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Contemporary Libraries: 1920s

Let's examine libraries and adult education, corporate libraries, school libraries, children's libraries, special needs libraries and destruction/construction of libraries.

In 1927, library associations from 14 European countries and the United States joined to form the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). The association was founded as an international body to represent the interests of library and information services and their users. During the 1930s, the group expanded to include representations from China, India, Japan, Mexico and the Philippines.

The success of ALA's Library War Service program during World War I prompted ALA leaders to develop the "Enlarged Program for American Library Service" focusing on the development of library services for all Americans. Although the plan wasn't implemented, it led to a long-term commitment to education and extension services.

Libraries and Adult Education

Adult education during the New Deal in the 1930s, NARA, PDAdult education became a focus in libraries in the 1920s.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching report The American Public Library and the Diffusion of Knowledge (1924) by William S. Learned is a good example of the move of American libraries to promote education. It stressed that libraries were the "agency for the systematic diffusion of knowledge."

The photo on the left shows a man in an adult education class during the 1930s.

In 1924, ALA formed the Commission on the Library and Adult Education. Their charge was "to study the adult education movement, and the work of libraries for adults and of older boys and girls out of school, and to report its findings and recommendations to the A.L.A. Council." The Carnegie Corporation provided funding for the study.

Following the 1926 publication of the commission's report Libraries and Adult Education, ALA established the Board on Library and Adult Education. The report concluded that

"it has been impressed by the number of adult activities of an educational nature, and by the growing demand for an understanding of modern life. It recognizes as an outstanding deficiency in all forms of adult educational work the fact that books of suitable kind are in few instances supplied in number adequate for successful study. It believes that this supply of books, whether for classes or for independent study, is primarily a library obligation." (1926, 9)

The study identified three major activities where the library could make a contribution to adult education. First, the library can provide consulting services and study materials. Second, the library can provide reliable information about local opportunities outside the library. Third, the library should be aware of resources available through other organizations.

Finally, the document pointed out the role that museum libraries and special libraries can play in adult education. At the 1919 convention of the Special Libraries Association, a special library was defined

"as consisting of a good working collection of information upon a specific subject or field of activity, and stated that in might consist of general or even limited material serving the interests of a special clientele, and preferably in charge of a specialist trained in the use and application of this material." (1926, 9)

The Committee on Methods of the Special Libraries Association listed examples of special libraries including agricultural colleges, art schools, theological seminaries, historical societies, medical schools, and clubs." (1926, 9)

Skim Libraries and Adult Education from ALA.

Corporate Libraries

Corporate libraries are private libraries that provide information for the benefit of a specific corporate body. The works in the library serve to promote business efficiency. Early corporate libraries had many names including reference library, technical library, information center, and research department. The commission report Libraries and Adult Education stated that business or so-called "company" libraries may be for executives or for general employees.

Tool room of the National Cash Register PDBeginning in the late 19th century, large corporations established libraries inconjunction with research departments.

By the 1910s, a report in the American Library Annual indicated 25 companies including Harley Davidson, National Cash Register, and Goodyear Tire having libraries. After World War II, the special libraries continued to increase in numbers (Black, 2011).

The photo on the right shows the tool room of the National Cash Register Co. of Dayton Ohio in 1904.

In On Buying and Using Print: Practical Suggestions from a Librarian to the Business Man, John Cotton Dana (1921, 8) states that "our business men need to read more, to read better things, and to learn more from what they read, - and all these things they are now doing." Rather than each business creating it's own corporate library, Dana suggested that the public library should have a business branch to cater to the needs of business men. Dana stated (1921, 9)

"consider the economic waster involved in the collection by forty or more firms, in Newark, for example, of thousands of dollars' worth of books, maps, charts, pamphlets, and journals already to be found in the Newark library!.. Why duplicate it in a city even once?"

Skim On Buying and Using Print: Practical Suggestions from a Librarian to the Business Man by John Cotton Dana (1921).

