Archive for the 'history' Category

We remember: Army special services librarians

Army Hostess and Librarian Service patch

I recently supported a successful Kickstarter campaign by those wonderful folks at Unshelved. They are going to make a series of librarian ranger badges. Fun, right? I think a lot of us are also aware of the Librarian merit badge that you can achieve in scouting.

Here is a badge I did not know about: the Army Special Services librarian badge which refers to the Army Hostess and Librarian Service. Special Services used to be called the Morale Division. As near as I can tell, these jobs were a special subclass of jobs set up by President Truman under the Special Services division of the War Department during WWII at Army posts. During WWI there were similar Special Services programs which created leisure “day rooms” for soldiers that were mainly staffed with American Library Association volunteers. Official organized library services were established by the Army in 1921 and service clubs/hostess houses were authorized by Congress in 1923. Here is a PDF that talks about what services Special Services offered in 1949 noting that they had seventy-seven librarians operating 197 libraries, six bookmobiles and 19 “library depots”. The colors on these patches indicated the nine different branches of the Army showing that the librarians (and hostesses) worked for the entire Army. The uniforms they wore were supposed to be worn at all times and even at home “If more than two guests were present

Here is a photo of veteran Winona Franklin Walker (c. 1945) wearing this badge with her Special Services uniform. and here is an interview with her talking about what the work was like.

The war had just ended. Anyway, we were headed for Paris. So we spent a week in Paris being trained how to set up libraries, and we were told never to complain, that there was going to be scarcity of everything, and if the conditions weren’t to suit us, not to utter a word, that we were there to set up these libraries. And if we didn’t have materials, we’d have to scrounge around and find what we needed, and make do with what we could find. That was it. We had no fine materials or anything like that.

Apparently some early public service reference librarians were also given the title hostess but this appears to have faded away rather quickly. Nowadays in the Army we’re back to the word morale–as part of the general header “family and morale, welfare and recreation”–and the current recreational libraries of the army have this handy history page to fill in some of the gaps.

storytime: hunting a time capsule at NYPL and elsewhere

Thomas Lannon occasionally posts on NYPLs blog. He is the assistant curator of their manuscripts and archives department. He also figures into this Fast Company story about a time capsule created by a group called the Modern Historic Records Association. The time capsule was never found, not exactly, but this story, an early example of the LOCKSS (lots of copies keeps stuff safe) phenomenon does have a happy ending, thanks to some sleuthing and some librarians.

The origin story of Mousercise

It started simply enough. I gave a talk in Missouri and went out for pizza with library school students afterwards and one of them came up to me and said “Hey you mentioned Mousercise in your talk… I know the guy who made that!” He put me in touch and I got to email a bit with Chris Rippel who now works for the Central Kansas Library System and talk a little bit about Mousercise (originally called Mouserobics until Disney found out) , what I think is one of the best sites on the internet. He agreed to answer a few questions for me.

1. Did you make your original Mouserobics/Mousercise as a thing for work? Is it something you used at your job at the library?

When I taught my first basic computer class in Prairie View, Kansas, I lectured on how a computer worked and how to use a mouse. Eyes glazed over. Soon after I made Mousercise.

2. Do you still work at the library?

I still work for the Central Kansas Library System. CKLS has member libraries, not patrons. I was teaching classes in member libraries, not at CKLS.

3. Did you make any other similar tutorials?

Sort of. Here is one about keyboarding. And I played with Word, etc., but none are as successful as Mousercise.

4. What are your go-to sites for people who are looking to teach people computer basics?

I have no one place. Over the years I have made a number of Web sites with links to online tutorials. My first and biggest was a delicious page called Computer Training Tutorials, or something like that. Now I use blogger Web sites to provide links to more training after specific classes, but they don’t get used. Here is one example. I intended to do a Web page for each software, but I didn’t.

I recently gave one of our computer people, Maribeth Turner, my list of Blogger Web sites and she has incorporated the links into a Web site she is creating.

5. What do you think the biggest challenges are in this day and age for teaching technology skills to novice users?


Lecturing too much to novices. Novices understand little of what you say and, therefore, remember less. So, for me, the main lesson of mousercise is more work, less talk, and be there to show students how to correct their mistakes. Teaching people how to correct mistakes is as important, sometimes more important, than teaching how to do something correctly. So, in my classes, I generally hand out exercises and tell them to type this. When needed, I give them one- to three-minute explanations of what to do, then let them do it. When that part is done, we go to the next part, i.e., short explanations followed by lots of work.

Covering too much in each class. We often pack in so many topics that novice students can’t remember and learn them. Covering less and giving students time to absorb a few basic things works better for me. This has an additional advantage for teaching librarians. Having to cover less allows librarians who may not be experts to also teach classes. Librarians knowing how to type a letter in Word know enough to teach a novice class on it even when they don’t know all the ins and outs of this program. When people ask about something you don’t know how to do. Then you have a topic for the next class.

6. Anything else you’d like to add?

I was going by myself with a mobile computer lab out to teach patron classes in libraries. I had no teaching assistant. I am not a good multi-tasker. I can’t run the teaching computer and effectively watch and help students at the same time. So I have one of the students run the teaching computer. I tell the student what to do. This requires me to clearly explain each step and ensures that at least one student is understanding what is being said and can do it. In hundreds of classes, I have only swapped students twice. They were glad to switch.

