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Contemporary Libraries: 1930s

Let's examine a philosophy of librarianship, libraries during the Great Depression, mobile libraries and bookmobiles, libraries and community outreach, microfilm and preservation, and global trends.

In describing the growth of public libraries during the Great Depression, Charles Seavey used what he called an American saying, "libraries will get you through times with no money better than money will get you through times with no libraries." (Seavey website).

The 1930s was a decade of outreach and expansion for libraries and librarians both physically and intellectually. In particular, young librarians became involved with issues such as supporting intellectual freedom and the creating library unions.

A Philosophy of Librarianship

Although libraries were being used by the public, they're weren't attracting the "masses of common man" that Carnegie had envisioned.

After failed attempts at convincing the masses to use the public library through campaigned in the 1910s-1920s, librarians were ready for a new mission. Harris (1972, p. 40) writes that in the 1930s,

"it is obvious that for the first time in history of library literature, librarians were being regularly exposed to articles with the word 'philosophy' prominently displayed in their titles... the authors of papers or books would begin by lamenting the lack of a philosophy... (and with) increasing frequency these works stressed the importance of the library's role as a guardian of the people's right to know."

In his classic text Introduction to Library Science (1933, 103), Pierce Butler stated that

"a professional philosophy would give to librarianship that directness of action which can spring only from a complete consciousness of purpose."

This focus on a need for a "philosophy of librarianship" combined with world events including the rise of Hitler's propaganda machine and Mussolini's book burning in Italy provided the environment for a new focus for librarians. According to Harris (1972, p. 40), "the library was now portrayed as an institution which could play a vital role in promoting and preserving democracy in America." Libraries provided all people free, convenient access to social and cultural information.

The photo below left shows book burning in Berlin, Germany on May 10, 1933. The poster below right is from the U.S. Government Printing Office and displayed at the Boston Public Library in the 1940s.

1933 Berlin, Wikimedia PDTen Year Ago, Wikimedia, PD

Butler (1933, 105-106) noted that

"the librarian's duty is not to entice men, against their wills if need be, to convert themselves to his way of thinking. He is merely society's custodian of its cultural archives. The responsibility which he assumes with his office is to exploit those archives for communal advantage to the utmost extent of his ability."

According to Harris (1972) this new philosophy appealed to librarians for a number of reasons. Librarians liked the idea that people make good decisions when they have access to information. In addition, a mission focusing on the public's "right to know" allowed librarians to stress objective access to information without being put in the position of dictating what was "right or wrong". Patrons were responsible for taking an active role in using information. Finally, librarians were not required to seek new clientele. Instead, they could focus efforts on those interested in accessing information.

Intellectual Freedom

Grapes of Wrath Book Cover, Wikimedia Commons, The Library Bill of Rights was drafted by Forrest Spaulding to make a stand against censorship. In 1939, the American Library Association adopted the Library Bill of Rights. This document "affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas". The statement stresses that libraries should provide unrestricted access to information for all.

Skim the Library Bill of Rights from ALA.

In 1940, the Committee on Intellectual Freedom was established in response to issues of censorship, specifically bans of The Grapes of Wrath.

The Library Bill of Rights was strengthened in 1848.

In 1951, a statement was added to discourage labeling of materials as subversive. The Freedom to Read Statement was adopted in 1953.

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Read Latham, Joyce M. (2009). Wheat and chaff: Carl Roden, Abe Korman, and the definitions of intellectual freedom in the Chicago Public Library. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 44(3), 279-298.

Civil Rights

tuckerAlthough most people think of sit-ins as an act of civil disobedience of the 1960s, it began much earlier. In 1930s, young African Americans were frustrated by the passage of segregation laws that prohibited their use of libraries.

On August 21, 1939 a small group of African Americans staged a sit-in at the Barrett Branch Library in Alexandria, Virginia. Organized by attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker and retired Army Sergeant George Wilson, five young men requested library cards and refused to leave. They were arrested but not convicted of disorderly conduct. The judge concluded "there were no legal grounds for refusing the plaintiff or any other bona fide citizen the use of the library." Rather than provide access to the library, a separate "colored branch" of the Alexandria library erected. The image courtesy of the City of Alexandria Virginia shows the incident.