The photo below shows Mable Willebrandt in her law office reading a book. Notice the bookcases in the background. Although law libraries exist in many academic settings, they are also found at the corporate setting.

Mabel Willebrandt LOC PD http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010651718/

Black (2011) notes that many factors contributed to the growth of corporate libraries including the emergent library professionals, the growth of research and development, expansion of scholarly publishing, poor public provisions, new industries, scientific management and information management. Black (2011, 11) states that there is

"a high correlation between corporate library activity and the development of new sectors in the economies of both the United States and the UK... the growth of company libraries paralleled the rise of organized science and research, and the associated realization that improvements in management and production were increasingly dependent on the retrieval and assimilation of recorded knowledge...

Researchers and executives were not best placed to undertake the library and information investigations they needed. In fact, a common theme in the professional literature was the image of the bibliographically challenged executive or scientist too busy to undertake bibliographic and informational research or to improve such research skills, thus becoming ever more dependent on the expertise of the library staff."

Corporate libraries often met the technical and vocational educational needs of employees. Vincent Garrett, a corporate librarian indicated in 1925 that most library inquiries were not for specific books, instead they were for information.

School Libraries

school library, Books have always played a role in schools. However until the turn of the century, school libraries were often informal in nature.

During the early 1900s, school libraries were increasingly impacted by government authorities and professional associations (Clyde, 1981).

In 1901, the Section for Library Work with Children was established. The School Libraries Section of ALA was established in 1914. This group later became the American Association for School Libraries.

The photo on the right shows children in a public school reading in 1943.

School Library Standards

In 1920, the report of the Commission on Library Organization and Equipment of the National Education Association and the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools was published by ALA. Titled Standard Library Organization and Equipment for Secondary Schools of Different Size, this document became the first set of school library standards.

The report stated that "for the first time administrators see that the library is the very heart of the high school" (1920, 7). The report suggests that a committee be organized in each state to survey conditions in the following areas: housing and equipment, professional trained librarians, scientific service in classification and cataloging, instruction in library use, annual appropriations, and trained librarian as state supervisor.

The photo below shows the Hutchinson Central High School Library in Buffalo New York around 1919. This large library has many of the features listed in the standards.

Hutchinson School Library Buffalo, PD

Many regional associations and states developed standards for libraries over the next twenty years. Unfortunately, the majority of schools in all states failed to meet the guidelines (Clyde, 1981).

In response to standards developed in the United States, Australia created criteria for school libraries in the 1930s. However, like other countries, a majority of schools failed to meet the standards.

Skim Standard Library Organization and Equipment for Secondary Schools of Different Size from ALA.

School Librarians

A 1936, Carnegie Trust United Kingdom report found "very few, if any, full-time librarians employed in Secondary Schools maintained or aided by Local Education Authorities." They indicated that in most cases the work of librarianship was shared by members of the teaching staff, often an English teacher.

Educational Theory and Libraries

New educational approaches and ideas led to new ways of thinking about school libraries. School were expanding their collections to include maps, globes, models, photos, and other non-book items. According to Clyde (1981, 237),

"central to these ideas was an emphasis upon individual differences between children, and upon learning as a process involving the child's own initiative; this emphasis has as a corollary a more central and crucial role for the library then in earlier practice."

The work of Maria Montessori, theories of John Dewey, and ideas of educational psychologists like William Janets and William McDougall were gaining momentum.

"Books and libraries were seen to be important in relation to these ideas, as a means of enabling children to develop their own experiences." (Clyde, 1981, 239)

Regional School Library System Approaches

The needs for books and increasing interest in a wide range of materials caused financial strain on schools around the world.

The city of London developed one of the first regional library support systems to deal with increasing demand for a wide range of materials. Aware that every school library couldn't afford all materials, they developed four ways to access materials for elementary schools through direct requisitions by schools; through a circulation scheme; through the loan collection; and through the teacher's education library (Clyde, 1981).

This system allowed teachers to access 80,000 lantern slides and a professional library of 25,000 volumes in 1925.

