Library Chronicles

A picture of a red library building with a horse-draw carriage in front of it.
Postcard of the Brooks Memorial Library at Brattleboro, Vermont.  Image and caption from American Library Association Archives

The notes below offer histories of specific libraries.  As these histories reveal, 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 (April 20, 2020): The History of the Brown-Daniel Memorial Library at Tennessee State University

By Presley Dyer

Author Bio: Presley Dyer is a Catalog Librarian at Tennessee State University and serves as the library liaison to the Biological Sciences and Dental Hygiene departments. She is a graduate of Valdosta State University, where she earned her Master of Library Science and Information Studies. Currently, she is working on her Master of Advanced Study in Film and Media Studies from Arizona State University.

Editor’s Intro: Many thanks to Presley Dyer, and her colleague Julia Huskey, for this excellent piece on the history of their library. Nurtured by the perseverance of its namesakes and the generosity of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the library blossomed from a collection in a small room to one of the largest HBCU libraries of its time.

Ms. Dyer puts it perfectly: “history is an essential part of any institution as it demonstrates its value, strength, and growth. The history of a library is no exception…”. Let’s all demonstrate the “value, strength, and growth” of our libraries by exploring and retelling their histories, as Ms. Dyer has done. Read her full essay below:

P.S. I also encourage readers to take a look at the library’s interactive Centennial Timelines page, and check out the coverage of TSU’s celebration of its federal depository status in The Tennessee Tribune.

The old library building at Tennessee State University. The building now houses, among other things, the Media Center. Image courtesy of Julia Huskey and Presley Dyer.

Note (April 16, 2020): A Brief History of the American Philatelic Research Library

By Tara Murray

Author Bio: Tara Murray is the Librarian for Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures at Penn State. She previously served as the Director of Information Services and Librarian for the American Philatelic Research Library in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where she oversaw the renovation of new space for the library and developed the library’s first digital collections. She also previously served as the Information Core Director for Penn State’s Population Research Institute and has experience in public and corporate libraries. She has an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh and a BA in German Studies from Bard College. Tara was recognized as a Fellow of the Special Libraries Association in 2017 and serves as 2020 President of SLA. Follow her on Twitter at @diylibrarian.

Intro from the Editor: This is a very well-written and well-crafted history of one of the most unique independent public libraries in the United States, the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL). It is the world’s largest treasure house of stamps and postal literature. Ms. Murray’s essay sheds light on the details of the library’s past, revealing the passion that the library’s staff, donors, and patrons have for preserving postal heritage. It is inspiring to read about how the library not only serves the American Philatelic Society membership, but also shares the richness of its collections with stamp collectors worldwide through mail, email, and digital collections as well as through in-person visits. This is a wonderful contribution submitted in response to the blog’s call for library histories for National Library Week. Please help celebrate the history of APRL by reading the full article below!:


Note (March 12, 2020): The History of Omaha Public Library

By Martha Grenzeback

Author Bio: Martha Grenzeback is the Local History & Genealogy Subject Librarian for the 12-branch Omaha Public Library system. She earned her MLS from the University of Missouri at Columbus, after a previous career as a translator of academic books and articles, mostly on historical topics, from Spanish, Hebrew, and French. Her current job also includes maintaining and expanding Omaha Public Library’s digital archive collection and overseeing the interlibrary loan department.

Intro from the Editor: Did you know that Omaha Public Library created one of the first separate children’s sections in the United States?  Did you know it also once hosted a museum of artifacts from the Trans-Mississippi International Exhibition of 1898?  Similar to a world’s fair, the Exhibition featured rides, gardens, and technologies of the time.  It also included a Native American Congress.  Find out more about one of the leading libraries of America’s Heartland in this piece by Martha Grenzeback: History of Omaha Public Library

Description from Omaha Public Library digital archives: "Eleven women are shown behind a wooden counter. Edith Tobitt, Library Director at the time, is the only identified person. She is in the center of the group, wearing glasses."
“Library Staff, 1900.  Eleven women are shown behind a wooden counter. Edith Tobitt, Library Director at the time, is the only identified person. She is in the center of the group, wearing glasses.” –Image and description from Omaha Public Library 

