Job Title: Associate (full) professor and Associate head of school staffing and development at Charles Sturt University
Social: Blog from library research group
Describe yourself in 3 words: Curious, impulsive, at times then regretful
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? For my work, re-reading E. Morris Miller’s Libraries and Education (1912) and Australian Libraries: A survey of conditions and suggestions and improvements (1935). The latter never ceases to make me laugh aloud as it is filled with gems such as ‘anyone wishing to carry away a favorable impression of the Public Library of Queensland should never make the mistake of entering it’ (p.61) and on the Teachers’ college library in Melbourne, ‘this library is the worst one which has been seen in any educational institution’ (p.102) and they meant anywhere in the world! When not being amused by these gems any fantasy novel that comes my way is my preference and oddly for an historian I am not fond of biography.
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? I attended an Australian Library History Forum (ALHF) in the late 1990s at the University of Melbourne and I was hooked immediately by the array of characters presenting and their passions. When the evening’s entertainment was the first (and only) reading of a play The terms and grammar of creation about the controversy surrounding the introduction in the early 20th century of an American system of classification (Dewey) into Public library of Victoria at the expense of a local classification system, and the personal and emotional fall out from this. That was it. Who wouldn’t be hooked? A dream is to see the play resurrected!
Having a background in both education and librarianship I was also very interested in the strong links between schools and the development of librarianship in Australia. This connection resonated and I spent some time exploring this as part of my PhD. Because I struggle to focus on one idea at a time, all these experiences led me down many avenues of library history. So much history so little time.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history?
- The relationship between history of Australian education and librarianship
- The US Office of War information librarians who travelled to Australia during WWII
- Early convict libraries in the colonies of Australia
- The history of professional education
What do you value about LHRT? Being fairly isolated as a library historian in Australia, LHRT gives me a community and contact with people who both value and understand library history and from whom I can draw so much inspiration.
Carroll, M. & Griffith, A. (2023). Lost to memory and invisible stories: Reflections on the Australian Library History Forums 1984–2019. Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, 72(1), 4-25. https://doi.org/10.1080/24750158.2023.2167190
Carroll, M. (2023). E.G. Whitlam’s vision for Australia’s public libraries. LRG blog. https://librariesresearchgroup.csu.domains/blog/2023/02/27/e-g-whitlams-vision-for-australias-public-libraries/
Griffith, A., Carroll, M. B., & Farrell, O. (2021). From Sèvres to Melbourne: Art and education museums in 19th-century Victoria. History of Education Review, 50(2), 272-286. https://doi.org/10.1108/HER-08-2020-0048
Job Title: Reference Librarian/Historian at Lake County Library System
Describe yourself in 3 words: I am searching, accommodating, and honest.
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? I just finished Maximize the Moment by Bishop T.D. Jakes, but I am now reading We Over Me by Devale and Khadeem Ellis & Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? I believe that since working in libraries, I see the direct relationship between the profession of History and Libraries, which work concurrently with the other. Every library I have worked at so far has expressed that either history is being made, or a torch is being re-ignited. When I worked at a Historically Black University, Florida A&M University, I was met with the trust of continuing a legacy: Black Librarians was once cherished and celebrated in Coleman Library, but since the Library Science program discontinued, training young Black women and men had become a lost treasure. By 2010, at a time where FAMU Career Librarians were ready to retire, they were forced to hold on to their role for a decade longer because there was no new talent near. In 2020, life pushed me into the public library and in this sphere, I stepped into a Library of a town with not only rich history, but a well-documented and collected history. But even in 2020, a Young Black Librarian was unprecedented. Patrons come in every day and make it known that me being here means something. They ask an array of questions, getting a gist of who I am, who are my people, and what would cause a person like me to work in this library. Library history tells a transformational story about a place, what they value, and what they do not value. When I look to other libraries I ask, “what’s the personality of your library?” because every library has one. People look to their library for a specific purpose, and libraries deliver on the purposes they cherish.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history? I enjoy the discussions on women, the profession, and how we should look to the library history of a place to understand their views on issues and why things are the way they are, where they are.
What do you value about LHRT? I value that this Round Table attempts to address worldwide issues and promote literature and research to address present topics of today. Not in a political way, but with the facts that are present. I thought this Round Table was about Librarians that studied History, however, it is a call to action to study the history of libraries to understand the history of people, and their relationship to information that is available for them. Moreover, how information behaviors may or may not be a cycle of past attitudes.
