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Contemporary Libraries: 1970s

Let's explore library advocacy, NCLIS, GLBT support, audiovisual collections, computerization, digital libraries, and issues related to libraries and indigenous people and security.

The seventies were an uncomfortable time for librarians as they once again looked for a sense of identify.

In the 1960s and 1970s, historians began to question traditional interpretations of library history. Michael Harris' 1972 landmark article The Purpose of the American Public Library in Historical Perspective: Revisionist Interpretation provides fresh insights into the history of libraries in America. Harris (1972, 47) stated that

"the American public seems disenchanted with the public library. People no longer see the library as important - at least not in relation to the other community services - and public libraries everywhere find themselves in a precarious financial situation as a result.

The very existence of the public library appears in jeoprady (sic); public librarians appear both concerned and confused. They find them asking, as did their predecessors over 100 years ago, what is the purpose of the public library?"

Library Advocacy

The American Library Association and other library-oriented organizations realized the growing importance of advocacy. In 1973, the first National Legislative Day was organized by the Washington office of the American Library Association.

ALA READ poster featuring YodaIn the mid-1970s, the American Library Association hired a public relations group and advertising agency to develop a plan to promote libraries.

Ultimately this lead to an ALA poster promotion that continued into the 2010s. The first post was issued in 1980 featuring Mickey Mouse and the word "Read."

It was followed by a Miss Piggy READ poster. They also got the rights to characters like Annie, Yoda, and Snoopy. Finally, shifted their focus to celebrities and authors.

The image on the left shows the character Yoda on an ALA READ poster from the 1980s.

In addition to national initiatives, states also got involved with legislative issues. For instance, when Proposition 13 passed in California in 1978, it negatively impacted funding for public libraries. As a result, librarians expanded their advocacy role to convey the value of libraries.

At the local level, library promotions gained popularity as a way to rally staff and bring in new users. The photo below shows an academic library promotion from the 1980s. Librarians invented uniforms for librarians.

Library Fancy Dress 1980s LSE Library

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read White, Cody (2011). Rising from the ashes: the impact of Proposition 13 on public libraries in California. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 46(4), 345-359.


During the 1970s, the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) worked on planning a national program. In 1975, it released Toward a National Program for Library and Information Services: Goals for Action including objectives focusing on basic needs, special services, statewide services, personnel, federal programs, private sector, and a national network.

The NCLIS sponsored the first White House Conference on Information Services (WHCOIS). Held in 1979 in Washington, D.C., it was the culmination of a series of meetings held nationwide involving government groups and organizations like the American Library Association.

GLBT Support

[Barbara Gittings and Isabel M... Digital ID: 1606063. New York Public LibraryThe gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered population have been supported by ALA since the 1970s.

The Task Force on Gay Liberation (TFGL) was endorsed by ALA in 1970 making it on eof the first professional organizations to acknowledge the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisextual, transgenered) community.

The "Hug-A-Homosexual" booth on the conference floor of the 1971 ALA Conference attracted media attention.

The photo on the right shows the "Hug a Homosexual" booth at ALA. Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen, 1971, New York Public Library.

The ALA task force later became the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table. The group

"is committed to serving the information needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender professional library community, and the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender information and access needs of individuals at large." (ALA)

Audiovisual Collections

Campbell Street Infant School, 1973, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage OfficeThe 1970s brought a new emphasis on the use of technology in libraries. From audio tutorials and language labs to microform readers and computer terminals, technology became a standard tool in most libraries.

In some ways, libraries continued to look as they had since the 1800s, however the introduction of audiovisual materials was beginning to change library services.

For many schools, the additions included learning kits, filmstrips, models, and globes. The photo on the right shows Campbell Street Infant School in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia in 1973. Courtesy Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Like school libraries, academic libraries were also experiencing a blend of old and new materials.

British Library of Political and Economic Science
London, England, UK

Map Room LSE LibraryThe main library of the London School of Economics and Political Science, the British Library of Political and Economic Science was founded in 1896 as the national social studies library of the United Kingdom.

The current building opened in 1916 and became part of the London School of Economics in the mid 1970s.

Photos from the 1970s provide wonderful visual insights into the library and their services.

The photo (left) shows a man working in a university library map room in the 1970s.

Most libraries provided banks of typewriters for those needing to create typewritten documents. The photo below (left) shows a woman a the LSE Library using a typewriter in the computer/typing room. The photo below (right) shows the New Language Laboratory in 1970.

Students in Computer Room, c1970s LSE Library http://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/3989339813/in/photostream/Language Lab LSE Library 1970 PD

The photo below (left) shows a student using a microfilm reader in the 1970s. The photo below (right) shows the the book bindery at the library.

Microfilm Wikimedia Commons PD Bindery 1878 LSE PD


The use of computers in library automation began in the 1950s and 1960s, however in the 1970s library users began to experience the power of this technology.