Note (January 16, 2020): The Old University of Chicago in the New: The Library

By Anne K. Knafl and Nancy Spiegel

Authors Bio:  Anne K. Knafl (she/her/hers) is the Bibliographer for Religion, Philosophy, and Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, where she earned her Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and A.M. in Religious Studies. She is a Chicago native. Her publications include, Forming God: Divine Anthropomorphism in the Pentateuch (Eisenbrauns, 2014). She has curated multiple web exhibits, including, “A Case for Reparations at the University of Chicago”: Sources, Letters from Prison, and James Baldwin Among the Philosophers. Follow her on Twitter @aknafl and on Instagram @4th_floor_librarians.

Nancy Spiegel is the bibliographer for History, Art History and Cinema Studies at the University of Chicago Library. She holds an MA in American Studies from Yale University and an MLS from the University of Pittsburgh with a specialization in archives and records management. Prior to joining the Library, she documented rural, industrial neighborhoods for the Historic American Buildings Survey, and worked on a number of community-based, public history projects. Nancy and Anne post on Instagram @4th_floor_librarians

Intro from the Editor:  Many thanks to our colleagues at the Fourth Floor Librarians blog for sharing this intriguing and well-researched article about the history of the University of Chicago’s Library with LHRT News & Notes!  Learn about the role of Senator Stephan A. Douglas (1860 Presidential candidate who ran against Lincoln), the University’s collaboration in building its collections with the Baptist Union Theological Seminary, and how the original library collection of the University of Chicago bridges the institution’s past with its present.  Also be sure to check out the authors’ virtual exhibit about reparations which lead them to write this piece on one of America’s greatest research libraries.  Enjoy the full article here:

Note (July 17, 2019): A Historical Overview: The Richard H. Handley Collection of Long Island Americana at The Smithtown Library

By Alyse Franco, University at Buffalo

Author Bio: Alyse Franco received her Master of Science in Information and Library Science from the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York in February of 2018. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Baltimore. She currently works in Teen Services at Sachem Public Library as a Part-time Librarian 1 and as a consultant for a local archive on Long Island, New York. While her interests are varied, her passions lie with young adult literature and special collections.

Intro from the Editor:  At the blog we have hoped to post more feature articles on the history of specific special collections.  In this vein, Ms. Franco has given us an excellent piece about The Richard H. Handley Collection of Long Island Americana at The Smithtown Library.

A successful businessman on Long Island, Mr. Handley’s diligence and skill in accumulating key materials about his region reminds us of the incredible debt we owe to early private collectors who created many of the rich special collections we enjoy today.  Ms. Franco notes that “Mr. Handley truly had a gift for recognizing and preserving what were or would become significant historical pieces” (p. 11), and she describes the process that he used to grow the collection (pp. 8-9).  She also performs a well-organized analysis of the growth of collection development, cataloging and organization, and information services at the library, supported by a nice variety of primary sources, and accompanied by several images of the artifacts she used.

As years went by, people in the community contributed more and more artifacts to the collection, trusting that its librarians would preserve them.  Ms. Franco captures the inestimable significance of the collection today: “The library has several significant pieces; however, its value does not solely lie with its contents. The collection allows the community to build a relationship with history and that is equally as important” (p. 3).  Enjoy her full essay: A Historical Overview: The Richard H. Handley Collection of Long Island Americana at The Smithtown Library

Note (May 14, 2018):  Women in Early Libraries: A Look Nationwide and in Iowa

By Allison Wild, The University of Missouri-Columbia

Author Bio: I’m currently working to attain my Masters in Library Science from The University of Missouri-Columbia (Go Tigers!). After graduation, I aim to work in public librarianship creating reading programs with the hope to get all children interested in reading one day. I’m endlessly interested in the local history (Iowa and the Midwest) and would like to continue to establish a better idea of how we got to where we are as librarians today. I enjoy reading mystery books of each and every type and spending time outdoors with my wonderful family.