Read a news article about court case in the Afro American, August 19, 1939.

Libraries and the Great Depression

Taos County, NM 1941 NARA PDFrom 1929 to around 1940, the Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic downturn. Both urban and rural areas were impacted. Cities with heavy industry were particular hard hit, as well as rural areas where crop prices dropped.

The photo on the right shows children at the Harwood Branch Library in Taos County New Mexico in 1941.

During the 1930s, nine states experienced remarkable growth in public libraries including Iowa, Texas, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri. The greatest growth occurred in Iowa, a state with less than 2% of the total population of the US along with three other heartland states. Containing mostly small towns and cities, these same states received many Carnegie grants in the early 1900s (Seavey website).

In the Geography of Reading, Louis Round Wilson (1938, 39) notes that "2,502 new libraries being started in 30 states".

The Tennessee Valley Authority Libraries
Southeastern United States

Established in 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority was a regional program involving engineering projects in six states in the Southeastern United States. Initially a special library was set up in Washington DC to support the TVA. In 1934, the TVA headquarters was moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and Harry Bauer was hired to establish a technical library.

Mary Utopia Rothrock was appointed Coordinator of Libraries and put in charge of supplying library services to the towns where TVA projects were operating.

Toolbox library, TVAThe libraries were intended to serve employees at construction sites. Rothrock began investigating the best approach for providing access to library materials. According to Frances Bishop (2009),

"every day the saw-filer issued tools to each man and checked them in at the end of the each day’s work. (Rothrock) thought it would be possible for him to also check out and receive books as well. A waterproof box with lock and key holding about 60 books was placed next to each tool box. The saw-filer checked books in and out with a book card for each book on which he wrote the man’s TVA employee number and the date due.

"The innovative circulation system was a great success. The books in each box were about one third nonfiction, one third fiction, and, surprisingly, one third children’s books. About 60% of the men had families, so it was hoped that even if they did not want to read they would check out books for their children."

The photo on the right above shows a toolbox library at a construction camp. Courtesy of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Rothrock was promoted to Supervisor of Libraries and began working with local groups and libraries to determine the best approach to service in each community. Rothrock established 4000 to 5000 volume collections in general stories, post offices, and filling stations to meet the need. By the late 1930, it was established that 13,000 books were circulating each month.

The photo below shows a bookmobile serving children in Blount County, Tennessee in 1943.

Blount County Bookmobile, 1943, Wikimedia Commons

After the engineering projects ended, the TVA chairperson lobbied the states to continue library support.

In 1938, Rothrock was awarded the first Joseph W. Lippincott Award by the American Library Association for her service to libraries.

Skim History of the TVA libraries: from book boxes to computers by Frances Bishop (2009).

Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Libraries
United States

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a world relief program in the United States from 1933 through 1942. Part of the New Deal, it provided unskilled labor to support government projects.

The CCC camps and camp libraries were established across the United States. The camp education advisor often was responsible for the camp library and the recreation room. According to John Paige,

"each camp had a library of approximately 50 books - adventure stories, mysteries, westerns, science fiction, forestry, travel, history, natural science, athletics, biography, national parks, and miscellaneous subjects. In certain areas, the library was moved from one camp to another. Also such periodicals as Life, Time, Newsweek, the Saturday Evening Post, Radio News, and the Sears-Roebuck Catalogue were popular. Certain publications, including The New Republic and the Nation, were banned from camps because they were considered subversive. Further, critics charged that camp officials provided books which pandered to popular taste and lacked literary merit." (Paige, 1985, 1)

In the book Organization of Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Library-Reading Rooms: A Manual, librarians could learn how to set up a camp library including library management and "reader guidance".

CCC Camp 146 Library by John JurrasCCC Camp 146 Library
Marshfield, Vermont

John J. Jurras was the Company Educational Advisor and camp paper editor at CCC Camp 146.

The photo on the right shows the interior of the CCC Camp 146 Library in Marshfield Vermont. Courtesy of the Justin Museum.

The library was

"conceived and created by the Company Educational Advisor, John Jurras. John started with no books, then wrote to schools throughout the USA requesting donations, and his work led to this very nice library." (Justin Museum)

The photo below shows the exterior of the Company 146 library. Courtesy of the Justin Museum.

