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.

How not to write about libraries – some guidelines for reporters

We get it. Times are tough. The public sphere is shrinking in the US and elsewhere. Libraries are around and open, doing stuff. Their funding cycle is cyclical and short and up to the whims of various people, sometimes mysterious. The public library system belongs to everyone. There is a lot to talk about; a lot of things happen there. Many people have strong opinions about how public spaces are used and public money is spent and about the library in specific. You have a 24 hour news cycle, with pages or screens to fill. That’s terrific. We’re often happy for the attention.

At the same time, there are a few tropes that do none of us any favors. You look like people who haven’t done your research or who go for the easy cliche and we look like people who can’t take a well-meaning joke (which we’ve heard for the thousandth time). Let’s get to a place where we’re all feeling good about the whole endeavor. Here are some suggestions. Hope this list, patterned off of How Not To Write Comics Criticism, is helpful. It’s called

How Not To Write About Libraries

1. Your library joke is tired, even if it’s new to you

It is almost impossible for you to make a library play on words that has not been done a million times before, even something that sounds contemporary like riffing off of “adult graphic novels”. You’re probably annoyed that you got the job writing about the library funding crisis but don’t take it out on us. Notify the headline writer also, please. We know you’re doing your best but we should never see “turns the page” or “starts a new chapter” when a new building is built or a librarian gets a new job, retires, or dies, or any sort of bun/shush/dewey/cat pun again ever. That “Overdue book returned years late” story? Heard it. Thank you.

2. Quit it with the wardrobe policing

You try working nights and weekends in a landmark building with a heating and cooling system that dates back to Carnegie times. Dressing in wool and layers is practical and smart, as is keeping your hair out of your face when you might have to crawl under a desk to fuss with a computer. Sixty-four percent of Americans wear eyeglasses, that number jumps to 90% after age 49. We’re not absurdly myopic from all that reading, we’re normal. Saying “OMG they can be sexy too!” is not actually a good response to this; as professions go we’ve always been pretty anti-censorship and sex positive.

3. We’re not all women, not even close

In 2008 the gender split among new grads was 80% female, 20% male. Last year it was more like 78% to 22% and the female/male gap is shrinking. We come from many ethnic backgrounds and we speak many languages. We date and marry people of many genders. A good number of us are just out of library school and share the characteristics of other people in our cohort: tattoos, body jewelry, a penchant for cocktails. Many of us are not just out of library school and enjoy the same things. Nothing unusual. Diversity of all kinds is important in any sort of public service position when you work for the entire public; please try to respect and represent the diversity of our population as it exists in the actual world not as it existed in the movies thirty or even fifty years ago.

4. Many different people work in a library building

This frequently comes up when there is a crime or another scandal at a library and someone gets interviewed who is invariably called “a librarian” and is later revealed to be a page, a volunteer, or maybe just an interested and chatty patron. Librarians (usually) work in libraries, but not everyone who works in a library is a librarian. There are many schools of thought on the importance of these distinctions and while we don’t expect you understand the subtle nuances of the differences between a reference librarian and a cataloger, or a circulation clerk and a shelver, it’s simply important to know that there are many different jobs within the library and not all of them are “librarian” and if you are not sure what the job title is of the person you spoke with, you should ask them. Many professional librarians, though not all, have Master’s degrees from accredited institutions. People call this level of graduate education “library school” and graduates have degrees ranging from MLib. (mine) to MSIS to MLS to MLIS.

5. There are some amazing things hidden in special collections

…and your chances of getting to see them diminish if you continually represent library archives as dusty, musty, smelly, unkempt, or populated entirely with hobbits and wizard-beings, strange and unknowable creatures unschooled in human customs. Introduce yourself and spend some time there and you’re likely to see some amazing things and learn some nifty things about your location, your neighbors or your academic institution.