Recent publications/presentations: I have not specifically, but I am inspired now to make it a priority this year. You can find the posts I have written for Public Libraries Online here.
Editor’s note: Would you like to be featured in LHRT’s Member Spotlight? Do you have someone you’d like to nominate? Fill out this form, and we’ll be in touch.
Rachel Edford Trnka
Job Title: Instruction & Engagement Librarian at University of Central Florida Libraries
Describe yourself in 3 words: Inquisitive, conscientious, observant
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? I just finished Anthony Doer’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, which traces the complex journey of a written text through history while showing the power of a single story to connect people across generations. One review called it “love letter to libraries and bibliophiles,” and I think that’s an apt description. I’ve just started reading Dee Garrison’s Apostles of Culture.
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? History in various forms, including the history of language, literary history, American history, have been interests of mine throughout my career, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to connect those interests in a clear way through studying library history. I started my library career in archives, processing collections of artists in a museum archive and learned to appreciate the way one’s life and experiences can be memorialized in archival materials and arranged into a narrative structure. After subsequently working in public libraries for a few years, I decided to return to school to pursue a doctorate in English, focusing on American World War II poetry, and how American poets from a variety of backgrounds employed literary form to represent their various experiences of the war. Part of my research involved diving into an archival collection of a group of conscientious objector artists and poets housed at the University of Oregon.
After teaching writing and English for several years, I’ve returned to library work; this time in an academic library. What’s struck me about this return is how much the library world has changed since my days in library school and my first librarian job. There are new librarian roles and titles, like scholarly communications and OER librarians, that I’m unfamiliar with. My interest in examining the ways libraries and the roles of librarians have changed over time at first served a pragmatic purpose of helping me to get up to speed with current issues, so I could do a good job in my work. But, as I started to explore LIS literature, studying library history also became a way for me to identify my scholarly interest in the development of the library profession and the language used to define that profession. The study of the history of libraries and librarianship can certainly inform our practice today, as one sees similar patterns occurring throughout history.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history? As someone interested in language, I’m intrigued by the constant evolution of the language used to describe libraries and the roles of libraries, often in reaction to the development of new technologies. I’m also interested in the history of women in librarianship and how the persistent questioning of the professional status of librarianship is often connected to it being defined as a ‘female’ profession. As an instruction librarian, the parallels between the professionalization of librarianship and other stereotypically defined female professions, like nursing, social work, and teaching, are also relevant to both my research and practice.
What do you value about LHRT? I value being able to interact with librarians from public, academic, and special libraries. Although I’m currently working in an academic library, I started my career in archives and public libraries and value the different perspectives gained from working in a variety of library settings. I also appreciate the scholarship in Libraries: Culture, History, & Society.
Trnka, R.E. (in press). Tracing the history of discourses on professionalism in the “sister professions” of librarianship and social work. Library & Information History, 39(1).
Edford, R. (2022, March 11-12). Examining how history informs the future of the two sister professions: Librarianship and social work. [Paper presentation]. The Pasts and Futures of the Library Conference. California State University Fullerton, CA. https://works.bepress.com/rachel-edford/29/
Edford, R. (2022). Figuring embedded librarianship: An analysis of the embedded journalist metaphor in the professional discourse. New Review of Academic Librarianship, https://doi.org/10.1080/13614533.2022.2122854.
Editor’s note: Would you like to be featured in LHRT’s Member Spotlight? Do you have someone you’d like to nominate? Fill out this form, and we’ll be in touch.
Dr. Sterling Joseph Coleman, Jr.
Job Title: Director, Library Services at Clark State College
Describe yourself in 3 words: The three words I would use to describe myself are dedicated, contemplative and prayerful.
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? The books I am currently reading are Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage by William Loren Katz and Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions by John Kotter.
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? I became interested in library history during my Ph.D. program at Florida State University. While my fellow Ph.D. students were focusing on larger historical topics such as nationalism, globalization and industrialization; I wanted to focus on a topic that was unique yet rich in primary and secondary sources. I also wanted to focus on a topic that was related to my profession, that I could be passionate about yet was tied into my area of study. For me, library history satisfied all of those requirements. Within the first two years of my Ph.D. program, I published my first article on library history: “The British Council and Unesco in Ethiopia: A Comparison of Linear and Cyclical Patterns of Library Development.” Library History 21 (July 2005): 121-130. And the rest as they say was history.