Intro from the Editor: Ms. Wild provides an excellent synthesis of recent historiography about women’s role in American librarianship, citing works from many leading library historians and LHRT members.  In addition to surveying the national scene, she also draws on primary sources to show how Iowa women played a powerful role in the development of the profession.  Here are some fun facts from her paper below:

  • In the late 1800s and early 1900s, librarianship was the second most feminized profession in America, trailing only teaching (p. 2).
  • In a ten year period in the late 1800s, women delivered forty-five papers at ALA conferences  (p. 7).
  • “By 1933 the American Library Association gave credit to women’s clubs for seventy-five percent of the libraries in existence” (p. 8).
  • Women in libraries helped to pioneer the use of the survey method in LIS because survey responses helped give women more of a voice (p. 6)
  • In Iowa women’s clubs lobbied to create a state library commission. The Evening Times-Republican noted “since the women are ‘for’ it the legislature can hardly afford to neglect to answer their demands” (p. 12).
  • Iowa women’s clubs and nascent public libraries lead community improvement projects–such as beautification and home improvement (p. 14).
  • As a reflection of Iowa women’s path-breaking role, Iowa librarian Ada North became the first female state librarian in the United States (p. 16).

Ms. Wild concludes that “today as we use our public libraries freely, let us be reminded of how we got there and how we can affect and improve their status today.”  Well-put Ms. Wild.  Please enjoy the rest of her paper here: Women in Early Libraries: A Look Nationwide and in Iowa.

Note (March 28, 2018): History of the Alexandria Black History Museum

By Brenda Mitchell-Powell, Ph.D.

Author Bio: Brenda Mitchell-Powell earned her doctoral degree from Simmons College SLIS in 2015 as an ALA Spectrum Fellow. She is an independent researcher whose interests include the intersections of American library and social history and missing or hidden voices of Black history in archives. She is currently at work on a book version of her dissertation on the 1939 sit-in demonstration to integrate the Alexandria, Virginia, public library.

Intro from the Editor:  In an innovative and very well-reviewed doctoral dissertation, Dr. Mitchell-Powell “used the 1939 sit-in demonstration to integrate the Alexandria (VA) library not only to recount little known library history but also to situate libraries as physical places and social spaces for community development and civil discourse.”  She recounts the inspiring story of how Samuel Wilbert Tucker stood up against the segregation of library services in Alexandria in 1939.  Although the city refused to integrate the library at the time, Tucker’s bravery gave birth to a separate-but-unequal library for Alexandria’s African-Americans.  This library developed into the Alexandria Black History Resource Center in 1983 and officially became the Alexandria Black History Museum (ABHM) in 2004 which is in the excellent hands of Audrey Davis.  It has become “one of the most active and visitor-centered facilities in the city.”  You can take a 360 degree virtual tour of the Museum right now; it’s an amazing place!  Dr. Mitchell-Powell’s post is a synopsis of the history of the Alexandria Black History Museum based on her dissertation A Seat at the Reading Table: The 1939 Alexandria, Virginia, Public Library Sit-in Demonstration – A Study in Library History, 1937-1941 (Simmons College, 2015).  Enjoy her fascinating post here: History of the Alexandria Black History Museum

Enjoy additional coverage of Dr. Mitchell-Powell’s research in these articles:

Alexandria’s 1939 Library Sit-in: Its Impact, Aftermath, & Legacy | News Release | City of Alexandria, Old Town Post, May 6, 2016.

Alexandria’s 1939 Library Sit-in: Its Impact, Aftermath, & Legacy, Alexandria Historical Society Inc., Facebook page.

Discussion of Dr. Brenda Mitchell-Powell’s paper at Library History Seminar XIII, In Libraries – Traditions and Innovations: Papers from the Library History XIII, Edited by Melanie A. Kimball & Katherine M. Wisser, Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, 2017.

