The notes below offer histories of specific libraries from around the world. Some notes offer general histories, while others focus on specific collections, facilities, and programs. Libraries have played versatile roles in many communities, serving as reading places as well as community centers for food drives, plays, town meetings, knitting bees, celebrity talks, and more. Please consider submitting the history of your library!
Note (July 6, 2017): History of the Main Library of San Francisco
By Nicolette Hall, San Jose State University
Author Bio: Ms. Hall received her BFA in Photography and Art History from the Kansas City Art Institute. She also holds an MA in Art History from San Francisco State University, where she received the Distinguished Achievement Award for Academic Excellence for her thesis and participated in the Western Association of Graduate Schools Distinguished Master’s Thesis Competition. She is interested in archives, special collections, and preservation management and is presently in the final two semesters of the MLIS program at SJSU.
Introduction from the Editor: Ms. Hall has composed a splendid account of the dawning of the San Francisco Public Library, examining how budgetary limitations, saloons, an earthquake, and a highly-skilled but volatile library director figured into its history. In many of our past posts, we have seen how early public libraries had to grapple with start-up costs and funding limitations. Due to these challenges, San Francisco’s pioneer librarians had to share a building with the California Theatre located in the entertainment district during the early years of the city. The proximity to the saloons and theatres of the district boosted patron visits and circulation counts, although Head Librarian Perkins objected to “the professional immorality of notorious localities” surrounding his library (p. 19). Librarians at San Francisco Public Library faced not only these challenges but also forces of nature. Check below for an image of what the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 did to the building housing the library—80% of the collection perished (p. 21). Further, one of the early directors, Frederic Beecher Perkins, had exceptional skills but proved too strict with rules and too hot-tempered with unruly patrons, once even being arrested for a violent incident in the library (p. 14).
Of special note, Ms. Hall mined the California Digital Newspaper Collection and struck gold–she discovered the results of a study conducted by the library’s early founders who surveyed by mail two hundred libraries in Europe and America. Henry George analyzed the results and made the following observations:
“First – The avidity with which people take up the idea of a free public Library, and the willingness with which they vote money to its support.
Second, That a public library cannot be maintained by dependence on subscriptions and private donations.
Third, A marked improvement in taste for reading. Wherever a free public library has been established, the demand for books at private sale grows.
Fourth, The average cost per volume of a well-selected library is $1.25.
Fifth, People are stimulated to add to a large free library by donations from private libraries. (p. 5 ).”
With this study, Ms. Hall has unearthed a nugget from San Francisco’s history that can help us understand the growth of public libraries everywhere during the late 1800s. Fantastic research by Ms. Hall! Enjoy her full paper here: History of the Main Library of San Francisco.
Note (June 30, 2017): A Study in Patience and Fortitude: A Brief History of the New York Public Library’s Early Decades
By Sarah Edwards Obenauf, San Jose State University
Author Bio: Sarah Edwards Obenauf received her BA and MA in medieval history from the University of New Mexico. She is pursuing an MLIS with a concentration in digital curation and preservation at San Jose State University.
Introduction from the Editor: Ms. Obenauf presents an excellent and well-illustrated account of the dawning of the nation’s largest public library, weaving together facts and stories from the Bulletin of the New York Public Library and other primary sources. You will find a number of interesting, little-known NYPL anecdotes peppering her paper. For instance, she shares that after its opening patrons wrote a number of letters to the editors “complaining about the exclusivity of the opening ceremony as well as whether it is correct to tip librarians, whistling in the halls, sounds generated by chairs on the new brick floors, as well as fluted edges of drinking cups, among other cavils” (p.13). I also found the details about WWI’s impact on the library interesting, such as NYPL’s terrace becoming a canteen for soldiers in WWI! Her conclusion documents the damage that wars can do to libraries: “The first Bulletin, from 1899, lauded the growing collection and number of employees; it had an overall exuberance for what the future would hold. On the other hand, in 1920, the library was running at a deficit and was still reeling from the war, along with other cultural institutions and the country as a whole” (p. 25). Enjoy more of the story here: A Study in Patience in Fortitude: A Brief History of New York Public Library’s Early Decades.
Figure 1 from Ms. Obenauf’s paper (pp. 3-4). She notes that the early Astor and Lennox Libraries, predecessors of the NYPL, had limited operating hours as expressed in this cartoon from the Bulletin of the New York Public Library.