I think it is important to study library history for this reason: To gain a better perspective and understanding on the cultural, intellectual and social life of those generations that came before the advent of television, social media and mass communications. Before the Internet, before the 24-hour cable news cycle, before satellite radio dominated the air waves; people read—or had read to them–newspapers, pamphlets, periodicals, serials and books. Subscription libraries, and later pubic libraries, formed an integral part of that reading experience not only by supplying the printed word to readers but also by creating a communal space for them to find, browse, acquire and read the printed word. Library history is important because it contributes to our understanding of how these people lived, worked, entertained and interacted with each other and the world around them.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history? My favorite topics and subjects in library history are public and subscription librarianship in the colonies of the Second British Empire. I am fascinated by the impact reading and libraries had upon the cultural interactions, the intellectual environs and the social networks of both the colonizer and indigenous cultures in the British-controlled areas of Africa, Asia and the Americas.
What do you value about LHRT? I value the network capability of LHRT. My primary fields of study are library history and British imperial history from 1870 to 1945. There are not many scholars researching and publishing in these combined areas of study. By its very existence, LHRT gives me an opportunity to seek, contact and peruse the studies of my fellow scholars in our particular academic niche.
How Books, Reading and Subscription Libraries Defined Colonial Clubland in the British Empire. New York: Routledge Press, Inc. 2020.
“’Eminently Suited to Girls and Women’: The Numerical Feminization of English Public Librarianship 1914-1931” Library & Information History 30 no. 3 (August 2014): 195-209
“’No Room For Her Here!’: The Numerical Feminization of English Public Librarianship 1871-1914” Library & Information History 30 no. 2 (May 2014): 90-109.
Editor’s note: Would you like to be featured in LHRT’s Member Spotlight? Do you have someone you’d like to nominate? Fill out this form, and we’ll be in touch.
Steven A. (Steve) Knowlton
Job Title: Librarian for U.S. History and African American Studies at Princeton University
Describe yourself in 3 words: This is difficult, so I asked around on Facebook. My friends say, amicable, curious, conscientious
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? I have a couple going right now. A book I edited, Thirteen Months in Dixie, or, the Adventures of a Federal Prisoner in Texas has just been published, and I’m about to hit the book-talk circuit. Since it’s the memoir of a Civil War prisoner, I’m reading The Bright Side of Prison Life by S. A. Swiggett so I can make useful comparisons to works that my audiences might know.
And I’m reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass for the first time, just to get a little culture. I’m pleased to have discovered “Shut Not Your Doors to Me Proud Libraries”, which I will probably use as an epigraph the next time I’m asked to revise my collection development policies (I have a very expansive view of what should be acquired).
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? I was a history major as an undergrad, so when in my cataloging courses we turned to the history of the dictionary catalog, I was probably the only one who didn’t fall asleep. I hoped for a career as a cataloger, so I wanted to understand everything about the field, including past practices. The subject heading in particular intrigued me, so I set about reading all the important thinkers on the topic, from Antonio Panizzi through Charles Cutter, Julia Pettee, David Judson Haykin, Seymour Lubetzky, and Sanford Berman. I thought there might be a paper to be written about this history, until I found Francis Miksa’s The Subject in the Dictionary Catalog from Cutter to the Present, which is the last word on this topic. For someone versed in epistemology, I’m sure it’s a fine work, but I personally thought it was the densest book I ever read; the ink might as well have been made of osmium salts. (Mildly amusing aside: when I purchased my secondhand copy, it had been withdrawn from Palm Beach Public Library; I bet they tightened their approval plan after that sneaked through.)
One thing that I’ll never forget is that even in something as dry as discussions of subject headings, the right author can inject some poetry. Pettee wrote so beautifully about the subject heading, “many handed like a Hindu god”, reaching up from the classification scheme to “clasp in the air under the single term, irrespective of the classification map on the plane surface below.”
Because I never did get hired as a cataloger, and my first job out of library school was not in a library (sales and marketing at ProQuest), I felt like reading in the library literature was a way to stay in touch with the field while awaiting an opportunity. I’m probably the only person to have taken Foundations of Cataloging: A Sourcebook to the beach—but I desperately wanted to be part of the profession, even if at a remove.