Brenda Mitchell-Powell on ’39 Demonstration to Integrate Alexandria Pub Lib, Library History Seminar XIII, Twitter photo by Tim Johnson, 2015.

Note (March 21, 2018): “Library History as Community History: Florence and Graham”

By Jonathan Pacheco Bell

Author Bio: Jonathan Pacheco Bell is a Land Use Regulation Planner at the County of Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning. Jonathan was born in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles and raised by his headstrong single mother and grandmother in East L.A./Montebello. A fierce advocate for the unincorporated areas of South Central L.A., Jonathan’s passion for the community was born in 1988 when he first heard NWAs groundbreaking album Straight Outta Compton. As a Hybrid Urban Planner/Librarian, Jonathan researches and writes about public libraries as public space, unorthodox community outreach methods, and South Central Los Angeles history from his unique, on-the-ground perspective. A product of the California public school system from kindergarten to graduate school, Jonathan holds an M.A. in Urban Planning from UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and an MLIS from SJSU iSchool.

A book with curvy yellow and black lines with the title A Paseo through Time in Florence-Firestone
A Paseo Through Time in Florence-Firestone book cover-Courtesy of Jonathan Pacheco Bell.

Intro from the Editor: I’m thrilled to share this wonderful example of library historians participating in placemaking!  Placemaking is a movement to reinvent public spaces in ways that go beyond urban design, as it also seeks to recognize and celebrate the rich cultures of the people living in the space.

Some Place Chronicles, a creative placemaking endeavor in Southern California has given birth to a community history book, A Paseo Through Time in Florence-Firestone. The Los Angeles County Arts Commission partnered with the Temporary Institute for Unincorporated Studies at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) to create this campaign, receiving funding from the Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

As a contributing author to the book, Mr. Bell wrote the chapter “Library History as Community History: Florence and Graham.” His chapter is a parallel library history/community history for the unincorporated community of Florence-Firestone in South Central Los Angeles.  Mr. Bell shows just how integral the libraries are to their communities.  With plentiful photos, he reveals how the library building and collection were shaped by local cultures and events.  One of the most striking facts from his chapter is that the Florence Library is now part of an expansion into a mixed-use development that will increase the size of the library and couple it with affordable housing apartments (p. 39).

“Library History as Community History” grew out his 2012 MLIS thesis proposal at San Jose State University iSchool, Libraries in the ‘Hood: A Social History of the Florence and Graham Branch Libraries in the Community of Florence-Firestone, 1912-2012, accessible at:

The Florence branch library held a launch for the book a few days ago featuring the author, people written about in the book, and free copies of the title for everyone!  Check out the Florence-Firestone-Book Launch Event 17 March 2018-Flyer and the photos of the festivities below.

Paseo, a bilingual and open access book, can be accessed for free through any of these links below, the library history starts on page 29:

An adult and several children are dancing in front of display tables.
Artists from CalArts lead youth in the dance party at the book launch!-Courtesy of Katie O’Kell
A silver hummer vehicle with purple, green, blue decorative stripes and a sign reading "Paseo Through Time Time in Florence-Firestone"
Jonathan P. Bell’s Hummer H3 was decorated as a parade float for delivering books to people’s homes in Florence-Firestone!-Courtesy of Katie O’Kelly


Note (March 20, 2018): “The Wealth of Knowledge and Words Contained Therein”: Inglewood Public Library History

By Tommy Vinh Bui

Author Bio:  Tommy Vinh Bui finds himself far-flung and whimsically wrung in a variety of locales. But he’ll call California home where he toils and tries his hand at being a librarian in Inglewood. He served in the Peace Corps in Central Asia and is always devising new ways to be stranded in distant lands and the way-out waters of where-am-I-now?  Tommy holds an MA in English Literature and an MLIS in Library Science and Information Management. He tinkers with audio cassette tapes in his leisure time.