I suppose most computer teachers would be uneasy having students with unknown skill levels running the teaching computer. So I am not recommending it. However, I would recommend letting the assistant run the teaching computer to free the more knowledgeable teacher to spend more time helping students.

By the way, I am now exploring the idea of building little Web sites around a Webinar by another speaker. Here is my first.

Florida Library History, circa 1998

I am going to Florida on Sunday, so I have Florida on my mind. I found out about the Florida Library History Project and was pleased to know the entire thing is available online as a big PDF. Some enterprising student could, with the permission of Kathleen de la Pena McCook get it online crosslinked and searchable.

The Florida Library History Project (FLHP) began in January 1998. Letters requesting histories were sent to all public libraries in Florida with follow-up letters sent after an initial response was received from the libraries. E-mail messages were sent out to FL-LIB listservs encouraging participation in the project. A poster session was presented by USF research assistant Catherine Jasper at the 1998 Florida Library Association (FLA) Annual Conference, an event that marked FLA’s 75th anniversary. At the end of this funding period, 89 library systems and organizations had provided histories. These have been compiled and are reproduced in this volume as submitted by participating libraries. Highlights include library founding, collections, services, budgets and expenditures, personnel, funding, survey results, technology, and developments.


podcast suggest: Unquiet History

For those of you who thrilled to Matthew Battles’ book Library: An Unquiet History should try out his podcast — similarly titled but not library-specific — Unquiet History. I’m currently enjoying listening to a short history of medeival urban garbage. Fun!

HOWTO give a good presentation

Aaron has a good post about giving good presentations. As always, stick around for the comments. I offered my advice. Even in the short thread, it’s interesting that people have such different ideas about what makes a good presentation. Should it be something that can be repackaged and replayed without the presenter at a later date? Should there be handouts? What’s the balance between charisma and raw data?

Library Juice interview with LoC’s Barbara Tillett

I get mail from Sandy Berman almost once a week. In envelopes with interesting stamps and adorned with rubber stamped images, he sends a pile of photocopied news articles, printed out web pages and cc’ed letters that he’s sent to the Library of Congress, to Barbara Tillett specifically. In his ongoing quest for LCSH reform — continuing even after his forced retirement from Hennepin County Library system — Sandy keeps up a regular correspondence with Tillett, the chief of the LoC’s Cataloging Policy and Support Office. Some of these letters are amusing, all of them are good reading. Tillett writes back.

Rory Litwin of Library Juice has interviewed her for the Library Juice blog, where they discuss cataloging reform, God, Zionism and, of course, Sandy Berman.

Most of our correspondence contains helpful and constructive suggestions – what criticism we receive is simply not as he characterizes it. There is no onslaught of letters and emails and faxes from outraged librarians or researchers. For the most part, public criticism comes from Mr. Berman or other individuals he has urged to write to us. We’re more inclined to react favorably to constructive suggestions than to coercive techniques such as petitions, hostile articles in the library literature, emotional attacks, or letters of complaint to members of Congress. Methods such as these are almost always counterproductive, whereas more cooperative and positive approaches usually produce good results.

ranganathan, transcribed

David Weinberger has taken the time to transcribe the tape that William Denton posted where Ranganathan discusses Melvil Dewey, from 1964. Thank you, David.

when Dewey came to the Columbia University, he was insisting that he should have lady assistants. But the Columbia university in those days did not allow ladies into the university building. So the authorities would not allow it. But he would not have any other assistants. Then they found a compromise. The lady said that they agreed that the lady assistants of Melvil Dewey would be allowed to come into the building not through the main door but by the spiral service staircase in the back of the building. Well, that compromise was accepted. After some time, Melvil Dewey reported to the authorities that that spiral staircase was missing and that his students were unable to come into the building. Then they were in a great fix. Are they to put up another spiral and wait for a week or ten days without work in the library or what were they to do? Melvil Dewey I suppose did not even smile on that occasion for he was very very serious looking, and they said “Alright, I shall allow your lady assistants to come through the main door.” That’s a very remarkable experience I heard from that old student of Melvil Dewey.


Cliff Lynch: Where Do We Go From Here? The Next Decade for Digital Libraries

It’s very hard for me to believe that D-Lib Magazine is now ten because I was already in library school when it started. Be sure to check out Clifford Lynch’s article on the future of ditial libraries. I generally don’t enjoy futuristic talk about library things because I have a hard time seeing the “how do we get there from here?” part, but the path with digital libraries seems more clear cut, even if it involves the same sort of paradigm changes that we are seeing in the brick/mortar/print world.

american libraries pre-1876

I thought I had the whole day free today. That was before I discovered The Davies Project and their Database of American Libraries before 1876.

This database covers institutional and commercial libraries that existed in what is now the continental United States from the time of first settlement through 1875. It records nearly 10,000 libraries. The end-date of 1876 is important because in that year the United State Bureau of Education published its first comprehensive, national listing of libraries, entitled Public Libraries in the United States of America: Their History, Condition, and Management. Special Report. Part. 1 [bespacific]