"By the 1970s librarians began looking to electronic technologies as a means of assisting them in managing their collections more efficiently and, in particular, as a means of more readily sharing collections via interlibrary loans." (Euster, 1995, 3)

In the 1960s, the Library of Congress developed MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloging) as an international standard digital format for the description of bibliographic items. By the early 1970s the MARC format became the national, then international standard.

Groups began experimenting with online public access catalogs (OCLC) in the 1960s in both the academic library and public library arenas. For instance, Ohio State University developed a system in 1975 and the Dallas Public Library create a system in 1978. In 1979, the University of Illinois Library developed online catalog. Early systems closely reflected the traditional card catalog approach.

During the 1980s, the sophistication of OPACs grew to include Boolean and keyword searching. They also became associated with automated circulation systems. Ultimately, applications called integrated library systems (ILS) or library management systems (LMS) allowed librarians to automate acquisitions, cataloging, circulation, serials, and OPAC under one system.

Online Computer Library Center (OCLC)
Dublin, Ohio

In 1967, the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) was established. This non-profit group includes member libraries from around the world. The service now provides bibliographic, abstract, and full-text information through WorldCat, the largest OPAC in the world. In addition, its online interlibrary loan system arranges more than 10 million loans.

Launching in 1971, OCLC began with the catalogs of 54 academic libraries in Ohio expanding to non-Ohio libraries in 1977. The group currently includes 72,000 libraries in 170 countries.

Noting the success of OCLC, countries around the world began developing shared catalog networks. For instance, the Australian Bibliographic Network (ABN) began operations in 1981. Australia and New Zealand co-developed the Kinetica in 1999. However in 2007 Libraries Australia developed an agreement with OCLC so its data could be part of WorldCat.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Rau, Erik (2007). Managing the machine in the stacks: operations research, bibliographic control and library computerization, 1950-2000. Library History, 23(2), 151-168.

Digital Libraries

As it became possible to digitize text, the progress of digitizing items in the public domain began.

In 1971, Medline (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System) from the National Library of Medicine became operational.

Marianne McDonald began a digital library of Greek literature in 1972.

Michael Stern Hart (1947-2011)

In 1971, while a student at the University of Illinois, Michael Hart digitized the U.S. Declaration of Independence and distributed it to his friends through the university's computer network. He's known for inventing the electronic book or eBooks.

In 1971, Hart founded Project Gutenberg, the first and longest-running digital library. The online literary project began with digitizing full texts of public domain books. The volunteer effort sought to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks."

By the late 1980s, image scanners with optical character recognition software were being used to scan books. During the 1990s and early 2000s Pietro Di Miceli administered the website. The current version is housed at ibiblio at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Whereever possible, the releases are made in plain text along with other common formats.

Libraries and Indigenous People

During the 1970s, many countries began to look at the treatment of indigenous people. These people have historical ties to geographic region prior to colonization.

Many library organizations developed special interest groups to meet the needs of these people. The American Library Association's American Indian Library Association (AILA) was established in 1979 to increase awareness that library services for Native American were inadequate. Some other examples include,

In many countries, children of indigenous people were sent to residential schools hundreds of miles from their homes with the justification that this would assimilate them to the English language, Christian values, and national customs. In some countries like Canada, these schools were connected to Christian organizations. Native languages, traditions and cultures were prohibited in these facilities. This approach was problematic for many reasons.

Many of these boarding schools were established in the 1800s. In the United States, the Meriam Report of 1926 recommended that changes be made to the programs however little implemented. The schools continued to grow doubling in the 1960s and peaking in the 1970s. The photo below shows students at the Carlisle Indian School in the United States reading.

Carlisle Indian School, NARA, PD

Things began to change in the late 1960s and 1970s with increasing social activism.

In the United States in 1969, a report known as the Kennedy Report declared Indian education a national tragedy. It specifically cited that lack of relevant curriculum materials as well as lack of equipment and areas for study. It suggested the need for culturally relevant curriculum materials. In response to this report, the Indian Education Act was enacted in 1972 authorizing federal funding for a broad range of educational improvements including access to materials. In 1975, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 stressed the importance of tribal governments determining the direction of tribal education In 1977 the American Indian Policy Review Committee recommended that tribes be allowed to administer their own higher education institutions. These are just a few of the acts passed in the 1970s to address education issues.

In Canada, the Canadian Indian residential school system was in operation throughout the 1800s-1900s. In the mid 1970s, a Task Force on the Education Needs of Native Peoples heard arguments about the need to increase language and cultural programs for the native population.

In New Zealand, government schools for the Maori taught the Maori language, but beginning in 1847, all classes were taught in English. In the 1960s, things began to change. In 1969, the Native Schools were closed. A 1963 report indicated that Maori were unaware of many of the services offered by libraries. Public librarians began looking for ways to meet the needs of Maori patrons encouraging a revival of the Maori language.