Statement of responsibility: By Harry Miller Lydenberg. First printed in the Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 1916, 1917, 1920, 1921. Revised and reprinted in 1922. From The New York Public Library’s Digital Collections.
Note (June 7, 2017): History of the San Diego Public Library, 1854-1926
By Sarah Pultz, San Jose State University
Author Bio: Sarah Pultz is a student in the Master of Library and Information Science Program at San Jose State University. She received a BA in liberal studies and a teaching credential from California State University San Marcos. She currently works as an elementary school library media technician and as a Writing Coach at MiraCosta College.
Introduction from the Editor: Ms. Pultz gives us an interesting and thorough account of the early years of the San Diego Public Library, a time when several strong leaders impressed their personalities on the fledgling library. She does an excellent job of characterizing each leader, assessing their strengths and weaknesses while pointing out the unique contributions of each. After reading her narrative, I better appreciate the challenges that early public library directors faced in America. They had to grapple with issues such as operating hours, open vs. closed stacks, organization, and more at a time when there were less precedents and standards for professional practice than we have today. And, all the while, they faced intense local political pressures. Great work by Ms. Pultz in conveying the depth of accomplishments of many of San Diego’s pioneer librarians. Read her full paper here: History of San Diego Public Library, 1854-1926.
Note (May 19, 2017): Library in the Lone Star State: The Rosenberg Library as a Model for American Public Library History
By Melissa Long, San Jose State University
Author Bio: Melissa Long is a graduate student pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University. Her research interests include library history and reader’s advisory services. She currently works at a public library in Katy, Texas.
Introduction from the Editor: “The libraries in coastal eastern towns are well-established and have rich historical records. They are America’s founding libraries. The South, however, also had libraries with great historical significance, such as one on Texas’ Gulf Coast” (p.1). So goes the introduction to this interesting paper about Galveston’s Rosenberg Public Library, a library that went though the same metamorphosis as the Atlantic Seaboard libraries, shifting from an “accumulation of several wealthy men’s personal collections” for a small clientele towards a true public library that provided expansive, egalitarian services (p. 17). Ms. Long notes how the public library gave a cosmopolitan feel to its town and proved to be a pioneering library in its state, influencing larger public libraries throughout Texas. Thanks, Ms. Long, for expanding our knowledge of American public library development along the Gulf Coast. Enjoy Ms. Long’s full paper here: Library in the Lone Star State: The Rosenberg Library as a Model for American Public Library History.
Note (May 15, 2017): The Central Public Library: Washington, D.C.’s Other Library
By Katherine Monroe, San Jose State University
Author Bio: Katherine Monroe received her BA in history and art history from Boston University and her MA in the history of decorative arts from the Smithsonian Associates/George Mason University. She is currently pursuing an MLIS from San Jose State University while working as program coordinator for special projects at the Association of Research Libraries in Washington, DC. Once she completes her Master’s program, she plans on working in a museum library or special collection, where she can combine her love of art, books, and information into one (hopefully) successful career. In the meantime, she incorporates as much art historical knowledge into her library pursuits as possible!
Introduction from the Editor: Ms. Monroe has given us an outstanding history of Washington’s Central Public Library, a library sometimes overshadowed by the Library of Congress, in this course paper. Her essay is particularly fantastic because she brings her background in history and decorative arts to bear on the topic. For example, in analyzing the designers’ decision to use a Beaux-Arts style, she explains that this style proved “perfect for the nation’s capital; not only did it allude to the classical past from which democracy and certain American ideals stemmed, it provided for beautiful buildings that would enhance the city’s overall appreciation for visitors from home and abroad” (p.10). Flowing descriptions of the Central Public Library’s architecture, complemented by a showcase of fifteen historical photos, make for an illuminating story: “in the delivery room, where patrons would pick up their requested books, the cornice around the walls read “Plato,” “Homer,” “Galileo,” “Bacon,” “Shakespeare,” and “Newton,” famous thinkers and writers who would inspire the educational goals of all who entered the library’s inner sanctum” (p. 12).
Ms. Monroe also highlights many fascinating events from the Library’s history:
- Central Public Library was the first Beaux-Arts building in DC.
- Andrew Carnegie made his “largest financial contribution to a single building in his long history of donating funds for the establishment of libraries” (p. 6) to CPL!