CCC Camp 146 Library Exterior

Richard Darling, the nephew of John Jurras states that "when he began the effort to create a library he sent letters throughout the country to libraries asking for books and so many libraries sent the books C.O.D. that eventually he, as an officer of the Camp, had his commanding officer tell him he had to cease and desist because it was costing them so much money and they no more room for additional books." (personal email)

Many CCC enrollees across America commented on the library in reflections and oral histories.

Robert Moore wrote

"the library room at SP-12, Devil's Lake, in 1937. Despite its small appearance, the camp library had access to hundreds of book titles, as well as hometown newspapers and magazines. The library was one of the few private place at camp where enrollees could enjoy some quiet time." (Moore, 2011, 53)

"It so happened that during this time, western adventure novelist Zane Grey was near the height of his literary popularity. With titles like Riders of the Purple Sage and To the Last man, Grey could thank Wally Lahl and thousands of CCC boys like him for putting his escapist fare near the top of the request list at CCC camps all over the country." (Moore, 2011, 52)

"Confined to the camp, the library was a welcome destination for Guetzkow and other enrollees recovering from work injuries. Going to the camp library and reading books and magazines was better than lying around in the infirmary staring at the ceiling" (Moore, 2011, 53)

Camp Library by The photo on the right shows a camp library and reading room at Mormon Creek CCC Camp in Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan.

Robert Pasquill (2008) noted that an Alabama CCC camp library had approximately 400 books, four daily newspapers, a standard list of magazine, and a subscription to "Happy Days" (the national weekly CCC newspaper).

In another camp, the educational report listed three courses being offered for beginners in arithmetic, reading, and writing. Academic and vocational classes were also offered to enrollees. In addition, the library contained 727 books. The education director at another camp noted that they showed films twice per month. In some camps, traveling libraries were accessed.

Neil Maher discussed the importance of on-the-job training, camp educational programs and camp libraries.

"Robert Fechner greatly expanded such opportunities on May 29, 1933, when he authorized the establishment of libraries in Corps camps across the country and allocated funding for them to be stocked with 45 different periodicals and approximately 150 books, many of which were 'educational volumes pertaining largely to forestry and nature study'. The CCC director hoped that enrollees interested in obtaining additional information about the conservation work they performed during the day would return to camp at night and make use of these libraries.

Robert Ross, did just this. 'To learn more of the mountains and the trees, I turned to the library for information,' wrote Ross in the mid-1930s. 'It was mentally refreshing to read of things It had been totally ignorant of - soil erosion, restoration, protection of the forests, the uses of land, the damage of forest fires'" (Pasquill, 2008, 88).

Work Progress Administration (WPA)
United States

The Work Progress Administration supported work related to libraries at many levels. According to Edward Stanford (1944), the WPA was employing 38,324 full-time persons on library and book repair projects.

In 1935, the American Library Association submitted a proposal to the WPA for a Federal Emergency Library Project to "provide employment for approximately 50,000 persons in the the extension and improvement of library service throughout the nation" (Stanford, 1944, 36).

Bookmobile, FDR Presidental LibraryAlthough the proposal was not implemented it laid the foundation for future projects. For instance, as Assistant WPA Administrator Florence Kerr organized library services activities to employ white-collar men and women. In addition, activities such as book mending and repair units were implemented.

The WPA also funded many bookmobile programs. The photo on the left shows a bookmobile from this time period. (Courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library).

In 1938 the Library Services Section was created within WPA to "act as a clearing house for all library project operation and to render field services to all state-wide library service projects" (Stanford, 1944, 37).

In addition to service activities, the WPA was also involved with small-scale building construction. By the end of 1940 "library construction by this agency totaled over 1,000 completed projects, including 187 new buildings or additions and 814 projects involving the renovation or repair of existing libraries" (Stanford, 1944, 38)

WPA artists created posters supporting public libraries.

WPA Poster LOC WPA Poster, LOC, PDWPA Poster, LOC, PD

Skim WPA Library Posters at the Library of Congress.