Aboriginal education in Australia has a similar history to other countries with missionary schools, mixed and segregated public schools beginning in the late 1800s. A 1967 referendum recognizing Aboriginal people as Australian citizens went into effect in 1967 giving the federal government a greater role in education.

Native American Libraries in the United States

The American Indian Library Association notes that the definition of tribal library varies across the United States. According to Cordelia Hooee of the Pueblo of Zuni Governor’s Office Archive & Library, their services may include “archives, language repositories, heritage centers, museums, and a gateway to local, state, and federal service programs, learning centers, and community gathering places” (AILA website).

According to Terra Dankowski (2018), the history of tribal libraries and librarianship is “bleak”. Prior to the late 1970s, libraries were inadequate or nonexistent. They contained poor or broken equipment. In addition, many of the materials included information that misrepresented American Indians or focused on stereotypical roles.

During the 1970s, tribal groups became increasingly interested in the development of libraries. For instance The Cherokee Code included a section in 1978 focusing specific on Public Libraries. Section 125-1. Public libraries of the code recognized two public libraries and established a governance system.

Lack of funding was a major barrier to the creation and maintenance of libraries. In the late 1970s, advocacy began to pay off with three actions: the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, 1978 National Indian Omnibus Library Bill, and 1978 White House Pre-Conference on Indian Library and Information Services On or Near Reservations. This movement brought funding along with the ability to make internal decisions about library needs.

Many Native American colleges were established in the 1960s and 1970s. For instance, Dine College is on the Navajo Reservation. It was established in 1968 by Native people for Native people. The library is symbolically situated at the center of the circular campus. Charlie Benally blessed the Tsaile Library in 1974. The library was re-dedicated in 1998 in honor of Kinyaa'áanii Charlie Benally. See a photo of the blessing.

Terra Dankowski (2018) notes that “tribal libraries are as diverse as tribal communities”. Unfortunately, many tribal school and public libraries are currently in disrepair. For instance, the Lilly Endowment illustrated needs across tribal lands stating that at Dine College, "crumbling buildings show cracks, tiles fall from ceilings, elevators often fail, library is more than half-empty." (Tribal College Journal, Spring 2000)

National Indian Law Library
Boulder, Colorado

Founded in 1972, the National Indian Law Library was established as a public law library devoted to federal Indian and tribal law. Their mission is to provide "unique and valuable" Indian law resources to those in need of Indian law information or advocacy.


Security has always been a problem in libraries. Early chained libraries were an obvious attempt to prevent theft. During the 1970s and 1980s electronic security systems were installed in many libraries.

Security systems first appeared in the mid 1960s. These library protection systems worked well for general collections. A magnetic strip was placed on the spine of the book. As a patron passed through a gate, a beep would sound if the strip had not been desensitized at the circulation desk. Although the technology was expensive, it was viewed as a good return on investment.

However, these book detection systems were not effective in rare book collections because they couldn't be used on individual leaves of manuscripts. According to (Wyly, 1987, 247), "Other electronic devices such as motion detectors, intrusion alarm systems, and closed circuit television cameras have been employed increasingly for after hours security."

Royal Danish Library
Copenhagen, Denmark

One of the largest thefts in library history occurred at the Royal Danish Library between 1968 and 1978. At least 1600 historical books worth more than $50 million were stolen. Rare books included prints by Martin Luther and first editions by Immanuel Kant, Thomas More, and John Milton. The theft remained undetected until the mid 1975. Over the years, the thief was able to sell some books at auction. The case was solved in 2003 when a stolen book surfaced at Christie's Auction House in London. The thief turned out to be the head of the library's oriental department named Frede Moller-Kristensen. Having died earlier in the year, his family began selling off his collection. A number of family members were convicted in the thefts and sent to prison.

The library is still searching for their missing books. Go to Missing Books to see their website and learn more about this story. You can also learn about how the royal identification marks can be use to identify the books.

The image below shows the Royal Danish Library in 2009.

Royal Danish Library Wikimedia CC-a SA Det Kongelige Bibliotek by Arne List Flickr



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

Dankowski, Terra (September 28, 2018). The challenges of tribal libraries. American Libraries.

Euster, Joanne R. (1995). The academic library: it's place and role in the institution. In Gerard B. McCabe & Ruth J. Person (eds.), Academic Libraries: Their Rationale and Role in American Higher Education. Greenwood Publishing Group. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=dfj13W9tUJYC

Harris, Michael H. (1972). The Purpose of the American Public Library in Historical Perspective: Revisionist Interpretation. ERIC. Available: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED071668.pdf

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

Roy, Loriene (July 2009) Indigenous matters in lLibrary and information dcience: An evolving ecology. Focus in International Library and Information Work, 40(2), 8-12.

Tribal College Journal (Spring 2000). Available: http://www.tribalcollegejournal.org/themag/backissues/spring2000/spring2000oc.html

Wyly, Mary (Summer 1987). Special collections security: problems, trends, and consciousness. Library Trends, 241-256. Available: https://docs.google.com/...

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