Memoirs of Libraries, Volume 2: Including a Handbook of Library Economy
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In response to a call by an enthusiastic Frank G. Bates, State Librarian of Rhode Island, fifty people assembled in the lecture room of the Providence Public Library on March 9, to discuss the desirability of a state library association. On the same day a constitution was drafted, officers were elected with William Foster of the Providence Public Library as the first president.
Edward Edwards (librarian)
Dues were fixed at 23 cents per member and two meetings were henceforth scheduled a year. Despite repeated attempts at resuscitation, no newsletter was to appear for the next fifteen years. Yet other early ventures fared far better. The second decade also brought the first RILA efforts at securing state financial aid and legislation. State aid to public libraries had originated in small amounts in RILA requested funds for maintenance of the Association, for a state pension plan for librarians, a law allowing libraries to serve beyond their legal community boundaries, and a state supplement to the salaries of high school librarians.
All requests, being only polite requests, were rejected. War put another kind of pressure on librarians beyond that of patriotic fervor when the public began to demand quickly changing information on subjects from ration-oriented recipes to shifting battle fronts. Consequently, attendance at a library summer school at the Rhode Island Normal School later Rhode Island College proved considerable. The war and the period following brought great prosperity to Rhode Island textile and other light industry. Yet while Rhode Island was spending more for library books than most states, its libraries were still beset with serious problems.
The General Assembly of Rhode Island argued that certification of librarians could lead to unionization and the proposed increased book budget would favor large libraries over the small ones. Equitable distribution of funds between small and large libraries continued as an issue through enactment of the Library Services Act in and onto proposed revision of the Library Services and Construction Act in Failing to win larger book budgets, RILA President William Goddard sought to provide more books for the public by exhorting large libraries to assist smaller ones with cooperative loans of books.
And to stimulate professional development, RILA recommended to the trustees of the then existing sixty-three public libraries that they pay conference expenses for their staffs. In this period the library conference was often the single method of education for library staffs, and great effort was made in the holding of numerous joint conferences between RILA and nearby library associations in other states.
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These joint conferences of two or more New England states actually and directly prefigured the evolution of the New England Library Association of Finally, in , RILA proposed its first code of library standards to the State Board of Education, recommending that librarians work a minimum of ten hours a week, that libraries be open a minimum of six hours a week, the library materials be cataloged, and that every librarian have a minimum of two weeks education in a library institute.
In the twenties under President George Hinckley, Francis Drury, Clarence Sherman, Adele Martin and Sara Sherman, RILA committees or spokespeople urged library trustees to work more diligently to raise library budgets and to leave administration to the library directors. In it was finally decided to issue it independently under the Association and not through the Board of Education which had published the old series. In the later nineteen sixties the Bulletin began to app3ear quarterly, and at present eleven issues per volume per year are published.
In addition to a Bulletin committee, RILA had exhibit, relations with the state Board of Education, membership, and hospitality committees by In its first quarter of a century, with great zeal on the part of its members, the Rhode Island Library Association had addressed standards for libraries, had secured the rudiments of education for librarians, had recognized the need for service to a variety of clienteles, had established regular dissemination of information to its members in a newsletter and semi-annual conferences and had comprehended the relationship between money and quality library service.
But on the two major issues requiring considerable funding, library development and cooperation for better public access, and salaries and related employment benefits for library staffs, a beginning had yet to be made. The next twenty-five of economic depression, war, and post-war fear and hysteria were to amount to a Middle Ages for Rhode Island Libraries, and for many other libraries in the country. When Henry Van Hoesen assumed the RILA presidency in , the Great Depression was in full swing, the Rhode Island Librarians were hurrying away from national and state concerns and back to their libraries to determine how to deal with smaller budgets.
They also needed more time to serve the rapidly growing number of poorer patrons who flocked to libraries for help-wanted advertisements, do-it-yourself information, novels to while away the idle hours, and simple heat. Service was in demand and librarians were giving it. By membership in RILA had dropped to 94 people. Librarians also had to stay home in their libraries to fight for their jobs. For example, in the Central Falls Library Board replaced a non-resident librarian with a resident non-librarian for political reasons.
The Bulletin dealt mostly with conference programs, personnel notes, and events in local libraries, with safe things as it would continue to do with the exception of a few articles for years. Travelling libraries were discontinued for want of money. And the major issue of the day was reduced to the mutilation of picture books and periodicals by students doing school projects. Conferences themselves dwelt almost wholly on the innocuous, on local history, local poetry and, of course, booklists.
By about all that could be said was that RILA always held an annual conference and always held its budget in the black. And it always had. The hope that Miss Sherwood would be henceforth a very important figure in public library development, since a State government reorganization placed the State Library in the Department of State in authority over public libraries and removed the Board of Education from the public library world did not really come to pass. By only a half dozen libraries in the state were willing to accept even voluntary certification. And post-war development of library graduate and technical assistant programs would certify to some degree the competence and salaries that could not be achieved during the Depression.
Poverty brought one improvement when RILA observed the difficulty that underpaid staffs had in furthering their education, and established the RILA annual scholarship in Answers were few and far between. A new handbook was quickly published to list a record members. RILA committees had grown to seven, on State relations, conference programs, membership, the Bulletin, exhibits, hospitality and scholarship.
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But these expectations were not fulfilled. Association members rejected a joint conference with the Massachusetts and Connecticut Library Associations and the New England Library Association similar to ones held in the past for reasons of time and cost per member, and a joint conference was not again attempted. Nor does NELA appear to have made a concerted effort to repeat the best programs of state library conferences at its annual conference.
Moore from to reflect considerable quiet in the Association. While a new Association handbook was issued in , the Bulletin remained singularly devoid of issues and news, even to the point of failing to announce upcoming RILA conferences. The conference, devoted to television, its educational possibilities and its effects on reading, stood alone in excitement.
