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Contemporary Libraries: 1960s

Topeka Public Library, 1960Let's examine issues related to intellectual freedom, civil rights, non-book items, school and youth services, college and university services, agricultural libraries, and corporate libraries.

The 1960s were a decade of global change that featured protest movements and calls for social change. Libraries were part of this cultural movement. While some groups were protesting the war in Vietnam, others were dealing with issues closer to home.

The photo on the right shows the Topeka Public Library in 1960.

The National Advisory Commission on Libraries (NACL) appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 was charged with examining libraries nationwide and determining the role of federal support for the future. It was recommended that a National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) be established for the purpose of long-range planning. This commission was created in 1970 with the goal to

"eventually provide every individual in the United States with equal opportunity of access to that part of the total information resource which will satisfy the individual’s educational, working, cultural and leisure-time needs and interests, regardless of the individual’s location, social or physical condition of level of intellectual achievement."

Throughout the 1960s, advances were being made in library technology. In 1962, Inforonics developed one of the first information retrieval systems used by organizations including libraries. Then in 1964, MEDLAR (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System) was introduced by the National Library of Medicine.

Social Responsibility

Book Request Card 1964 LSE PDSocial movements are used to change existing social patterns. Causes may be promoted through the actions of individual librarians or by the work of social institutions like the American Library Association.

In some cases, even large institutions made changes during this time. For instance, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was regularly updated by the Catholic Church until the 1948 edition. In 1966 Pope Paul VI chose not to continue its publication and instead encouraged Christians to avoid all writings dangerous to faith and morals.

The photo below shows a students completing a book request card around 1964.

The role of the American Library Association in the social movement was reflected in a number of actions during the 1960s. For example, the Office for Intellectual Freedom was established in 1967 and the Freedom to Read Foundation was recreated in 1969.

A pro-Vietnam War speech was given by General Maxwell D. Taylor at the American Library Association conference in San Francisco. This speech was met with protests and picketing by some librarians. The ALA Round Table on Social Responsibilities of Libraries was established to address issues related to social responsibility and librarianship. This group was reformed and became the Social Responsibilities Round Table.

Beginning in 1969, Sanford Berman (1969) wrote a series of letters to Library Journal condemning the "chauvinistic headings" used as Library of Congress as subject descriptors. He also protested the Euro-American bias.

While Americans wrestled with issues related to social responsibility, other countries were facing similar issues. For instance, Britain librarians were dealing with social class tensions.

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Read Black, Alistair (2003). False optimism: modernity, class, and the public library in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. Libraries & Culture, 38(3), 201-213.

Libraries and Civil Rights

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education. This ruling marked the beginning of the end for segregation. However it would take a decade for Congress to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The American Library Association was involved with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Even in the 1950s ALA was taking measures to remove segregation in the organization. For instance in 1954, ALA banned states from having more than one chapter, thus preventing separate black and white chapters.

In 1960 Benjamin Powell, the ALA president appointed a Special Committee on Civil Rights. This group was charged with examining ALA statements, positions, and policies to ensure that they aligned with civil liberties

In 1961, an amendment to the Library Bill of Rights was passed advocating equal library service for all.

"The rights of an individual to the use of a library should not be denied or abridged because of his race, religion, national origins or political views."

This amendment was controversial and some libraries were closed rather than desegregating.

In 1962, the ALA commissioned a study titled Access to Public Libraries identified discrimination in American libraries. It identified race issues related to public libraries and segregation. The report identified both direct and indirect discrimination found in libraries. As a result of this document, it was concluded that ALA must "use every means at its disposal, continue to promote freedom of access to libraries for all people."

Libraries were integrated at a faster rate than many public institutions. However in many cases, limitations were placed on borrowing books and use of services. In 1960, Eric Moon the editor of Library Journal took a stand against segregation in Southern public libraries. The December 15 issue contained an excerpt from Richard Wright's autobiographical Black Boy about his experiences attempting to use library services. In addition, an editorial by Moon stated,

“it is common knowledge in the library profession that segregation is not something that happens only in schools and lunch-counters; that it happens in libraries too.” 

Many librarians struggled with the changes that were happening around them. While some librarians embraced change, others continued to support the tradition of segregation.

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Read Cook, Karen (2013). Struggles within: Lura G. Currier, the Mississippi Library Commission, and Library Services to African Americans. Information & Culture, 48(1), 134-156.

During the Civil Rights movement, libraries were a popular location for protests because they represented opportunities denied. Throughout the South, protests known as "study-ins" or "read-ins" were held a public libraries.

Albany,  GA 1962 Unable to locate original photograph informationThe photo on the left shows a woman being arrested for attempting to enter a segregated library at the Albany Carnegie Library in Georgia in 1962.