In addition to the WPA, other New Deal programs were involved with library work. For instance, the National Youth Administration (NYA) provided part-time work to youth as library attendants. Much work was done in rural libraries with limited library service. In Illinois, a large state-wide project involved NYA youth in a five-point program where they "(1) maintained 60 community reading rooms, (2) operated five bookmobiles serving rural schools, (3) maintained six hospital library units, (4) provided part-time clerical assistants to 200 public libraries, and (5) operated 25 book-mending units" (Standford, 1944, 41).

Skim Library Extension Under the WPA by Edward Barrett Stanford (1944).

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Read Robbins, Louise S. (2005). Changing the geography of reading in a southern border state: the Rosenwald Fund and the WPA in Oklahoma. Libraries & the Cultural Records, 40(3), 353-367.

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Read Novotny, Eric (2011). Bricks without straw: economic hardship and innovation in the Chicago Public Library during the Great Depression. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 46(3), 158-275

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Read Finchum, Tanya Ducker & Finchum, Allen (2011). Not gone with the wind: libraries in Oklahoma in the 1930s. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 46(3), 176-294.

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Read McGrath, Eileen & Jacobson, Linda (2011). The Great Depression and its impact on an emerging research library: the University of North Carolina Library, 1929-1941. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 46(3), 295-320.

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Read Baggs, Chris (2004). 'The whole tragedy of leisure in Penury': The South Wales Miners' Institute Libraries during the Great Depression. Libraries & Culture, 39(2), 115-136.

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Read Latham, Joyce M. (2011). Memorial Day to Memorial Library: The South Chicago Branch Library as cultural terrain, 1937-1947. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 46(3), 321-342.

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Read Lee, Mordecai (2007). Clara M. Edmunds and the library of the United States Information Service, 1934-1948. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(3), 213-230.

Mobile Libraries and Bookmobiles

Some of the WPA programs revolved around bookmobiles. Approximately 150 counties nationwide obtained bookmobile equipment through the WPA. In South Carolina, the entire WPA program was focused on using bookmobiles to meet the needs of underserved areas (Stanford, 1944).

The photo below shows the Gaston County (North Carolina) Bookmobile in front of the Gaston Public Library building.

Gaston County Bookmobile, LOC, PD

Warrington PDThe exact date when carts and other vehicles began being used for book delivery is unknown.

However the first mobile library appeared in England in the 1850s as a wagon service.

The Warrington Perambulating Library was a horse-drawn book cart service that loaned more than 12,000 books during its first year of operation.

Operated by the Warrington Mechanics' Institute, the wagon moved in a circle serving eight villages.

The image on the right shows one of the first bookmobiles from Warrington England.

Bookmobiles in the United States

In the 1800s, traveling libraries became popular. Horse drawn carts, cars, and trucks were used to deliver boxes of books to remote library stations.

The use of vehicles for book storage and circulation began in the late 1800s. This shift from using vehicles to deliver crates of books to using vehicles as libraries marked an important transition.

Wasington County Library
Washington County, Maryland

In 1905, Mary Titcomb used a horse-drawn wagon for book delivery in rural areas of Washington County, Maryland. Like earlier traveling libraries, she set up stations in rural communities. These 66 stations were serviced by a book wagon. A photo is shown below.

Washington County Mobile Library, Wikimedia PD

Notice how the books are arranged in the back of the vehicle. The photo below shows the library automobile truck in Washington County, Maryland in 1916.

Library Autotruck, Wikimedia, PD

Skim Takin' It to the Streets: The History of the Book Wagon by Nancy Smiler Levinson to learn more about Titcomb's book wagon project.

Library of Chester County
Chester County, South Carolina

Around 1903, the People's Free Library of Chester County, South Carolina used a mule-drawn wagon to carry wooden boxes of books to rural areas. By the 1930s, they were using a bookmobile.

The photo below shows the maiden journey of the WPA-funded Chester County Library bookmobile.

Chester County Bookmobile WPA Library Service

By the mid 1900s, more than 2000 bookmobiles could be found in both rural and urban areas. The Gerstenslager company specialized in building bookmobiles during the 1950s. By the 21st century less that 1000 bookmobiles remain in operation.

The photo below shows the WPA library bookmobile from Clark County Ohio. Notice the interior of the bookmobile.

WPA Bookmobile Clark County Ohio

The photo below shows a man on a horse waiting for the bookmobile during the 1930s.