Reading, of course, leads to questions which one can only answer with a systematic research agenda, and a systematic research agenda leads to papers. So, I looked into the history of Sanford Berman’s subject heading reform efforts and published a piece that tracked the changes he recommended in his 1971 book Prejudices and Antipathies, showing that Library of Congress has made most of the changes he sought. This paper has been cited more than 100 times, I think because it states in plain language the concerns that many theorists of knowledge organization raise about LC subject headings. From my reading, I also learned enough to write on the history of the adoption of AACR2, and the treatment of microforms in various cataloging codes.
Through all this reading, I came across the very numerous writings of William Studwell; in my naivety, I assumed that an author who published so much must be very important, and I spent a lot of hours tracking down and reading his work; I’m probably the only person other than Studwell himself to have read every word he wrote on librarianship (leaving aside his writings on popular music). It turns out that very few librarians engaged with his ideas, but after learning more about his career I was able to tell his story as a version of library history as well.
In my first position as a librarian, at the University of Memphis, I had to answer a lot of questions about how best to make collection development decisions. Because there is a great degree of path dependency in library administration, it was necessary to learn how practices such as subscription decisions, interlibrary loan arrangements, and the printing of book jackets came to be. I published a number of papers ostensibly about technical services matters that nonetheless incorporate library history.
In order to achieve tenure, I was required to earn a second master’s degree. After barely escaping from music theory with a merciful B-minus, I concluded that history would be an easier degree than musicology. I was determined to use my time in graduate school to learn as much as I could about my new hometown, so I pursued every opportunity to learn about the history of Memphis. I decided to write my thesis on the history of the segregated public libraries of Memphis and the successful campaign to desegregate them, which was the start of a years-long desegregation campaign across the city. That project was so much fun that I have continued doing archival research as opportunities arose.
Now that I am a subject librarian for history and African American studies, I like to use my research projects to build my subject knowledge and keep in practice so that I am better able to advise students about their own use of libraries. I have focused my research on the historical demand by African American readers for library access. A recent project involved looking into several nearby university archives to investigate how the demand for Black Studies programs in the late 1960s and 1970s affected library administration. And more recently, I have been working with digital humanities tools and text analysis to see how elite African Americans remember the library in collections of oral histories.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history? History of technical services, African American library history.
What do you value about LHRT? LHRT offers so many opportunities for scholars to present their research and get feedback. In 2006, I presented an early draft of my paper on Studwell for consideration by the Justin Winsor Prize committee. It was bad enough that the committee chose to present no award that year (I believe the committee said my paper was “not really history”). But the feedback I got was so specific, helpful, and encouraging that it shaped not only that project but all the work I’ve done subsequently.
As well, the research forum has been a wonderful way to talk about works in their early stages and hear what could be added or improved. I think just knowing that other researchers are available to listen and provide feedback is very encouraging to scholars getting started on a project.
The greatest thing LHRT has done lately is to launch Libraries: Culture, History, and Society. As the huge volume of quality content shows, there has been an unmet need for a journal dedicated to library history, and I eagerly read it as soon as it comes in the mail.
I’m a newcomer to the book club, but it’s great fun to share thoughts about what we’re reading in a less formal way.
Recent publications/presentations: “Three Decades since Prejudices and Antipathies: A Study of Changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings.” Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 40, no. 2 (2005): 123–45.
“Power and Change in the U.S. Cataloging Community: The Case of William E. Studwell’s Campaign for a Subject Cataloging Code.” Library Resources and Technical Services 58, no. 2 (2014): 111–26.
“‘Since I Was a Citizen, I Had the Right to Attend the Library’: The Key Role of the Public Library in the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis.” In An Unseen Light: Black Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee, edited by Aram Goudsouzian and Charles McKinney, 203–227. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2018.
“A Rapidly Escalating Demand: Academic Libraries and the Birth of Black Studies Programs.” Libraries: Culture, History, and Society 4, no. 2 (2020): 178–200.
Job Title: Special Collections Education and Outreach Librarian at Hamilton College
Describe yourself in 3 words: Energetic, Passionate, Curious
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? Monuments Man by James J. Rorimer (2022 revised edition)
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? I’d worked in special collections and archives already, but a fellowship at the Library of Congress piqued my interest in library history. For the uninitiated, the main (Jefferson) building’s stacks were, to put it mildly, difficult to navigate. Floor numbers didn’t seem to have much logic or reason, so I began digging into the building’s history. The evolution of the Jefferson building reflects the evolving needs of the library, which were sometimes unique to a collection assembled on such a massive scale. The number of patents for library stacks and shelving were astounding, and I began to appreciate the complex process of maintaining a library. And then came the question of building collections! The choices involved in developing a collection, as many members will agree, are not made in a vacuum. Cultural forces, the whims of donors, etc., all factor into the selection process.