Library of the Girl's High School
Brooklyn, New York, USA

The September 1915 issue of Library Journal featured the Girls' High School Library in Brooklyn. It described the school as "one of the best-equipped and more up-to-date high school libraries to be found anywhere in the country." This well-lit room contained seating for many students, shelving, a catalogue cabinet, magazine racks, and display areas.

The photo below shows the high school library in 1915.

Library of the Girls' High School, Brooklyn New York 1915 PD


Dartington Hall School
Totnes, Deven, England

Founded in 1926, the school offered a progressive co-educational program. Taking a project-based approach, students could access the library throughout the school day. In addition, special books could be acquired by the library for use in projects.

Dartington Hall, PD

Manchester High School for Girls Library
Manchester, England

In British schools, the library was often broken up by double-sided shelving with tables in each bay. The disadvantage of this arrangement is that it is more difficult to monitor. However the advantage is that the space is less formal. The reading room seats sixty pupils.

The photo shows the Library of the Manchester High School for Girls in 1911.

Manchester High School Library for Girls, PD

Kurri Kurri Primary School Library
New South Wales, Australia

Primary student children Education News 1910While early school library collections consisted mostly of fiction, school libraries in Australia were increasingly integrating reference materials into the library including encyclopedia, dictionaries, atlases, gazetteers, and other materials. They also added newspapers, magazines and periodicals.

Pictures, maps, charts, gramophone records, stereoscopic views, and lantern slides were also increasing in popularity. However, technology could be a problem in bush schools where blackouts occurred. Some schools chose to use gas generators to run lanterns.

The photo shows primary school children using library books during a recreation period at the Kurri Kurri Public School in New South Wales Australia around 1910.

In 1910, Mr. Senior-Inspector Lawford stated that he looked

"forward to the time when at all large schools a room or rooms shall be reserved for library purposes. If a school is to be thoroughly efficient, there must be a place where the studiously inclined pupil can go at any time when he wants to look up points, consult books of reference, or study generally." (The Public Instruction Gazette, New South Wales, May 21, 1910, 158)

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Lindell, Lisa (2003). 'A few good books': South Dakota's country school libraries. Libraries & Culture, 38(1), 23-39.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Wiegand, Wayne A. (2007). The rich potential of American public school library history: research needs and opportunities for historians of education and librarianship. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(1), 57-74.

Skim Clyde, Laurel A. (1981). The Magic Casements: A Survey of School Library History from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century. PhD Thesis, James Cook University.

Children's Libraries

In addition to the school library movement, children's libraries gained popularity within public libraries in the early and mid 1900s.

The photo below shows children reading in Casa Grande Valley Farms, Arizona around 1940.

Children looking at picture books, PD

In 1930, the American Library Association's Young People's Reading Round Table was established. This group later became part of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). In 1941, the Division of Children and Young People (ALSC) was established.

The photo below shows children reading in roof gardens of the Rivington St. Library in New York City around 1919.

Children reading http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/94507949/


Making Chinese Shadow Puppets Digital ID: 1150626. New York Public Library

The photo above taken in 1935 shows a librarian making Chinese shadow puppets with children during a children's library program in Chatham Square, New York Public Library.

Joyeuse PDL'Heure Joyeuse (Happy Time)
Belgium and France

Established by a group of American women at the end of World War I, the Book Committee on Children's Libraries was part of an educational reconstruction effort focusing on the creation of children's libraries in Belgium and France.

The Committee first established L'Heure Joyeuse Brand Whitlock in Brussels in 1920. The library included a book collection, furnishings, and training for the librarians. The library's purpose was to "happily lead the child to books and to offer him, in a space especially created and furnished for him, the means of intellectual and moral development" (as quotes in Mitts-Smith, 2007).

The Book Committee on Children's Libraries established a library in Paris in 1924 complete with 2000 French books.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Mitts-Smith, Debra (Winter 2007). L'Heure Joyeuse: educational and social reform in post-World War I Brussels. Library Trends, 55(3), 464-473.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Jones, Philip (2010). The mission of "little star": Juana Manrique de Lara's contributions to Mexican librarianship. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 45(4), 469-490.