Waiting for the bookmobile in Library Extension Under the WPA, PD

The photo below from the New York Public Library shows a bookmobile near the beach at Eltingville, Staten Island.

Near the beach at Eltingville,... Digital ID: 94735. New York Public Library

Mobile Libraries Worldwide

Bookmobiles and mobile libraries can be found throughout the world. In addition to standard bookmobiles, camels, donkey, and elephants have all been used to pull book wagons. Some areas use boats and motorbikes to transport books.

Mobile Library, India, 1931, PDBookmobile Bookcart Library

In 1931, S.R. Ranganathan envisioned India's first bookmobile. The two-wheeled cart became an effective way to deliver library services to rural areas. Inspired by Ranganathan, a Sub Engineer named S. V. Kankasabai Pillai designed a bullock (ox) cart for use as a traveling library. The cart contained books, maps, charts, and a gramophone with records. In operation for ten years, the cart served villages within a ten mile radius.

The photo on the right shows a mobile library at Melavasal Village, Mannarkudi Taluk, Thiruvarur District, Tamil Nadu.

Ranganathan (1962) notes that "each librachine - traveling library in the form of a motor-van of book-mobile as it is called - should have a librarian (professional) and a circulation librarian (a semi-professional)."

Established in 1952, the Delhi Public Library aimed to provide library service to remote areas through the use of van service.

State Library Bookmobile
Tasmania, Australia

Established in 1944, the Tasmanian Library Board was responsible for administering the State Library headquarters in Hobart and providing extension services throughout the state. By the 1960s, bookmobiles were used both in the city and in rural areas to provide services to areas without libraries.


The photo above shows the State Library Bookmobile in Tasmania in the mid 1900s (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office).

Mobile Library
Johannesburg, South Africa

In the 1950s and 1960s, bookmobiles became popular in South Africa. The photo below shows a bookmobile used in South Africa between 1955 and 1965. Mobile libraries continue to be an effective way to meet the needs of rural library users.

South Africa Traveling Library, Wikimedia, CC-A NJR ZA

Pilsen City Library Bibliobus
Pilsen, Czech Republic

The Pilsen City Library opened in 1876. In 1954, two bibliobuses provided library services along the Czech border.

The photo below left shows two bibliobuses from Pilsen City Library from the 1950s. The photo below right shows the bibliobus today.

Bibliobus Czech RepublicBibliobus Today Wikimedia Commons

Mobile Library
Kordestan, Iran

Vans were used as bookmobiles in the middle east in the 1970s. In 1975, mobile libraries covered 1200 villages. The photo below shows a mobile library van in 1970.

Iran Bookmobile


Mobile Libraries

Thailand has a long history of mobile libraries. In Thailand, elephants have been used to transport books to remote areas. The Books-by-Elephant program continues to travel a twenty day journey spending a few days in each village.

Today, the supplies include laptops and satellite dish connections to the Internet. The photo below shows a recent example. Courtesy of Cambridge University Libraries Information Bulletin.

Elephant Thailand, Cambridge Library

Kulthorn Lerdsuriyaul (2000) identified many types of mobile libraries in use in Thailand. Unused train compartments have been redecorated as mobile libraries parked at targeted railway stations. Mobile buse have been used as libraries in Bangkok. Mobile boat libraries provide services along river banks. Bookbikes are also used in rural areas.

Book Mules and Llama
South America

In South America, mules and llama are used in remote areas for book delivery. Llamas are used to transport books in the Andes. Columbia and Venezuela are using mules. Mule programs can also be found in countries such as Zimbabwe in Africa.

The photo below shows the Biblioburro traveling library in Colombia.

Biblioburro, Wikimedia, Accion Visual/Diana Arias CC-A

Watch Biblioburro: The Donkey Library from PBS.

Camel Bookmobile

Camels are used as bookmobiles in Africa today. The Camel Library Service was launched by the Kenyan government in 1996. Learn about this approach at Marsha Hamilton's website.

The photo below by Briana Orr and Masha Hamilton shows this unique mobile library. Click the image to see a slide show at their website.

Camel Bookmobile, Briana Orr and Masha Hamilton

Looking for a fun read? Try The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton.