Studying library histories, in the plural sense, is important to me because I want to better impress upon my students and library patrons that the collections they interact with are a human product. Each library has multiple histories that can be told about it, from any number of perspectives. Yes, each book is created by an author with individual biases and beliefs, but a library has its own biases at an institutional scale. Cataloging subject terms, for example, are subjectively applied, and have a profound influence on how patrons go about finding, and thinking about, the books in a collection. Particularly in today’s political conversations around libraries, it is important to remember that our libraries are not impartial stewards of human culture and knowledge. We, as librarians and library administrators, play an active role in shaping the collections our patrons rely upon.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history? I enjoy studying library architecture (I make plenty of stops on trips to visit and photograph libraries), especially the construction of stacks. Except perhaps the past decisions shaping a library’s collection, I can’t think of many other aspects of a library’s design which impact the user experience (both patrons and staff) more than the structure of a library building. The history of conservation is another area which has an ongoing impact on my role in special collections, where previously conserved items are sometimes in need of new treatments.
What do you value about LHRT? Seeing the fantastic community in LHRT has been a major benefit; other members are producing wonderful work offering tremendous insights. LHRT’s journal, Libraries: Culture, History, and Society, was a big factor in my decision to join. It’s a great publication, filled with thought-provoking content. As a new member, I’m looking forward to connecting with other members and learning about their work.
Job Title: Architectural Historian, Independent Scholar
Describe yourself in 3 words: Curious, Learner, Attentive
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? Strange Bird: The Albatross Press and the Third Reich by Michele K. Troy
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? I became interested in library history as a library user. There were two fascinating moments that I had inside libraries. Both were very much about recognizing major differences between different kinds of libraries: between American and German public libraries, on the one hand; and academic and public libraries within Germany, on the other hand.
In Germany, academic (that is, university) libraries serve as architectural showcases and are in many cases palaces. After diving into library history, I found out that German public libraries have always stood in the shadow of academic libraries. Germany is very proud of its literary heritage, but it has neglected public libraries. For nearly as long as they have existed in Germany, public libraries have not even had their own dedicated architecture, let alone their own dedicated buildings.
I’m aware of the current discussions within the American library profession about how public libraries are idealized, and I don’t want to oversimplify these complex issues. However, the general standing and appreciation of public libraries is very different in America than in Germany. German libraries seem much more limited with the services they offer. Generally, they have a different “vibe” from their American counterparts. Their affect is less friendly and users are not made to understand that this place belongs to them. German libraries’ work ethos can sometimes seem patronizing. In short, it was through recognizing the differences in municipal politics and culture writ large between in the two countries that made me interested in library history.
I believe that it’s important to study library history for the same reasons that we study history in general. History reminds us of the legacy of the institution and the debts that weigh heavily on the present. I think there are very important debates going on at the moment in the US that confront the undemocratic past of American libraries. Libraries, especially public libraries, are crucial in order to achieve social and environmental justice. I believe one can only effect these changes if one confronts the past, moves forward with this historical awareness in mind, and does not exclude the historical responsibilities associated with the institution’s history.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history? Public libraries, Library architecture, History of censorship, and Women in the library profession.
What do you value about LHRT? I value LHRT because it is an intellectually vibrant, open community that enables people to connect and exchange ideas. For me as a historian of architecture and libraries, it is a valuable source of information for the field of library history. I enjoy reading the blog, and the journal, and I have received many useful recommendations on articles and books that I could immediately use for my book project on public library architecture. I also enjoyed the podcast recommendations on the history of certain libraries in the U.S. that I otherwise would not have come across.
Recent publications/presentations: “Dealing with the Socialist Past. The Case of the Kulturpalast in Dresden, Germany”, PLATFORM, May 24, 2021: https://www.platformspace.net/home/dealing-with-the-socialist-past-the-case-of-the-kulturpalast-in-dresden-germany
“Public Libraries, Public Input: How Citizens’ Comments Can Inform Public Library Architecture”, PLATFORM, February 22, 2021: https://www.platformspace.net/home/public-libraries-public-input-how-citizens-comments-can-inform-public-library-architecture
Job Title: History and Modern Languages & Literatures Librarian at the University of Miami
Describe yourself in 3 words: Curious, Engaged, and Motivated
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? The Other Americans (Novel) by Laila Lalami
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? History is my first love and library science my second. During my MIS studies, my intro classes highlighted the history of the profession and I found it interesting.