Families and Libraries

Spaces for both children and adults were established in many public library. The photo below shows the interior of the Green Bay Public Library in Wisconsin. Built in 1903, the children's room is shown in the photo.

Green Bay Public Library Wisconsin Historical Society

The photo below shows adults and children at the Brodhead Public Library in Wisconsin (Wisconsin Historical Society). Notice the women at the desk and the stove in the center of the room.

Brodhead Public Library Wisconsin Historical Society

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Dolatkhah, Mats (2008). The rules of reading: examples of reading and library use in early twentieth-century Swedish families. Library History, 24(3), 220-229.

Libraries for Persons with Special Needs

In the early 1900s, people began to recognize the need to provide library services for people with special needs.

Hospital Libraries

1942 Nurse training LOC PDHospital libraries provide an excellent example of a library type catering to the special needs of patients.

The photo on the right shows a nurse and physical therapist showing young patients a picture book at an orthopedic hospital in 1942.

In 1931, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) created the Sub-committee on Hospital Libraries. Also known as patient libraries, their mission was to promote professional library services to hospitalized persons. This focus on patient needs was fueled by the positive effect books and reading had on hospitalized military personnel during and after World War I.

In 1944 the Division of Hospital Libraries was established in ALA.

Majorie E Roberts
United Kingdom

Marjorie E. Roberts the secretary for the British Red Cross and Order of St. John Hospital Library proposed the Sub-committee because of the specialized expertise necessary to provide library service to those with special needs.

A survey by the committee in 1932 indicated widespread physician interest in the work of hospital libraries. Roberts worked with the International Hospital Association to pass resolutions related to hospital libraries including:

that a library for patients is an essential part of every hospital
that all hospitals should provide the necessary space to maintain a central library for patients
that books should be distributed to patients on a regular basis
that each country should supply books to hospitals according to the methods most suitable to it
that special attention should be paid to books/libraries in mental hospitals and sanatoria (LSN Report, 2-3).

Throughout the 20th century the interests of this group expanded to include people who are "hospitalized or imprisoned; elderly and disabled people in care facilities; the housebound; the deaf; and the physically, cognitively or developmentally disabled" (LSN Report, 1).

The photo below shows women preparing "books for the wounded" during World War I.

Books for the Wounded Books in Camp, Trench and Hospital pg 17 PD

Library Services for Blind Patrons

Library service for blind patrons began in the late 19th century. In the 1860s, the Boston Public Library established a department for the blind after receiving eight embossed volumes. During the 1880s through 1890s, Pennsylvania Home Teaching Society and Free Circulating Library for the Blind, the Chicago Library, and the New York City Free Circulating Library for the Blind provided a collection for the blind. This trend continued in the early 1900s with the Library for the Blind of the New York Public Library and Detroit Public Library.

With five different embossing systems in place, there were few titles available.

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Washington, DC, USA

In 1897 Library of Congress librarian John Russell Young established a reading room with about 500 books and music items with raised characters. In 1913, Congress directed one copy of each book in raised characters be made for educational purposed by the American Printing House. These materials would be housed at the Library of Congress. During this time, services were expanded to include displays and exhibits for the blind.

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) was established. The Library of Congress was authorized to work with libraries "to serve as local or regional centers for the circulation of such books, under such conditions and regulations as he may prescribe." Eighteen libraries were selected nationwide for book distribution. (NLS)

In 1933 a uniform system called Standard English Braille was established. Also, the talking book was developed as "the recording on a disc of the voice of a good reader, and its reproduction at will through the instrumentality of a reproducing machine or phonograph." (NLS)

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) at the Library of Congress provides free programs. It also

"loans recorded and braille books and magazines, music scores in braille and large print, and specially designed playback equipment to resident of the United State who are unable to read or use standard print materials because of visual or physical impairment." (NLS).