Intro from the Editor: Libraries throughout time have designed their architecture to reinforce their roles as fountains of knowledge.  The Inglewood Public Library is an incredible example of a library that mingles symbols of learning from ages gone by, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics, with icons of our present age.  Constructed in 1967 and designed by Architect Charles Luckman with artwork done by Tom Van Sant, Inglewood was the largest intaglio sculpture on earth at its creation.  Intaglio is the opposite of relief and is also known as “counter-relief” or “hollow relief”; the ancient Egyptians used it heavily.  Mr. Vinh Bui describes Van Sant’s craftsmanship eloquently.  The artist used…

playful images of symbols, iconography, and cultural signals to amplify the diversity of the neighborhood and the role that libraries play in civic engagement. Included within the panoply of pictures are Egyptian hieroglyphics, Polynesian counting systems, European cave paintings, and Einsteinian mathematical equations. The breadth and scope of this artwork is a feast for the eyes and spirit alike. Inviting one to bask in the wealth of knowledge and words contained therein. ​

Check out the images below and learn more about the history of Inglewood’s architecture here: Inglewood Public Library History

Examples of artwork by Van Sant, etchings of a whale, the word Neno, a bird, and other images resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Black-and-white photo of building with gabled roof. Palm trees and older model cars in front.
Inglewood Library (Old)
A tall mixed-concrete-and-glass building with the sun in the background.
Inglewood Library (New)

Find more photos and info on the Inglewood Public Library web site, Online California Library, and the Los Angeles Library Tour.


Note (March 18, 2018): Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum: Come Be Inspired

By Mae Breckenridge -Haywood, Retired Librarian

Author Bio: Mae Breckenridge-Haywood attended Virginia State College (now university). She was a school librarian for 36 years. She is a member of  Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, life member of the NAACP, and life member of the I. C. Norcom Alumni Association, and historian of the alumni organization.

Portsmouth library--image 3

Intro from the Editor:  Ms. Breckinridge-Haywood shares the inspiring history of a very unique library-now-museum.  This library was created for African-Americans during the dark days of segregation on the grounds of Fourth Baptist Church.  The African American population of Portsmouth, “one of the most stable middle-class black communities in America,” dedicated itself to building institutions for its people.  As noted on the Museum web site, “unlike other communities where “Colored” or “Negro” branch libraries were created as smaller or separate off-springs of segregated white libraries, the Portsmouth Community Library is the recognized brain-child of the African American Society itself. Not only did the community count on the library for books, but it became a community resource that housed clothing drives, organized Negro History Week programs, and provided other services.”

Rather than close down after the integration of the city’s “whites only” library, the African-American community preserved and moved the library several times.  The African American Historical Society of Portsmouth, under the leadership of Ms. Breckinridge-Haywood, took stewardship of the library and moved it to its present location in 2007.  Ms. Breckinridge-Haywood calls it “the little library that could.”

Timeline of Recent Events from the Author:

2009 Listed on National Register of Historic Places
2013 The Museum was opened.  The name of the museum is The Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum.
2014 MOU signed with the city. City operated museum. 2 days open. Friday and Saturday, 12 to 5pm/ other times by appointment.
2017 We have one of Virginia Top Ten Endangered Artifacts award. Our sink with “Colored” on it got 3rd place with $3,000 award for conservation. That sink came from warehouse which belonged to CSX! Got it in 2009!! 

What a magnificent cultural treasure! And a monument to the perseverance of people  determined to create a library–and preserve its history.  Visiting this library, now on the National Register of Historic Places, should be on the bucket lists of all America library history buffs.  Be inspired by Ms. Breckinridge-Haywood’s essay and images below (her book is also available through Amazon).  Be sure to check out the Museum’s web site showcasing its community programming and online artifacts.Portsmouth library--text

Black and white photos of the Portsmouth African-American library. A large truck sets in the front.
Photos of the library’s move and restoration.


