Historical Issues

A group of people sitting around a large table, the table has a big box in the center, and piles of old documents and books.

Librarians and archivists attend a Resources and Technical Services Division (RTSD) Institute on preservation at Yale University. Ann Swartzell of the RTSD/Reproduction of Library Materials Section, leads the workshop on preparing newspapers for microfilming. Published in American Libraries, June 1988, pg. 536.  Image and caption from American Library Association Archives.

The Library History Round Table seeks “to facilitate communication among scholars and students of library history, to support research in library history, and to be active in issues, such as preservation, that concern library historians.”  This page offers articles on those historical issues, including preservation, research methodologies, and the role of libraries in public history exhibits and events.

Note (May 22, 2020): “Conquer or Die”: An Emma Abbott Legacy

By Emma O’Halloran, California State University, Fullerton

Author Bio: Emma O’Halloran is a graduate of California State University, Fullerton, where she earned her Masters in Cultural Anthropology in May of 2020. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 2017. O’Halloran plans to continue her education and professional experience in Museum Studies and Anthropology.

Intro from the Editor: We’re thrilled to share this outstanding master’s thesis with our readers, completed in the Anthropology Master’s program at California State University, Fullerton.  This project is very relevant to library historians and students because it illustrates the power of the library as a venue for the forgotten stories of the past. 

How many of us know the story of Emma Abbot?  Likely only a few, but she was one of the most influential figures in American cultural history because she made opera accessible to American audiences.  This project recovers her often overlooked legacy by beginning with an engaging life story of Abbot who truly lived out her matra of “conquer or die”.  The vignettes selected from her life and described by the author are amazing.  And, the story becomes all the more moving when you find out that the author is a descendant of Abbot!

This thesis features several other elements.  In addition to Abbot’s story, it includes an overview of the history of museums and their role in revealing hidden histories through public exhibits.  This is a key issue that library historians must consider as well as they design their exhibits; there are many ideas in this section that are directly applicable to libraries engaged at any level with public history.  Library history’s sister field of museology has much to teach us about the theoretical issues inherent in portraying the history of marginalized peoples through displays.

Following this overview, there is a discussion of the author’s procedures for implementing an exhibit series about Abbot at the Paulina June and George Pollak Library at CSU Fullerton.  This brilliant thesis format would be one that some library and archival science theses could imitate: a stirring topical story from history; a disciplined scholarly discussion of theories and themes in hidden histories; and a practical demonstration of how to make a legacy living and accessible to the public through creative display curation.

Let Abbot and O’Halloran inspire you by reading the full paper,Conquer or Die”: An Emma Abbott Legacy

Writing the History of Your Library

Thinking of writing up the history of a library?  Maybe you’re a graduate student in a library history course, a library staff member compiling a history of your library, or an author conducting library history research for the first time. This document serves as the starting point for writing a library history, offering ten suggestions and an appendix of potential source collections:

Guidelines for Writing Local Library Histories (LHRT Policy Statement developed by Dr. John V. Richardson Jr. UCLA GSLIS; Steve Fisher U. Denver; Betty Hanson, Indiana U.; and Holley R. Lange, Colorado State U.)