- The Library opened its doors to Washington’s many visitors from other countries.
- Central Public Library allowed African-Americans to use its facilities at a time when many public libraries followed segregation policies: “from residents to visitors, from citizens to foreigners, and from white to black, the Central Public Library opened its doors to all who sought knowledge from its collection” (p. 19-20).
Central Public Library proved very successful in its educational mission in DC, an accomplishment that Ms. Monroe points out likely helped funding for American public libraries in general by showing Congress how invaluable a public library can be. I believe you will thoroughly enjoy this story! Read Ms. Monroe’s full paper here: Central Public Library: Washington DC’s Other Public Library.
Note (May 11, 2017): The Nevada State Library: Beginnings 1861-1935
By Joshua Owens, San Jose State University
Author Bio: Mr. Owens is a graduate student at San Jose State University and an archivist at Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records.
Introduction from the Editor: I appreciate Mr. Owens sharing one of his recent graduate school papers with the blog readership. His paper is a thorough, primary source-based account of the early years of the Nevada State Library told by one of its current archivists. I found it interesting to hear how the Library overcame the economic turbulence spawned in part by Nevada’s gold mining booms-and-bust cycles. Equally interesting is the recounting of how the library expanded its services over time to benefit not only government officials but the entire Nevada population, coming to adopt the idea that “a library that is paid for by the public for the courts and government agencies…should also offer its resources to the general public for recreation and information” (p. 13). Read the full paper here: The Nevada State Library: Beginnings 1861-1935.
Note (April 14, 2017): A Short History of the National Library of Wales–Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru
By Calista Williams
Author Bio: Calista Williams recently completed her AHRC-funded PhD which was assisted by an innovative collaboration between the Open University and the National Library of Wales. She is also a Lifelong Learning Humanities teacher at Aberystwyth University. Read more about her work and interests on the National Library of Wales Reader Services.
Introduction from the Editor: Thank you very much to Dr. Williams who has provided us with a splendid post based on her recent thesis about the history of the National Library of Wales (NLW)! Her work is an excellent example of library historiography because it “combines a more conventional study of the internal administrative workings of the institution with an innovative survey of the people who interacted with the library.” In linking the library to the politics and social movements of its times, readers will see how an increase in Welsh representation in Parliament along with a cultural renaissance centered at the great universities contributed to the establishment of the Library. After its opening, NLW library workers developed a “book box scheme” that nourished study and research throughout Wales as well as built good relations with the Library’s community and increased social mobility. Read her full post and enjoy some linked photos here: A Short History of the National Library of Wales
How intriguing!! A glimpse inside the Black Book of Carmarthen, one of the Celtic treasures preserved by the National Library of Wales. This tome is considered to be the earliest book written completely in the Welsh language, and it recounts early legends of Arthur and other warriors.
Note (April 10, 2017): A Short History of Kirby Library
By Ana Ramirez Luhrs
Author Bio: Ana Ramirez Luhrs is the Kirby Librarian and the Adviser of the Hispanic Society at the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights/Skillman Library at Lafayette College.
Introduction from the Editor: The Kirby Library is a remarkable library in more ways than one. Ms. Luhrs notes that “Lafayette College was the first to endow an academic department exclusively for the study of civil rights, and Kirby Library the first academic library to support such a department.” Further, it was the most expensive building per cubic foot in the world at its creation. Kirby Library today is also a model of library history preservation: visitors can experience the library much as it was upon its opening in 1930. Many of the same books, shelf lists, and even student sign-in sheets are on display. And the oak-paneled shelves are magnificent. If only all of our libraries could preserve their rich histories so successfully! Read more of the essay by Ms. Luhrs here: A Short History of Kirby Library.
Photos of the Kirby Library past and present. Kirby was the first college library dedicated to civil rights study.
Note: (March 31, 2017): A Brief History of the Medical Library of the University of Missouri
By Taira Meadowcroft and Terri Hall
Author Bio: Taira Meadowcroft is Information Services Librarian and Terri Hall is Head of Circulation at the J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library at the University of Missouri (MU).