I think it is important to study library history for several reasons. The history of classification and cataloging for example is entwined with colonialism and imperialism (see here). Vocational awe, a notion embedded in librarianship, has led to burnout and low morale, especially during the last two years (see here). These problematic histories must be addressed openly before the profession can truly live up to its egalitarian ideals. At the same time, librarians are doing amazing work so that also needs to be highlighted. Librarians were among the first to protest Section 215 of the Patriot Act. During the pandemic, some library workers also helped with contact tracing (see here). You do not necessarily learn to do these things in library school, but they showcase the determination and brilliance of librarians.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history? I love reading about the Library of Alexandria and the persistent quest to create an all-comprehensive library.
What do you value about LHRT? I like how LHRT continues to adapt and improve despite the many challenges it has faced.
Baydoun, S., & Pickens, R. (2021). Collaborative and active engagement at the hemispheric university: Supporting ethnic studies through academic library outreach at University of Miami. In R. Pun, M. Cardenas-Dow, & K. S. Flash (Eds.), Ethnic Studies in Academic and Research Libraries. Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)
Larson, C., Pickens, R., & Baydoun, S. (2020). Supporting teaching with primary sources at the University of Miami. The University of Miami.
Job Title: Chief, Binding and Collections Care, Mass Deacidification, Library of Congress. Retired in October 2019.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Energetic, Positive, Doer
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? I am reading memoirs of people working in cultural heritage. I am working on a multiple title book review about the importance of people who are passionate about their work preserving, interpreting and describing the past, the present and looking to the future for culture in all its many aspects. As a preservation librarian I was, and still am, passionate about preserving the past and the present for future generations. In the same way that STEM starts creating interest in science, technology, engineering, and math in children and young adults, I believe that cultural heritage, writ large, should be doing something similar. I believe interesting, well-written memoirs are one way to inspire, hence my reading and book review concept. Actual titles I plan to include right now are Patch work: A life amongst clothes; Trade secrets: A life in and around Museums; A degree of mastery: A journey through book arts apprenticeship; and Bookbinding and conservation: A sixty year odyssey of art and craft.
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? Since my early days working in libraries, I was interested in how we got to where we are. Having been in the profession for some forty years I can now look back and see within my own career all the many changes that occurred. How we got here today is always on the shoulders of those going before us. Such books as Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa’s Mooring a field: Paul N. Banks and the education of library and archives conservators, which just won an award from SAA, is very interesting and reveals so much. I see digital reformatting as inspired from microfilming brittle books. Both formats have been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and, in fact, the reformatting of microfilm to digital files has also been funded. The grant proposal writing, the collaboration, and the quality assurance is the same for microfilming that occurred during the 1980’s into the 2000’s. If you don’t know history, you will make the same mistakes, but you can learn from history and do it better, make fewer mistakes and learn about all the many possibilities for creating ideas now for the future. How can I not be interested in library history when I learn so much from it? Looking back is just as important as looking forward.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history? I continue to be very interested in preservation of books and paper, binding, and paper quality, but I also find international libraries of great interest having been a member of IFLA for nearly twenty years. The expansiveness of cultural heritage and the urge to preserve personal and family heritage, as well as regional culture, is another interest. How libraries have provided for so many needs of their communities is so compelling. A library is so much more than reading material, and yet that is also important for expanding the minds of young and old and all ages in-between. I am fascinated by research into the science of paper and the materiality of all library materials. Remember cassette tapes? Floppy disks? How can you get that information if you haven’t carried it forward?
What do you value about LHRT? I enjoy reading and hearing about what others are researching, writing, and presenting about and that leads me to new titles to read and evaluate for my interests and creates new interests. I am particularly interested in oral history projects that document various local community activists, professionals making a difference, and the lives and careers of individuals in all walks of life. I believe the human voice carries so much additional meaning beyond what words on a page can convey, so oral history projects are particularly important to me.
Recent publication/presentation in library history: I have published broadly over many topics, but for library history I would direct your focus to two oral history projects on commercial binding companies and also of preservation librarians. In both cases you can find the recorded interviews with search capability here:
I will also be co-teaching an oral history short course through ALA in the fall. I helped start a project at IFLA to interview past presidents and am working to do the same for ALA past presidents. Sadly, Peggy Sullivan, past president of ALA, died before I could interview her, though she and I had talked about scheduling. Don’t delay if you are planning on interviewing someone, you just never know when your opportunity might disappear.