Check out a toy bookmobile.

Read Long Overdue, the Bookmobile from Smithsonian.

Watch Library of Wheels - From Wagons to Buses to learn about the past and present history of the bookmobile.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Cummings, Jennifer (2009). How can we fail?: the Texas State Library's traveling libraries and bookmobiles, 1916-1966. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 44(3), 299-325.

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Read Latham, Joyce M. (2011). Memorial Day to Memorial Library: The South Chicago Branch Library as cultural terrain, 1937-1947. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 46(3), 321-342.

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Read Cummings, Jennifer (2009). How can we fail?: the Texas State Library's traveling libraries and bookmobiles, 1916-1966. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 44(3), 299-325.

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Read Boyd, Donald C. (2007). The book women of Kentucky: the WPA pack horse library project, 1936-1943. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(2), 111-128.

Community Outreach

North Carolina Bookmobile, NC Digital CollectionsThe American Library Association Committee on Library Extension was established in 1925 to extend services to unserved areas in the United States. Their focus was on issues related to rural libraries particularly in the South.

In the spirit of government outreach programs, libraries formed their own community outreach programs to meet the needs of patrons.

Many of these programs focused on particular groups within the local population such as the African American community.

Bookmobiles are one example of outreach. The photo on the right shows African American children lining up outside Albemarle Region Bookmobile in North Carolina.

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Read Wiegand, Wayne A. (2005). Collecting contested titles: the experience of five small public libraries in the rural midwest, 1893-1956. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 40(3), 368-384.

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Read Jumonville, Florence M. (2013). ‘Interested in public libraries’: J.O. Modisette and the contributions of a Louisiana Library Commissioner. Information & Culture, 48(1), 112-133.

Pura Belpré (1899-1982)
New York City, New York, USA

Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City.

115th Street, story-telling gr... Digital ID: 100838. New York Public LibraryPioneering library outreach programs within the Puerto Rican community, Belpre worked in southwest Harlem becoming active in providing bilingual story hours, Spanish language books, and cultural events.

Through her efforts the 115th Street branch library become a cultural center for the Latino community of New York hosting evening with well-known figures such as Diego Rivera.

During the 1940s and 1950s she devoted herself to writing, but returned to the library as the Spanish Children's Specialist during the 1960s. In 1968, she established the South Bronx Library Program to promote library use and services in the Latino community.

The Pura Belpré Award is presented by ALSC, a division of ALA to the Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best represents the Latino cultural experience in outstanding literature for children and youth.

Microfilm and Preservation

An English scientist, John Benjamin Dancer is known as the "father of microphotography." He experimented with the production of microproduced texts in the 1830s. After attending the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, James Glaisher argued that microphotography would be an excellent tool for preserving documents. However it wasn't until the turn of the century that microfilm began to be used for document preservation. Paul Otlet and Robert Goldschmidt envisioned a massive library where documents could be stored and printed on demand.

Microforms are films containing microrepresentations of documents. They can be used for storage, reading, and printing. Two formats gained popularity. First, microfilm in the form of film on reels were developed. Second, micofiche in the form of film on small, flat sheets were produced.

WashingtonDC Developing Microfilm At the 1926 American Library Association conference, the use of microfilm was official endorsed. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Library of Congress took a leading roll in converting books and manuscripts to microfilm.

In 1936, the ALA Committee on Photographic Reproduction of Library Materials was established.

The image dated June 1942 on the right shows microfilm at the Library of Congress being developed.

During the 1930s Kodak's Recordak division began preserving magazines and newspapers on microfilm. In 1938, Harvard University Library began a archiving newspapers as part of the Foreign Newspaper Project. In the same year, University Microfilms International (UMI) was established. This company dominated the microfilm industry until it became part of ProQuest in 2001.

During the 1950s and 1960s, microforms became a popular storage medium, particularly in research libraries. By the 1970s, microform readers could be found in most libraries.

Three factors contributed to the growing popularity of microfilm. First, deterioration of print collections particularly newspapers was a cause of concern for those interested in preservation. Microfilm allowed the originals to be stored and copies to be easily distributed. Second, the small size and ease of duplication and distribution made microfilm a popular format for libraries. Third, particular at research libraries, shelf space was a growing concern. By the mid 20th century, the use of microfilm was standard practice.