Introduction from the Editor: Medical libraries offer gateways to credible health information in an age when so much erroneous health information floods the free web. Enjoy this piece, which offers text and pictures, about the history of the J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library at the University of Missouri. Growing from a small book-based collection in the classroom of an academic building, the library is now a bustling gateway to authoritative medical knowledge, with 3,612 journal subscriptions, 58 public work stations, 414 seats, a gate count of 135,144, and an expert staff. The librarians there have even expanded their services into the mobile web, with a special library guide of credible medical resources for handheld devices! The history of the J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library is a reminder that libraries–by continually expanding and enhancing their informational support to lab researchers as well as the frontline professionals in the war against disease—have played a key role in the medical revolution of the past several decades that has given us many of the cures that we all enjoy today. Read the essay by Ms. Meadowcroft and Ms. Hall here: A Brief History of the Medical Library of the University of Missouri.
Medical Library in McAlester Hall, 1925 and Outside of the Medical Library, 2013
Note: (March 7, 2017): The Santa Monica Public Library: An Illustrated History
By Kathy Lo
Author Bio: Kathy Lo joined Santa Monica Public Library in 2006 and is a Librarian II in the Reference Services Division, specializing in the Image Archives collections. Her deep interest in archives and visual history can be traced back to a childhood filled with trips to libraries and museums. Currently Kathy is working with colleagues to digitize and preserve the library’s unique resources, such as the historical city directories and microfilm reels of the city’s paper of record. By building on existing collaborations in the long term, she hopes to explore the intersection of personal and public histories and expand the library’s role in telling stories through those histories.
Introduction from the Editor: A beautiful example of local library history! Richly illustrated, the author showcases SMPL as a center of local culture. From the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of the nineteenth century to the environmental design campaigns of the twenty-first century, this tapestry of historical photos documents how SMPL reflected the social movements of its times. The author includes captions and a chronology covering fascinating and noteworthy facts from SMPL’s history, such as its role in pioneering story times on the American West Coast. Read Ms. Lo’s book here: The Santa Monica Public Library: An Illustrated History. Special thanks to Susan Lamb, Interim Principal Librarian, for sending this link to LHRT News and Notes.–Brett Spencer, Editor
Note (March 6, 2017): History of the Margaret H. McAllen Memorial Archives of the Museum of South Texas History
By Phyllis Kinnison
Author Bio: Phyllis Kinnison, MLIS, is the Archivist at the Margaret H. McAllen Memorial Archives of the Museum of South Texas History.
Introduction from the Editor: Ms. Kinnison’s inspiring post recounts how one archives grew from a collection of land deeds to a robust, museum-based research library covering topics ranging from water conservation to Mexican War history. With thousands of photos, maps, and documents, the Archives now serves patrons from many fields who are interested in Mexican history, United States history, and the history of how the two national cultures streamed together in the Borderlands to produce a rich heritage. Thanks Ms. Kinnison for this post, it humbles me to learn about amazing archivists like Margaret H. McAllen who laid the foundation for the modern libraries and archives we enjoy today. Click this link to read Ms. Kinnison’s full essay: History of the MOSTHistory archives
Archivist Margaret H. McAllen and the Reading Room of the Margaret H. McAllen Memorial Archives.
P. S. I also encourage blog readers to check out the fascinating exhibits and creative programming at the Archives and Museum!: https://www.mosthistory.org/
Note (March 6, 2017); In Vivid Colors: The Impact and Relevance of the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University
By William Blick
Introduction from Editor: This interesting post illustrates how libraries helped sustain the rise of social history scholarship over the past several decades. Scholars once focused their efforts on elite individuals and small groups, but modern scholars across many fields have rightfully made social history a huge part of academic scholarship. It is essential for everyone to note that this new wave of scholarship about popular culture is only possible because of the preservation and collecting efforts of faculty, librarians, archivists, and staff of libraries like the ones at Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green University. The University founded the Library thanks to the donation of an exceptional collection of popular culture materials from Dr. Ray Browne. The Library has blossomed through generous gifts over several decades to become “a landmark for cultural critics and scholars” as Mr. Blick notes. The collection now includes an E.T. mask and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys! What other treasures does it contain? Read Mr. Blick’s full essay here to find out: In Vivid Colors: The Impact and Relevance of the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University. and check out some of the Library’s fascinating collections at https://www.bgsu.edu/library/pcl/about.html
Note (August 22, 2016): Cold Libraries: United States Information Agency Libraries during the Cold War 1953 – 1991
By Andrew Hart
Author Bio: Andrew Hart is a reference librarian for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Library in Columbus, Ohio. Before working for the Bureau, Andrew was a prison librarian for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. He is very much interested in how libraries helped shape history and how libraries evolved over time. Andrew holds a B.A. in Criminology from The Ohio State University, and an M.L.S. from Clarion University. He is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in Social Science from Ohio University. Andrew is an Ohio Certified Public Librarian.