In the 1966, U.S. Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Louisiana, the court ruled that five African American demonstrators arrested in a sit-in at the Audubon Regional Library in Clinton Louisiana should not be charged with disturbing the peace.

The Black Caucus of ALA was established in 1970 “to mobilize the power necessary to ensure that the fullest and most relevant library service is made available to black people.”

In 1972, ALA's Ethnic Materials Information Exchange Task Force of Social Responsibilities Round Table was formed. This group later became the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table.

In 1976, Clara Stanton Jones was elected the first African American president of the American Library Association.

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Read Fultz, Michael (2006). Black public libraries in the South in the era of De Jure Segregation. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 41(3), 337-359.

Libraries and Non-Book Items

Film Projector, FlickrIn the 1909 New York State report, libraries were indicating collections of photographs, lantern slides, stereoscopic view, and newspaper clippings.

By the 1960s, these multimedia collections had expanded to a wide range of audio, visual, and motion materials.

During and after World War II, educational, instructional, and training films became popular.

Watch a video produced about the Library of Congress in 1968 to get a feel for the time period.

The photo on the right shows a film projector from this time period. (Courtesy Carbon Arc, Flickr).

Audiovisual departments continued to be popular through the 1960s. Many departments created informational, instructional, and promotional films.

Watch a video produced by the Public Health Service Audiovisual Facility at the National Library of Medicine focusing on the history of this library. The film was produced in the early 1960s. The library's digital collection contains 212 moving pictures from the 20th century on topics from oral hygiene to insect control.

School Libraries and Youth Services

South School Timaru , Christchurch City Libraries, CC-SANew resource-based educational practices focused on self-directed learning and individualized instruction making the library an important place for learning. The goal was to provide appropriate resources to meet the needs of learners in different situations.

These reforms spread worldwide leading to school libraries being emphasized in places like Hong Kong and Sweden. (Wedgeworth, 1993).

The photo on the left shows a student at South School Timaru in Christchurch City, New Zealand.

Following the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the United States established math and science education as a priority.

This resulted in a large influx of money for education and specifically school libraries. In 1965 the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) passed providing Title II funds for the purchase of library materials and textbooks.

Pike County HiThe photo on the right shows the Pike County Free Library housed in the Waverly High School in 1961. (Courtesy Don O'Brien, Flickr)

Knapp School Libraries Project
United States

In 1963 the Knapp School Libraries Project was established to create model school library media centers across the country. The first priority was to upgrade school libraries to meet the 1960 standards focusing on professional staff and materials rather than on facilities. Funds were used to expand and renovate hundreds of school libraries.

Seeing the value of model school libraries, some states began establishing their own model school programs. In 1967, The School Library and the Instructional Program, A Report on Phase I of the Knapp School Libraries Project by Peggy Sullivan was published. She noted a high turnover in personnel that went on to establish their own exemplary libraries.

In 1968 the School Library Manpower project was established within the Knapp Foundation. It focused on the roles and job functions of school library personnel and provided recommendations for implementing experimental school library media education programs. The project continued until 1974.

Library Standards

Philip Ross reading ABC Bunny, LAPL The American Library Association's American Association of School Librarians Standards for School Library Programs introduced in 1960 were designed as a guide for states in developing state standards. The guidelines connected school library service with the improvement of education.

Also in 1960 the Young Adult Services in Public Library of ALA published Standards for Work with Young Adults and in 1966 YASD produced Guidelines for Young Adult Services in Public Libraries.

The photo on the right shows four-year old Philip Ross reading ABC Bunny in 1960. Click the link to the Los Angeles Public Library for access to the image.

In 1969, the revised guidelines called the Standards for School Media Programs placed an emphasis on non-book materials. This set the precedent for a multimedia approach rather than a "books plus other materials" philosophy (Clyde, 1981).

Standards were also being developed in other countries. For instance, in 1966, Australia developed their first set of standards for school librarians.

Finally, in 1967 the American Library Association updated the Library Bill of Rights to include readers of all ages. Also in this year YASD cosponsored a pre-conference at ALA focusing on Intellectual Freedom and the Teenager.

Centralized Library Services

In the mid 1900s, many governments recognized the need for centralized library services. For instance, in 1953, the first state Education Department School Library Service was established in New South Wales, Australia to provide centralized cataloging of books for distribution to schools. The mission expanded to include book selection advice and teacher-librarian training. The other Australian states followed their lead. Unfortunately, these new services didn't make up for poor school library financing. In 1968, the States Grants (Secondary School Library) Act was passed in Australia providing funding for school libraries.