The photo below shows the Reading Room for the Blind at the Library of Congress around 1920.

LOC PD Reading room for the blindBlind reading magazine LOC PD

Destruction and Construction

Tokyo Imperial University PD Wikimedia Like other time periods, both destruction and construction occurred in the 1920s.

Learn more about The Destruction of Libraries in the Twentieth Century from UNESCO.

Imperial University Library of Tokyo
Tokyo, Japan

In September of 1923, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent typhoon and fires destroyed libraries throughout Japan. The earthquake devastated Tokyo.

The photo on the right shows Tokyo Imperial University after the Great Kanto earthquake. Only a few walls are still standing.

Around 700,000 volumes were destroyed at the Imperial University Library in Tokyo. In addition, the Max Muller Library, Nishimura Library, Hoshino Library, and others were destroyed.

National Library of Nicaragua

In 1931 and again in 1972, an earthquake damaged the library.

Gennadius Library
Athens, Greece

Built from the collection of Ioannis Gennadios, this library opened in 1926 with 26,000 volumes. It now contains over 120,000 books and rare works.

A collector and bibliophile, Gennadius' intention was

"to form a library that represents the creative genius of Greece at all periods, the influence of her arts and sciences upon the western world, and the impression created by her natural beauty upon the traveler."

Learn more about the Gennadius Library.

View photos of the Gennadius Library through History at Flickr.

In the United States, libraries and archives continued to emerge to meet specific needs.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Trace, Ciaran B. (2015). Atlanta between the wars: The creation of the Georgia Department of Archives and History, 1918-1936. Information & Culture, 50(4), 504-553.


Black, Alistair (2011). From reference desk to desk set: the history of the corporate library in the United States and the UK before the adoption of the computer. In Sigrid E. Kelsey & Marjorie J. Porter, Best Practices for Corporate Libraries, ABC-CLIO. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=cvj4rwtK8jAC

Brooklyn Girls' High School (1915). Library Journal, 40.

Burstall, Sara Annie (1911). The Story of the Manchester High School for Girls, 1871-1911, Volume 6. Manchester University Press. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=dP1CAAAAIAAJ

Carnegie United Kingdom Trust (1936). Libraries in Secondary Schools.

Clyde, Laurel A. (1981). The Magic Casements: A Survey of School Library History from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century. PhD Thesis, James Cook University. Available: http://eprints.jcu.edu.au/2051/

Dana, John Cotton (1921). On Buying and Using Print: Practical Suggestions from a Librarian to the Business Man. The H.W. Wilson Company. Available: http://archive.org/stream/onbuyingusingpri00danarich

Dartington Hall School (1926). Prospectus.

Garrison, Dee (1979). Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920. Free Press.

Learned, William S. (1924). The American Public Library and the Diffusion of Knowledge. Harcourt. Available: http://archive.org/stream/americanpublicli007473mbp

Libraries and Adult Education (1926). American Library Association. Available: http://archive.org/stream/librariesandadul007916mbp

McCook, Kathleen de la Pena (2002). Rocks in the Whirlpool: Equity of Access and the American Library Association. Available: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED462981.pdf

New South Wales (May 31, 1910). The Public Instruction Gazette.

NLS: That All May Read. Library of Congress. Available: http://www.loc.gov/nls/about_history.html

Plummer, Alston Jones Jr. (1999). Libraries, Immigrants, and the American Experience. Greenwood Press.

Standard Library Organization and Equipment for Secondary Schools of Different Size. American Library Association. Available: http://archive.org/stream/standardlibraryo00nati

Ward, Gilbert O. (1917). The Practical Use of Books and Libraries: An Elementary Manual. Boston Book Co. Available: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL:2990923?n=10

Watson, P.D. (1994). Founding Mothers: The contribution of women's organizations to public library development in the United States. The Library Quarterly, 64(3), pp. 233-269.

Wiegand, Wayne A. (1986). The Politics of an Emerging Profession: The American Library Association, 1876-1917. Greenwood Press.

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