Learn more about microfilm at Wikipedia.

Global Trends

Between World War I and World War II libraries were being established and the field of library science was evolving.

G. K. Peatling (2004) in his article Public libraries and national identity in Britain, 1850-1919 notes that those studying library history must consider nationalism as a focus on study. Libraries play an important role in national identity.

While many national libraries were established in the 1800s, a number of countries began their libraries in the 20th century.

Iran Library Hessam Armandehi CC-A-SANational Library of Iran
Tehran, Iran

Established in 1937, the library incorporated collections from many older libraries beginning in the early 1860s.

One of the largest library campuses in the Middle East, it includes five halls: humanities, social studies, law, science, and health studies.

The image on the right is from the National Library of Iran.

German National Library
Leipzig, Germany

This branch of the National Library system was established in 1913 to collect German-language imprints. Leipzig was the center of book and publishing trades, so it was a logical location. The facade of the building contains images of Otto von Bismark, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Johanne Gutenberg.

In 1933 the library administration was moved from the Reich Ministry of Interior to the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda and offices are put in place "to monitor measure for enforced cultural and spiritual conformity". A directive from the Reich Chamber of Culture in 1935 requires associations, publishers, and individuals subject to surrender of documents to the library. In 1937 restrictive measures lead to a listing of undesirable literature that is "kept under lock and key". After air raid and fire damage the building in 1843, it is closed until 1945. The library is divided into four zones. A major expansion and renovation was completed in 2011 to reunited the collection. Included in the renovation is an area to accommodate the German Music Archive.

Learn more about the German National Library.

Libraries of Australia

The National Library of Australia was established in the first decade of the 20th century. According to (Tiffen, 2007),

"in the context of Federation nationalism, the insistence on looking to the Library of Congress instead of the British Museum Library as a model can be read as a telling statement on the new nation's independence and sense of its own identify."

The creation of the National Library of Australia marked the beginning of libraries as part of the nation-building process in Australia. Tiffen (2007) concludes that "collection building and developing library services have always been politicised, and that by their very nature, national collections must reflect, and in turn influence, national concepts of identity, culture and heritage."

The Public Library of Tasmania serves as an effective example of library development during the 1930s. Heather Gaunt (2008) states that

"libraries did take an active role in the promulgation of national identity; that, in G. K. Peatling's terms, they formed an arena in which the nation, as a concept, was naturalized, and national identity was shaped...Librarians sought to align themselves and their institutions with the progressive values in ascent around Federation."

The photo below shows the members of the Tasmanian Public Library Board of Trustees in 1932. Courtesy of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Nine identified members of the Tasmanian Public Library Board of Trustees on 30th June,

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Read Gaunt, Heather (2008). 'A native instinct of patriotism': nationalism in the Australian public library, from Federation to the 1930s. A case study of the public library of Tasmania. Library History, 24(2), 152-166.

Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan (1892-1972)

A noted librarian, professor of library science, and mathematician from India, Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan developed the Five Laws of Library Science and designed a system called Colon Classification in 1924 that was implemented in 1925. In 1929, Ranganathan established the School of Librarianship of the Madra Library Association. From 1924 through 1944 he was First University Librarian of the University of Madras.

The Five Laws of Library Science (1931)

Books are for use. Books should be circulated and used.
Every reader his/her book. Books should be available when needed.
Every book its reader. Books should be useful and easy to access.
Save the time of the reader. Access should be efficient.
The library is a growing organism. Libraries must accommodate change and growth.

During the 1930s he made major contributions to classification including the Classified Catalog Code (1934) and Chain Indexing (1938).

Skim the Five Laws of Library Science by Ranganathan (1931).

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Read Roe, George (2010). Challenging the control of knowledge in Colonial India: Political ideas in the work of S.R. Ranganathan. Library & Information History, 26(1), 18-32.


Bishop, Frances Edna (2009). History of the TVA libraries: from book boxes to computers. Tennessee Libraries, 59(1). Available: http://tnla.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=260

Butler, Pierce (1933). Introduction to Library Science. University of Chicago Press. Available: http://archive.org/stream/introductiontoli011501mbp

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