6. No one with any credibility thinks “It’s all on the internet” and there are reasons why it isn’t

This is an untrue straw man argument, so you don’t have to keep bringing it up. There is a strong case to be made that the push for increasing digitization will be a net good for a society that is increasingly looking to satisfy their information needs online. However we are far from that point now, the digital divide is real and formidable. The vendor-based silos of information which are inaccessible without a payment or a password vex us as much as, if not more than, they vex you. We are trying to help people access the information they want and need. We’re sorry that the shift to digital content is causing trouble for some businesses’ bottom line, but we’ve always been publishers’ best customers and that will change only if they force it to. We would prefer that digital rights management were less onerous too. We would be happy to talk with you at length about why it’s easier to buy something from Amazon.com for personal use than it is to borrow it from the library on your Kindle. Blame copyright and capitalism, not the library.

7. The money thing is complicated, take some time to understand it

Libraries are funded differently from state to state and sometimes from county to county. Reporting on a funding “crisis” when it’s just a possible budget adjustment does us all a disservice with the “sky is falling” approach. Giving people real information about what is happening with and to the budget, and why, would be a great service. More information less doomsaying please. And, as always, if you need the numbers we’ll be happy to give them to you. They’re public. Public libraries have regular meetings of the library board that are open to the public and worth attending if this sort of thing piques your interest.

8. Not all libraries are public libraries

I work in a public library and so I fall into this trap myself. The public library system in the US is a sort of amazing decentralized mutual aid sort of creation, but it’s not the only library system in the US. School libraries and academic (college and university) libraries and law libraries and medical/hospital libraries and other special libraries all have their own systems and procedures and governing bylaws and mission statements and professional associations. Make sure that you are not reporting on one and ascribing it the values and traditions of another entirely different type of library.

9. The entire public is welcome in the public library

…including types of people you may dislike or find distasteful. And possibly including people who find you distasteful. With few exceptions people who are spending entire days or weeks in the library or who are looking at things on their computer screen that people might feel they should be viewing in private are doing so because they lack better or more genuine options. This is a larger societal problem and we are trying to help, making the best of a difficult situation within the structure of our mission statement and policies and procedures. The situation is complicated and deserves a better treatment than the usual “Porn in the library!” headline-grabbers.

10. Libraries are full of joyful noise

Not always, but often enough to say goodbye to the tut-tutting and the shushing and the QUIET PLEASE canards. While we try to have spaces that can accommodate quiet reading as well as rambunctious storytimes and group projects, libraries’ approaches to this are as varied as our buildings. Libraries are more popular than ever by most measures of library popularity and are still tremendously well-loved cultural institutions that are available to and for every single person. The reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated, especially on the internet.

However it is true that most of us like cats and mostly do not hate Wikipedia.

Here are some more pointers to places to get good, factual information about libraries in the US.

- ALA’s Library Bill of Rights
- ALA Library Fact Sheets
- ALA’s research and statistics section including the Library ROI bibliography
- IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) reports
- ALA’s State of American Libraries report
- Library Journal’s Placement and Salaries Survey

Now translated into Portuguese!

All images come from the Library of Congress’s Prints & Photographs Online Catalog and have no known restrictions on publication. Article specifically inspired by this tweet. Thanks to Andy Woodworth for reading the draft. Made a few small edits in response to recent feedback.

Men of the Stacks: why this isn’t just another wall calendar

I was happy that I caught the tweet early when the Men of the Stacks calendar came out because it’s been fascinating to watch this project grow and blosson. If for some reason you haven’t heard of it, the website is here and they have a facebook page here. Thanks to some nice photography, some cute librarians and a good message, this project has taken off, been mentioned in international news outlets, hit boingboing, Oprah and the Village Voice. The calendars cost $5 to produce through MagCloud and are sold for $20 which means for every calendar that gets purchased $15 goes to the It Gets Better Project. There’s a thoughtful post by the MotS administrator Megan about bullying and jerks online and why this sort of thing is so important. My favorite thing is probably close to what Will Manley says, this is “an image buster with a sense of humor.” My second favorite thing about this is, hey, I know those guys! A lot of the fellas in the photos are librarians we’ve known online for years and years–Brett and Trevor and Von and Gabe are people I know, and the others seem like people I’d like to know–and so we can smile along with them and say “Way to go guys!” Can’t wait to see how this evolves.

