National Library Week from “Wake Up and Read” to “Unlimited Possibilites”: Encountering library history in the library
This week is National Library Week! And this year’s theme is “unlimited possibilities @ your library.”
Image of promotional materials for National Library Week 2015, from the American Library Association
This week, amidst National Library Week, my own library experiences, as an information seeker and a librarian, had a number of satisfying convergences as I attempted to locate items from the collection and uncover something to say about the observance and its orgins.
Believe it or not, there is surprisingly little primary or secondary source material accessible on the web on the origin of National Library Week. So I wasn’t surprised when I could find very little here at the GHL. Then I had an experience of an information-seeking behavior concept called “information encountering”. In a 1997 paper, library science researcher Sanda Erdelez at the University of Texas at Austin described information encountering as akin to “bumping into information” – a sort of sudden discovery of useful information that you weren’t necessarily looking for at that moment but that very memorably fits a need you may have at some level (but weren’t necessarily aware of). It’s a cousin of the serrendipitous find. I liked the way my library find this week fit nicely into this type of information-seeking behavior, the National Library Week theme, and the idea behind national library week: promotion of libraries and their possibilities.
I happened to “encounter” a handful of very old and surprisingly a propos books while walking through the GHL’s stacks for an entirely different purpose. The first book, Publicity for Public Libraries, published in 1935 and written by Gilbert O. Ward, Technical Librarian at the Cleveland Public Library, is a gem in the history of library marketing and promotion, with chapters on knowing your “public” and conducting community studies, analyzing the library, mediums and methods for publicity, and statistics: all topics first-year library science Masters students still cover in their coursework.
Another work, Publicity Primer: an a b c of “telling all” about the public library, from 1937 by Marie D. Loizeaux of the Public Library of New Rochelle, N.Y., gives practical and on-point advice with discussions of “who’s going to do it now that you’ve decided it needs to be done”, how to plan a publicity program, and how to deal with issues such as budgets and strategies for getting into print.
In 1924, Joseph L. Wheeler, Librarian at the Youngstown, N.Y. Public Library, set an earlier example of the dictum to know your community and the public you intend to reach. In The Library and the Community, he explicitly discussed the concept of the “geography of library work” in analyzing community characteristics and needs and provided an exhaustive discussion of the specific techniques and avenues for publicity. (Wheeler also wrote a number of interesting books in the 1940s and 1950s on the location and design of library buildings.)
“Wake Up and Read”, promotional image from National Library Week 1959, from Eduscapes
As a promotional and library publicity event, National Library Week was first celebrated March 16-22, 1958. Organized by the National Book Committee, a cooperative public-private endeavor by the American Library Association and the American Book Publishers Council, it had the theme “Wake Up and Read!” (repeated in 1959).
The effort to coordinate a national and 50-state campaign congealed around a number of concurrent social, political, and global themes: international technological competition during the Cold War; growth of television viewing and decrease in book purchases by American households; and a 1956 U.S. Office of Education study that revealed that more than 30,000 U.S. counties had no public library and some 26,000,000 rural residents had no access to public library services. And in 1956, supported by the Office of Education study and lobbying by librarians and educators, Congress passed the Library Services Act, ensuring federal funding assistance for public library development, an effort that continues today under the Library Services and Technology Act.