What else could be expected in ?
Rhode Island Libraries had somehow survived, just as they survived the hurricane of and another to come in The beginning of reform, a modern spirit, a belief that something could be done and out of sheer desperation that they had to do it seized RILA members in when the Association recommended that all boards of public library trustees approach their towns for substantial budget increases.
The survey also stated that service depends on money and money was sorely lacking with twenty-five libraries having less than thirty cents per capita support. Twenty years later the average library in Rhode Island was to have a dozen times as much money. If it were not for librarians in in many cases working for next to nothing, and in some cases donating their salaries to the book fund, the survey concluded, many libraries would cease to function.
That was the situation only a little more than twenty years ago in the state. A fifteen-week library technical assistant course approved by RILA and conducted by the Extension Division of the University of Rhode Island at the Providence Public Library signaled the end of even the best informal in-house training. Virtually alone in the state, the Providence Public Library had offered such training for years, abandoning it finally only when the URI Extension Division took over library technical instruction completely in Also as this time exhibits were becoming a common part of RILA conferences.
And RILA was attempting to get more specific goals for itself, affirming that a state library association should promote practical workshops, the state library budget, state aid and legislation, and library publicity. Unfortunately, when the Library Services Act passed in after years of waiting, the Rhode Island General Assembly did not choose to appropriate state funds necessary to secure the federal dollars.
Under RILA president David Jonah, however, the Association did draw up a plan for use of the federal and state money when it might be available. The state librarian herself had never developed a great interest in public library service. Previously it had been an affiliate of ALA for several decades. A division between school and public libraries, extending back to when public libraries were removed from jurisdiction of the Board of Education and placed under the State Library, continued to produce problems.
And despite considerable recruiting efforts and a special dues structure for school librarians, RILA still failed to attract them. From through the early nineteen sixties the excitement generated by the Rural Library Services program became contagious, and on numerous occasions RILA went on record recognizing the significant accomplishments of this program serving forty-two public libraries with a host of services from centralized processing to book discounts.
RILA also became interested in the role of the library in high school equivalency programs, in service to the aging, in the Great Books Discussion Groups, in prison libraries, in assisting Rural Library Services in the weeding of dated library collections, in radio and television publicity for libraries and for National Library Week, in collection development concepts, in recruiting for librarianship, in young adult services, and in friends of the library organizations. Issues were quickly becoming those that would easily be recognized as crucial by a young librarian of the nineteen seventies.
The single event which more than any other led to modern library service in Rhode Island was triggered when Dr. Elmer Smith, chairman of the Brown University Department of Education, observed the deplorable condition of local school libraries. Conferees soon found their attention directed at service in all types of libraries.
And they concluded that low standards and severe underfunding were major problems, that RI school libraries were the worst in the nation, that a stronger professional association and more state leadership were necessary, that many public libraries were receiving thoroughly insignificant appropriations, that too many libraries were operating with completely untrained staff, that except for Brown University, state college and university libraries provided no support to other libraries and that in general there was a serious lack of coordination amongst all libraries in the state.
Only Brown University among academic libraries possessed a library appropriate to its needs.
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Bryant College and Providence College were very small and badly funded. Consequently, with a Council of Library Resources grant, Brown sponsored a thorough statewide study of all libraries. In , Humphry noted that many librarians were trained only as housewives, and many library collections dated from to Charles Taylor, Dorothy Barre, and Elizabeth Myer, the Humphry findings recommending a statewide regional library system were thoroughly analyzed.
From to RILA also made suggestions to the New England Library Association for its reorganization, presented Representative John Fogarty of Rhode Island with a citation for his work in securing Library Services Act appropriations, recruited professional librarians intensively, established an Association trustees committee, witnessed the establishment of a long desired full graduate library school at the University of Rhode Island, supported passage of the New Interstate Compact as Rhode Island law for New England wide interlibrary loan and cooperation, issued a new handbook, and passed a new constitution.
The RILA Bulletin developed an entirely new orientation, paying less heed to factual information about library personnel and events, and paying more attention to educating members in the major issues of the day. It was turning out to be much more controversial, and much more readable. If was an exciting year, was much more so. The bill passed and the Commission, headed by K. Moore, was appointed in to revise archaic library laws and regulations e. This Commission composed of state legislators, RILA and other public members including Elizabeth Myer and Dorothy Budlong, Senator Moran, and the State Librarian, after evaluation of the Humphry study and after numerous hearings, filed its report Report of the Legislative Commission on Libraries to the General Assembly recommending new library legislation in January While the Commission was at work drafting new legislation, Dr.
Smith of Brown, still deeply involved, sought professional and public support for whatever the recommended legislation might be. To accomplish this, Smith contacted Mrs. Edwin Sherman Jr. She scheduled a major meeting in late of school superintendents, teachers, school board chairmen, school librarians, parent-teacher groups, some public librarians, and representatives from the State Department of Education.
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This audience was given a complete review of the Humphry report. Then after a masterful barrage of explanatory public relations information on radio, television and a series of newspaper articles by Lawrence Howard and Joseph Giblin, Mrs. Congressman John Fogarty announced that the Library Services and Construction Act LSCA had just passed in the House of Representatives and that the recommended state library legislation should be passed to tie into it.
Commission recommendations included: 1 the creation of a new state department of library services with a board of library commissioners empowered to operate the state library, all extension services, and the state archives; 2 expanded state aid to city and town libraries; 3 creation of principal and regional libraries and research centers; and 4 state funding for library construction. Rhode Island was the first state in the Union to accomplish that. Many, many hundreds of people and their instruments had been brought together as for the production of a major symphony, the major event in Rhode Island Library history, the creation and performance of a well-funded effective comprehensive state library cooperative network.