Land on Moon 1969 Wikimedia COmmons PDIn the United States regional education service centers were established in many states from the 1940s through the 1970s. The New York State legislature created the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in 1948 to provide school districts with a program of shared services.

The photo on the left shows a child reading the newspaper with the headline "The Eagle Has Landed" in July of 1969.

Title III of the U.S. Elementary and Secondary Education Act provided funding for start-up costs associated with creating supplementary educational centers in individual states.

In 1965, the Texas legislature authorized media centers throughout the state. These were expanded in 1967 to Regional Education Service Centers (ESC). Twenty-eight regional educational media centers (REMC) operate in Michigan. In 1974, Iowa created 15 Area Education Agencies to provide programs and services for local school districts.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Mediavilla, Cindy (2013). Carla Zimmerman Leigh and the diffusion of cooperation through California libraries, 1951-1972. Information & Culture, 48(1), 157-177.

College and University Services

In the United States, federal government became a major source of funding for both colleges and universities. The Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 played a key role in in providing support for academic libraries. Library budgets expanded as a percentage of the general higher education budget throughout the 1960s.

This growth in universities was experienced around the world. In addition, special collections were expanded in many institutions.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read McNally, Peter F. (2008). Western Canadiana at McGill University: the formation of a rare book collection. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 43(2), 176-192.

The photo below (right) shows encyclopedia and the photo below (right) shows current periodicals at the British Library of Political and Economic Science in London in 1964.

Encyclopedia LSE 1964 PDCurrent Periodicals LSE library 1964

Louis Shores (1904-1981)
United States

Louis Shores was a prominent figure in academic librarianship during the 1900s. His advocacy of bibliographic instruction led to the creation of the Library-College movement which began in 1928 and continued into the late 1960s. He sought to combine librarianship with education through the creation of a quality undergraduate program that stressed library-centered education. Faculty would work with students in the library as part of their coursework.

Shores was also known for the integration of audiovisual materials into library collections. He identified a number of different formats found in libraries including print (book or journal), graphic (globe or photograph), projection (film or slide), transmission (radio or tape recording), resource (person or object), program (computer or machine) and extrasensory (telepathy or clairvoyance). He preferred the name Materials Center for audiovisual collections.

Agricultural Libraries

The need for agricultural information dates back to ancient times. In the United States, the earliest agricultural libraries were associated with professional associations and scholarly societies.

By the 1900s, academic agricultural libraries became important in research and education. Recently, corporate agricultural libraries have spread.

National Agriculture Library
United States

The U.S. Department of Agriculture library dates back to 1839. However in 1862, the Organic Act formally established the agriculture library. The library served the U.S. Department of Agriculture until 1962 when it was designated the National Agriculture Library (NAL).

By the 1990s, this library became NAL and one of the world's largest and most important agriculture libraries. NAL is one of four national libraries in the United States with locations in Beltsville, Maryland and Washington D.C.

Learn more about the National Agriculture Library.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Paskoff, Beth M (1990). History and characteristics of agricultural libraries and information in the United States. Library Trends, 38(2), 331-349.

Corporate Libraries

Corporate libraries became increasingly popular in the 1960s with the introduction of machine readable catalogues and electronic databases. By the late 1950s, an increasing number of companies were investing in computers such as the UNIVAC. The corporate library's mission was to exploit this new technology and its access to information for the benefit of the company.

These libraries provide reference, research, collection management, document delivery, and other types of information services. Topics such as subject access, indexing, and cross-referencing are participating important in this environment.

Created by Grieg Aspnes, a research librarian for Cargill, the film shows the librarian visiting libraries throughout the Twin Cities of Minnesota trying to answer a research question.

Watch "a day in the life of a corporate research librarian" from 1964 on YouTube.


American Association of School Librarians (1960). Standards for School Library Programs.

Berman, Sanford (1969). Chauvinistic headings. Library Journal, 94, 695.

Berman, Sanford (1971). Prejudices and Antipathies: a tract on the LC subject heads concerning people. Scarecrow Press.

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

Boardman, Edna M. (Sept/Oct 1994). The best $1,130,000 ever spent on school libraries. Book Report, 13 (2).

Case, Robert N. & Lowrey, Anna Mary (Jan 1971). School library manpower project: a report on phase 1. American Libraries, 2(1), 98-101.

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

Fusonie, Alan E. (Spring 1988). The history of the National Agriculture Library. Agriculture History, 62(2), 189-207.

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

Moon, Eric (December 15, 1960). The silent subject. Library Journal, 85(2), 4436–7.

New Zealand Library Association (1963). Library service to Maori: report to the NZLA council. New Zealand Libraries, 26(10), 255-261.

Sheehan, Sister Helen (July 1969). The library-college idea: trend of the future? Library Trends, 93-102.

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