Note (March 16, 2018): Three Women Gave Santa Barbara a Library

By Susan Miles Gulbransen, edited by Steven Gilbar

Author Bio: Susan is a popular columnist and a Santa Barbara native, writer, and book reviewer, as well as teacher of writing. Steven edited Library Book: Writer on Libraries and more than twenty other anthologies including Reading in Bed: Personal Essays on the Glories of Reading and The Open Door: When Writers First Learned to Read
Introduction from the Editor:  The blog is honored to publish this wonderful passage from Library Book: Writer on Libraries, a recent book that celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the Santa Barbara Central Library.  Many, many thanks to Ms. Gulbransen and Mr. Gilbar for submitting it!  The graceful prose and colorful historical details make this paper quite a treat to read:

My first memory of a public library was the main door on Anapamu Street. The colorfully carved arch above it is still there. I would stop fascinated by those images, but Mom grabbed my hand and lead me and my brother on in to pick out books for the next two weeks. How could I argue when endless books creating magical worlds waited inside.  Until last year I had no idea that three women in the nineteenth century made our library happen. Who were they?

Find out who these women were by reading the full essay here: Three Women Gave Santa Barbara a Library


Note (March 15, 2018): The Library in the Park – A Short History of the Huntington Beach, CA Central Library

By Stephanie Beverage

Author Bio: Stephanie Beverage is currently the Director of the Huntington Beach Public Library.  She has overseen the 100 year centennial of the Library, and the 40th Anniversary of the Central Library in Central Park.  Stephanie is a proud Native Californian and has spent her career working in Southern California Libraries.   This essay on the Huntington Beach Library was a collaboration between a number of staff members over time, and Ms. Beverage was a contributor and final editor.

Introduction from the Editor:  This post focuses on the history of a very unique and architecturally significant library building.  Over the years, the Huntington Beach (CA) Library Information and Cultural Resource has incorporated fountains, a 650-gallon aquarium, a sailboat-shaped children’s area, skylights, and a kitchen to help celebrate the culinary culture of the area.   The descriptions of the facility are eloquent and fascinating:

The architects allowed the natural setting of Huntington Central Park to penetrate and flow through the new library structure with the greatest possible contact with nature – concrete and glass are softened with water and greenery both inside and out. In the words of Director Johnson: “As the sparkling rays splash from the fountains within and outside the library, so should ideas pour from this library, rippling out with others in a cascade of new and exciting ideas.”                                                                                               

Enjoy the photos below and more descriptions here: The Library in the Park – A Short History of the Huntington Beach Central Library 2018

An image of Huntington Beach Public Library. Its beige facade blends with the surrounding desert.
The front of the Huntington Beach Public Library--Central Library and Cultural Center. Biege and brown building with a plaza
Fountains, shaped like bowls on columns, stand in the center of a building surrounded by plants and large windows


Note (March 15, 2018): A History of the Monterey Public Library

By Jeanne McCombs

Author Bio: Jeanne McCombs retired from the Monterey Public Library in 2017 after 35 years of service. Through the decades, she developed, promoted, and presented many hundreds of community cultural, literary, and musical programs for residents and visitors. Her award-winning adult storytelling program, Stories for Adults, is the longest-running program of its kind in the United States. Her work as the Library’s Public Relations Specialist has told our story and raised community awareness of the vital importance of libraries.

Introduction from the Editor: Here is an example of a great web page about a library’s history–detailed, featuring photos to accompany the relevant text, and supported by interesting primary source quotations and facts.

Monterey Public Library, California’s first public library, was established in the year of the Gold Rush, 1849.  Early leaders hoped that the Monterey Public Library would “afford amusement, entertainment, and profit to a large class of people who, without its aid, would waste their time in the frivolities and questionable pastimes so prevalent in our State.”  (Monterey Library Association’s record June 1, 1853).

A quarter of its original collection consisted of Spanish-language books, and a former Mexican government building housed the library initially.  To check out a book, subscribers left a deposit equal to twice the value of the book.