Introduction from the Author: During the Cold War, the United States desired to show the world that the U.S. culture and way of living (provided by capitalism) trumped life under communist rule. The United States Information Agency fulfilled this lofty mission by providing information about America to communist countries through its famous Voice of America (VOA), a radio broadcasting program, and by a less famous medium, libraries and information resource centers… Click this link to read Mr. Hart’s full essay: Cold Libraries.
Note (July 29, 2016): The Women’s Library and Information Center in Turkey: A Brief History
By Raymond Pun, First Year Student Success Librarian
Author Bio: Raymond Pun is the first year student success librarian in California State University, Fresno. He has worked in NYU Shanghai and NYPL as a reference librarian. He holds a B.A. in History and M.A. in East Asian Studies from St. John’s University and an M.L.S from CUNY Queens College. He is interested in library history in global perspectives.
Image by Creator: Ara Güler [Attribution or Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons
Today the Republic of Turkey is undergoing a transformation both internally and internationally. It is one of the most important countries in Europe since it bridges to the Middle East as well. It is currently a democratic republic under the leadership of a President and Prime Minister.
Since the 1980s, Turkey has been governed by a series of military coups and by other entities that have repressed leftist politics and adopted a strongly patriarchal political system. Responding to the dynamic shift of social and cultural politics, a group of women were inspired to form a major movement to challenge the coups. These women organized conference meetings, led demonstrations, and campaigned against sexual harassment and violence towards women in workspaces and public spheres. In addition, these women began publishing articles and creating academic journals and popular magazines pertaining to feminism and women’s issues in Turkey. Such was the beginning of a Women’s Library in Turkey.
In 1990, the Women’s Library and Information Center was opened to the public as the first research institute devoted to “collecting all published and unpublished works written by women in Turkey as well as audio visual material and to try to produce new material of the same kind through oral history” (Tekeli, 265).
One of the Library’s main resources is the women’s periodical collection from Turkey and other countries. The subscription of foreign periodicals is useful to keep up with current debates and discourses in women’s studies. In addition, the Library is concerned with promoting cultural activities. Public forums on women’s health and issues have also been held in the Library.
The founder of the Library has explained the purpose of these activities: “We believe that a specialized library such as ours which has a critical role to play within the women’s movement cannot limit its task to collecting and protecting existing material but also must be active in the analysis, interpretation and generation of such material” (Tekeli, 267). Thus the Library plays a crucial role in disseminating new ideas by allowing the public and scholars to openly engage with information resources and attend workshops.
In 1992, as a result of these educational opportunities, “over one hundred thousand signatures were collected to petition for an amendment of the Turkish civil code [to] condemn the ongoing brutality and sexual crimes against women” (Arat, 408). The demonstration became successful in bringing awareness of violence against women. Such campaigns would not be possible if there were no such institutions such as the Women’s Library and Information Center, the periodicals produced by the institution, and public forums held in the library, which address these issues in the Turkish context.
Today, the Library continues to play an important role in bringing awareness of women’s issues and rights in the state.
Arat, Necla. “Women’s Studies in Turkey.” Women’s Studies Quarterly. 24.1/2
(1996): 400-411. Print.
Arat, Yesim. “Women’s Studies in Turkey: From Kemalism to Feminism” New
Perspectives on Turkey. 9 (1993): 119-135. Print.
Berktay, Fatmagul. “Women’s Studies in Turkey 1980-1990.” Women’s Memory,
Proceedings of the International Symposium of Women’s Libraries (1991):
271-275. Metis Yayinlari. Idst.
Gündüz, Zuhal. “The Women’s Movement in Turkey: From Tanzimat towards
European Union Membership.” Perceptions: Journal of International Affairs.
9. (2004): 115-134. Print.
Tekeli, Sirin. “Women’s Library and Information Center.” Women’s Memory,
Proceedings of the International Symposium of Women’s Libraries (1991):
Cass County Library Square Dance Class (1947). Local libraries have served as staging areas for many community events. Image from American Library Association Archives.