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 issues, including preservation, research methodologies, and the role of libraries in public history exhibits and events.


Note (February 14, 2021) Literature Review: Handling Native American Archival Materials

Author Bio: Edith Mulhern is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in French, international Relations, and History. She subsequently completed additional coursework in History, Anthropology, and Arabic Language. Currently, she is a student in the MSLIS program at Drexel University. Mulhern is a Library Assistant at the Penn Libraries and hopes to incorporate culture competence to make all users feel welcome.

Editor’s Intro: Thanks to Ms. Mulhern for this eye-opening piece about key issues in the preservation of Native American cultural treasures.  Synthesizing the scholarship on the topic, she reveals how governmental  and cultural factors have shaped the practice of archival science over the past few decades, with the 1970s marking the beginning of greater national attention to Indigenous heritage.   We learn that sensitizing archivists and librarians to beliefs about privacy and ownership among Native Americans are essential to properly carrying out preservation work.  Ms. Mulhern’s well-written and well-organized review will help the information professions consider how they can help protect Indigenous documents and cultural resources in the United States and around the globe.  Enjoy her full work: Handling Native American Archival Materials.


Note (January 8, 2020): Rachel Carson: The Woman Who Changed Environmental Laws

Author Bio:  I am an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. I am both a history and religious studies major and in my senior year. After graduation I plan to continue on to graduate school to obtain a master’s degree in public history. Ultimately, I want to make a career working in an archive. I graduated in my mid 20s with an Associates in Administrative Assistant for International Business at Pierce College in Washington state while my husband was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McCord. He retired from the Army four and half years ago and we decided to move back to our state. That is when I decided to go back to college finally go for those degrees that I have dreamed of all my life. Today I am a proud mother of three, a set of 5 year old twins and an 11 year autistic and brilliant child. Not only did I go back to college to get those degrees I have always wanted, but I also want to show my children that no matter how old you are or what you are doing, you are never to old to return back to school and go for what you are passionate about.

Editor’s Intro: Mrs. Clements gives us an excellent example of how public history can be incorporated into biographical papers on historical figures.  She explains how Carson made an indelible impact on U.S. laws. In addition, in the last section of her paper, she provides a great summary of the many ways that libraries, archives, museums, historic sites, and historians have celebrated Carson’s work. For example, many institutions have held exhibits, both in-person and online. These public history events about Carson helped to sustain  America’s environmental consciousness.

I hope more history undergraduates will include coverage of public history in their class papers because exhibits, events, and media shape how many people view history, in some cases more so than traditional history.  Thank you to Mrs. Clements for spotlighting Carson and tracing the commemorations of Carson in the history of our libraries and cultural institutions.   Read her full paper Rachel Carson: The Woman Who Changed Environmental Laws



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.)