Every library should have a page on its site dedicated to its history like Monterey.  Thanks to Kim Smith for submitting this. and enjoy the full page here: A History of the Monterey Library


Note (March 14, 2018): The Long History of the Cranbrook Public Library

By Mike Selby, Information Services Librarian, Cranbrook Public Library, British Columbia

Author Bio:  Born and raised in the shadow of the British Columbia Rocky Mountains, Mike Selby is currently the deputy director of the Cranbook Public Library. He received his MLIS from the University of Alabama, easily one of the best things he has ever done. He is also a newspaper columnist, having published over 900 articles about libraries, reading, and print culture—much of it covering libraries during the Civil Rights Movement. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Freedom Libraries: The Untold Story of Libraries for African-Americans Created For the Civil Rights Movement, for Rowman & Littlefield (winter 2018).

Introduction from the Editor:  This magnificent essay, originally a series of newspaper articles, is easily one of the most beautifully-crafted library histories I’ve ever read!!  It reads like an exciting short story, a flowing work of literature, as Mr. Selby deploys his amazing command of language and literary devices to build suspense, create texture, and weave vivid scenes from the chronicles of the Cranbrook Public Library.  The introduction will draw you right in:

There was no snow that day, but it was cold; the temperature was barely above zero. The group waited until nightfall, agreeing to meet shortly after 8 pm. There was only twelve of them, but that was all that was needed. Surprisingly, there was no doubt. Each one had a steely-eyed confidence. As much as they loved the place they lived in, they were about to change it forever…

May Mr. Selby’s example inspire us all to write histories of our libraries for our local newspapers.  Enjoy the verbal artistry and narrative power of Ms. Selby’s paper here: The Long History of the Cranbrook Public Library

P.S. I know many of you will also join me in eagerly awaiting the publication of his book later this year!


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.

The ruins of a building with broken columns, as pire with the walls fallen down and hte interior exposed, bricks and metal tubes lying about on the ground.
City Hall in ruins, 1906, from Larkin and Grove Street. Previous to the 1906 earthquake, the Main Library had been located in the McAllister Street wing of City Hall. It was largely destroyed with the rest of the building. (San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library). Featured on page 30 of Ms. Hall’s paper.


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.

A newspaper cartoon depicting a man with a top hat standing at the door of a library with a stunned look on his face. A person at the door waves a bat at him. A sign next to the door says "This Library Open Every Other Monday From 9:58am to 10am. A caption reads "Jan 9, 1854. Astor Library Opened" 'From Life, January 7, 1892

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.

A picture of the facade of Central Library in Washingto DC. The ornate building has three arched windows, an American flag on top, a door with a canvas over the top, sculpted figures atop the doorway and near the roof who are holidng books. The building also has these etchings in large letters: Science. Poetry. History. This building a gift of Andrew Carnegie. Washington Public Library. Dedicated to the diffusion of knoweldge." People walk and read on the steps leading to the door.
Central Library, District of Columbia Public Library, c.1915-1930. Courtesy DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division.
The interior of a large room. Plentiful sunshie pours through windows into the room. Work desks are featured along the walls. A staircase leads upward. An original caption at the bootom of the picture reads: Delivery room Washignton Public Library, Washington DC Cost $375000"
Delivery room, Central Library, District of Columbia Public Library, c.1905-1906. Courtesy DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division.


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.

An external picture of a building that has a golden dome over a rectangular part and a golden dome over a circular part. A line of trees stands in front of the building. There is a faint postal stamp. A banner at the botton reads
The Annex off of the Capitol Building which housed the Nevada State Library in 1905.  Picture courtesy of the Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records.  Check out more of the Nevada State Library’s images and other digital collections at


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

Image from the National Library of Wales, Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication, via Wikimedia Commons.


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

Margaret McAllen

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!:


Brett Spencer,



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

Author Bio: William “Bill” Blick is an Assistant Professor and Electronics Resources Librarian at Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York. He has published articles on popular culture, open access movement, literature, film studies, and library history. He has presented papers at academic conferences in as diverse places as Poland and Ireland on library and literary related topics.

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


Brett Spencer



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.

A pciture of a library with a gate in front of it

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):

A group of library patrons and librarians in square dancing outfits.

Cass County Library Square Dance Class (1947). Local libraries have served as staging areas for many community events. Image from American Library Association Archives.