Job Title: Oral History Librarian at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Describe yourself in 3 words: Curious, committed, persistent
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? Along Came Google by Deanna Marcum and Roger C. Schonfeld; Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South by T.R.C. Hutton
How did you become interested in library history? And/or why do you think it is important to study library history? Several years ago I had the opportunity to conduct a series of oral history interviews commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL), which was founded in 1956. The idea was to build on previous histories of the organization through first-hand accounts of some of its early leaders. A major theme that emerged during those interviews was, of course, the transition from primarily print-based to electronic collection development and resulting concerns about the future of libraries. As a working public services librarian for well over 20 years in public and academic libraries, I’ve witnessed much of that transition firsthand; one particularly surreal moment for me was participating in the destruction of a college library’s legacy physical card catalog due to lack of space. Another interesting experience was serving as a contributing editor for the 4th edition of The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science and seeing how library terminology and practice changes so drastically over time; it’s important to remember that even card catalogs and shelf lists were revolutionary at one point!
Based on my work on the ASERL project, I have become interested in studying the higher education philanthropic landscape in Appalachia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on the development of their campus libraries. This is the focus of my doctoral dissertation (in progress) and includes topics such as the Morrill Act, the impact of Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” philosophy and public library funding program on giving to higher education, and Appalachian university giving in the context of social philanthropic movements including the Frontier Nursing Service and the Pine Mountain Settlement School.
I think that studying library history is important for the same reasons that studying history in general is important: to understand past issues and problems and learn how they were or weren’t solved, to identify similarities and differences between present and past situations, and to discern patterns of behavior that gives us a better perspective on understanding and dealing with current challenges.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history?
- Institutional histories of individual libraries and library organizations
- History of library technology from 1960 to present
- Public and academic library development in underserved communities, particularly in Appalachia
What do you value about LHRT? As a relatively new member of LHRT, I look forward to becoming more actively involved with this group of talented, thoughtful, motivated people who demonstrate a shared passion for library and information science history! LHRT has done wonderful work in serving as a professional resource for those of us who are interested in doing library history research through activities such as its regular opportunities to connect with others, the organization’s website, and the journal.
Recent publication/presentation in library history: Bartlett, Jennifer (interviewer). Oral Histories: Commemorating ASERL’s Past. (2017). Atlanta: Association of Southeastern Research Libraries. Face-to-face interviews with 10 current and former deans and directors of libraries throughout the Southeastern United States, 2016-2017.
Bartlett, Jennifer. Knowledge Management: A Practical Guide for Librarians. (2021). Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield. (This isn’t a library history-related title; rather, it grew out of my work as a former library administrator).
Job Title: Rapaport Archivist at the American Folk Art Museum
Describe yourself in 3 words: Creative. Thoughtful. Learner.
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon
How did you become interested in library history? I became interested in library history when I was a graduate student in the Dual Degree MLS/MA in program at Queens College–CUNY. During the program I signed up for a history class called “The Idea of Eastern Europe.” In the class, we examined “Eastern Europe” (as well as other regional categories in Europe like Central Europe, the Balkans, and Western Europe) as an intellectual invention that has had tangible impacts on politics, economics, social life, and material culture at various moments in time. The premise of the class spoke to the archivist-librarian in me (I don’t consider myself a student of European history). We work in a profession that subjectively applies words, categories, and schemas to describe and organize the content of various source materials and media. The descriptions we use have consequences, for better and for worse. Long story short, I wrote a piece of library history for the class about significant revisions made to the Library of Congress Classification’s classification of Eastern European history in the 1970s and 1980s, which included the creation of a new subclass to represent the region, Subclass DJK. In the decades leading up to these changes there had been an effort, led by Slavic and East European librarians within the American Library Association, to advocate for changes to the classification to make it better reflect current political realities in Eastern Europe. The deeper I went into my research the more important it became to me, as an information professional, to accurately reflect and convey the complexity of what these librarians were trying to do, particularly from a technical, professional, and bureaucratic standpoint. Overall, I found process of telling this story to be the most challenging and rewarding historical research I have ever done. I recently published the research that began in this class (citation below) and have been motivated to study library history ever since.
