a high school diploma and a passing score on this exam (There are two pages. Click on the image for a pdf):

Chicago Public Library Examination for Entrance to the Training Class

Chicago Public Library Examination for Entrance to the Training Class, June 27, 1925 (click image to see pdf)