Dataviz you can get behind, librarians as sees through a census lens

Today, the marriage rate among librarians is the highest it has ever been with 62 percent of librarians married in 2009.”

There is a lot of data in the world. Librarians are good at using census data to help people find families, get local information and just learn something about the way the world used to be. Here’s a neat post about using hte census data from the last 120 years to learn something about librarianship as a profession. Did you know that the number of self-reported librarians peaked in 1990 and has declined almost 30% since then? I am somewhat curious if this is just because people with library and information science backgrounds are calling themselves all manner of things now [Is a taxonomist a librarian? How about a metadata specialist?]. You can read the full post, with graphs, over at Oxford University Press’s Social explorer.

Brenda Elizabeth Moon – chief librarian, University of Edinburgh, RIP

I’ve paid particular attention to obituaries since finishing Marilyn Johnson’s excellent book Dead Beat. There are some great librarian obituaries; a life of pulbic service seems to lend itself to this. A local librarian pal pointed this one out to me and I thought it was worth sharing: Brenda Moon: University librarian who had a clear vision of the transformative effects of digitisation, here is a personal rememberance of Ms. Moon at The Guardian. [thanks Barbara!]

SXSW11 the year of the librarian say the Atlantic.

SXSW 2011 was the year of the librarian and I was glad to be a part of it. I’m still slowly heading homeward but you might enjoy this short Atlantic article.

She Was A Booklegger: Remembering Celeste West at Bitch Magazine

Bitch magazine has a lending library in Portland Oregon. The library has a blog and they would like your zine donations. They make posts about books in their collection and today’s post is about Celeste West and a new book out on Library Juice Press celebrating her life. [via]

She Was A Booklegger: Remembering Celeste West is a collection of essays, excerpts, and photos that attempt to capture the spirit of Celeste West, a woman whose influence on feminist librarianship, publishing, journalism, and activism was monumental. After West passed away in 2008, a few friends and admirers (Toni Samek, Moyra Lang, and K.R. Roberto) decided to embark on a project that would honor West’s work and life. This book, which acts as a comprehensive and compassionate obituary, was the result.

update on four year old post

I mentioned, back in 2006, the case of Scott Savage vs Ohio State University. Inside Higher Ed has a post about the results of Savage’s lawsuit against the university. Upshot, “a federal judge rejected a former librarian’s lawsuit against the university.” [pdf of decision]. Depending on how you lean in this case, this is either terrific or troubling news (or possibly both) but it’s been interesting to read various reporting about it to see how it’s represented. I think my favorite analysis occurs in a comment on the site.

The headline seems to be “conservative academic forced out for Christian views” ( the headline on Horowitz’s FrontPage, for example, is “Savage Injustice” ) but the story is nothing of the sort. As much as the right wants to depict our colleges and universities as dominated by leftists and radicals the truth is that complaints against Savage were dismissed, he was backed by his supervisors and his position was secure. The headline should have been “University protects conservative academic’s right to express Christian views” because those are the facts of the case, which have been known from the beginning and which have now been established by a court of law.

Colorado woman gets 36 years for role in death of Greenwich librarians

Just a small heads up in case you missed it. The woman who was responsible for the deaths of the two Connecticut librarians, Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz, on their way home from ALA in Colorado has received a sentence of 36 years in jail, the maximum allowable sentence.

Copyright for Librarians

Copyright for Librarians is a joint project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Electronic Information for Libraries (eIFL), a consortium of libraries from 50 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. The goal of the project is to provide librarians in developing and transitional countries information concerning copyright law.” Here’s the press release.