I think it is important to study library history for a few reasons. For librarians, I think it helps us reflect on our practice and the historical context in which it takes place. Studying library history is a reminder of our own power and the tangible impact that our work has on society. More broadly, I believe that library history is vital for understanding how history is produced and remembered. Many scholars are rightfully very focused on the nature of archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions, particularly as sites of power, memory, and public engagement. I think library history, though, can help this analysis go deeper, particularly if it is written with the intent to place the theories, practices, systems, and day-to-day realities of librarians, archivists, and other cultural heritage workers into a larger historical context.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history?
- Local history and public history as a practice and form of public engagement and service – i.e. the public/community doing history work. The history of local history organizations.
- History of archives and documentation practices, including embodied knowledge and performance.
- History of cataloging and classification
What do you value about LHRT? I am new to LHRT—I joined last year after the Library History Symposium in June 2021. I value the camaraderie of this group. It is extremely motivating to be part of a community that is also curious and excited about library history.
Recent publication/presentation in library history: Carra, Regina. “DJK: (Re)Inventing Eastern Europe in the Library of Congress Classification.” Slavic & East European Information Resources 22, no. 1 (2021): 6-31.
Nicole Gaudier Alemañy
Job Title: Customer Experience Librarian – Youth at Jacksonville Public Library
Social: @nicolebookish on Twitter, Instagram, & goodreads.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Thoughtful, Creative, & Compassionate.
What book(s) are you reading/listening to right now? I am currently reading When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt by Dr. Kara Cooney. I heard Dr. Cooney discussing Ancient Egyptian pharaohs, and caskets on a podcast & I had to follow her social media online & start reading her books. I am also reading The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. It is one of the books I’ve been most thrilled by this year so I am elated to finish reading it before the year ends.
How did you become interested in library history? I became interested in the history of the book as a graduate student in art history. In Fall 2015 I wrote a research paper on the Beatus of Liébana: Manchester Codex and in Spring 2016 I wrote a paper on Peter Lowe’s A Discovrse of the VVhole Art of Chyrvrgerie; these became two of my favorite graduate papers. At the time, I was also working part time in the Florida State University Library and grew close with my colleagues who worked in the special collections department. It was great that in addition to enjoying the time with the Beatus facsimile and early printed book, I got to see those work friends handling the materials I studied and learning some information through the materials from them. I joined LHRT in 2018 & attended sessions at ALA annual and have enjoyed learning about library history through LHRT’s journal, blog, and meetings. I think it is important for librarians to study library history to not only learn about our field’s past, but also gain a stronger understanding of how interdisciplinary and inclusive the library and information profession has become. It is important to learn about the history of intellectual freedom, access to materials, and social justice libraries.
What are your favorite topics/subjects in library history? Overall I truly enjoy all aspects of library and book history. I enjoy researching and reading about the history of manuscripts, maps, and early printed books. I truly find the 20th century meeting of books and technology to be fascinating. As a Puerto Rican librarian, I enjoy learning about latinx figures in library history especially Pura Belpré and Arturo A. Schomburg and their legacies. 2021 is the 25th anniversary of the Pura Belpré Award & learned even more about Pura Belpré and the award. REFORMA, ALSC, and YALSA shared a ton of great information that made me appreciate Pura and past latinx youth public librarians even more. As a member-and secretary-of REFORMA de Florida I was exposed to even more information during our meetings where colleagues discussed the Pura Belpré award’s history, and past winners and honorees.
What do you value about LHRT? I value that LHRT gives members the space to the share information on library history in their individual research and their libraries. It is motivating to share an interest in library history with members in various libraries and fields. I not only enjoy reading the Libraries: Culture, History, and Society journal, but also value the opportunity to submit articles and book reviews to the journal. I have enjoyed attending meetings in person and virtually and look forward to the shared impact LHRT will continue to have on my career trajectory and our network. Most recently, I had a great time at the December LHRT reads book discussion on Dr. Kathy Peiss’ Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe. It was such an interesting look at librarian’s roles in gathering information during World War II, World War II spy networks, the dawn of micromaterials, the OSS’s origins, and the start of librarians expanding towards becoming information professionals. It was a great evening discussing a wonderful book with LHRT colleagues and even meeting Dr. Peiss.
Recent publication/presentation in library history: “Review.” Libraries: Culture, History, and Society, vol. 4, no. 2, 2020, pp. 225-227. doi:10.5325/libraries.4.2.0225