Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Carson Alphabetical Classification System

Librarian Nora Carson (1956-1961) succeeded Marguerite Fields as MPL Director, and she introduced some dramatic changes in collection organization. The children's nonfiction collection, which had previously been organized according to the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system, was reorganized alphabetically by subject.  This method was used from July 1957 until 1960.

Nora Carson, Librarian & MPL Director (1956-1961)

An alphabetical arrangement of children's nonfiction may seem somewhat radical as a collection classification system, because most public libraries at the time classified all nonfiction, and much fiction, under DDC numbers.  Nora Carson was trying to think like her young patrons, and she wanted to create a shelving system that they could decipher easily and quickly.

The alphabetical method has one critical disadvantage:  It presumes that patrons will think of the same subject terms as the person creating the classification categories.  Consider a hypothetical illustration, which requires imaginary time travel.  It's 1958, and a Mooresville youth needs a book about weather for a class project.  She looks under W in the children's books for "weather," but she doesn't find what she needs, because the Library staff has classed the book under M for meteorology.  If she looked in the card catalog, which, in 1958, would have contained actual cards in cabinets, there may have been a cross-reference from "weather" to "meteorology," which would have enabled the patron to look under the right alphabetical letter.  But that would not have helped the patron if she were shelf-browsing for the desired book and had skipped looking in the card catalog.  Lots of patrons, then as now, shelf-browsed rather than used the catalog.

Any numerical classification system, whether Dewey or Library of Congress (LC), places items according to subject, which are then issued a unique numerical listing.  One must become familiar with the numerical classifications to find what s/he needs, which, in its way, is as arbitrary as an alphabetical subject arrangement.  There's a difference, however.  In DDC, our 1958 hypothetical Mooresville student doesn't need to distinguish between "weather" or "meteorology" or some other topical synonym that the Library staff might have selected for the text's shelving location.  Instead, one need know only that books about weather are found in DDC under the number 551 (Geology, Hydrology, Meteorology), which is part of the Earth Sciences (550s in DDC).  Searching the card catalog, there would have been a cross-reference under "weather" to "meteorology" and the DDC number 551.  Knowing that the study of weather is an earth science would have taken our patron directly to the 550s, where weather books would have been found under 551.

But here is where DDC shows its superiority over alphabetical topical arrangements.  Once the patron knows the correct Dewey number under which the desired materials will be found, s/he may easily browse the shelves to find related items, which are shelved in the same area under that number.  Our 1958 patron would never have found those books shelf-browsing, because she was searching the W shelves in children's nonfiction, while the books were shelved under M.

Was Nora Carson wrong to use an alphabetical nonfiction shelving methodology?  Of course not.  Encyclopedia and dictionaries are structured alphabetically, and users have long been accustomed to thinking about subjects organized according to alphabetically-arranged key terms.  Shelving books the same way in a library would be familiar with anyone who has used an encyclopedia.  Any organizational system designed to make it easier for patrons to find materials is beneficial, and MPL patrons would have become familiar with Nora Carson's technique quickly enough.

Perhaps it is significant, however, that the Library returned to Dewey for children's nonfiction after roughly three years.  But experimentation is good. How else will librarians ever know what works best to help patrons find what they're searching for?

For Nora Carson, using the Library was all about convenience and access. That's why in October, 1957, she and the Library Board planned a paved rear parking lot behind the Carnegie building.  This improved and expanded the area in which patrons could park, thereby encouraging more patrons to visit the Library.

Next time we'll enter the Bonita Marley Era at MPL (1961-1984).

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Spur of Innovation in Professional Practices

Librarian Lenna (also spelled Lena) (Mrs. W. H.) Sage, who served on the Library's first board of trustees, was director of Mooresville Public Library (MPL) between 1939-1952.  America became embroiled in World War II and the Korean War during this period, and there were monumental social, economic, and cultural changes in the country, as well as in Mooresville, Indiana, during those 13 years.  Between 1941-1945, considerable societal resources were diverted to the war effort, and so the Library was compelled to provide its services to the public with fewer financial, as well as human, resources.

Lenna (or Lena) Sage (1872-1952)
MPL Director & Librarian (1939-1952)
(See postscript for spelling explanation)

Mrs Sage and the Library board of trustees felt that library services could be improved by introducing more standardized procedures for circulation, collection development and management, and staff/patron interaction.  Policies were adopted to streamline circulation practices and establish delineated criteria for the acquisition of new materials and the withdrawal and redistribution of older, damaged, or unused items (May 1944).

Overtures were made to increase the Library's patron base, and, consequently, expand its funding resources.  From July, 1944 through January, 1945, the Library board met with the township trustees for Madison, Clay, and Monroe Townships (in Morgan County) to extend MPL resources to their residents.  These townships, which are immediate neighbors to Brown Township and Mooresville, were largely unreached by Martinsville Public Library.  Although there were encouraging signs throughout these discussions, ultimately no reciprocal-borrowing or financing agreements were forthcoming.  It was simply a matter of fiscal prioritization for public tax revenues, and there were many other public needs to be satisfied as the war wound down.

The Library board and staff, however, were determined to enhance MPL services, especially following V-E (Victory in Europe) Day (May 8, 1945) and V-J (Victory Over Japan) Day (September 2, 1945), when American troops would be returning home.  It was anticipated that teens would need social diversions during the post-war years, since world war was no longer in the daily consciousness.  To satisfy this community need, the Library established (in November, 1945) a Teen Social Center in its basement meeting facilities.  The space was shared with other civic functions, but designating a specific area for teens was a revolutionary development for a public library in the mid-1940s.

There began the postwar "baby boom," which accompanied unprecedented economic growth across the United States.  But many public entities remained strapped for funds.  As local school administrators began to predict the surge in school-age children during the 1950s, they struggled to prepare their library resources for student and teacher needs.  To assist in this endeavor, MPL adopted (in February, 1947) a standardized system by which withdrawn materials would be donated to the local schools or to other public libraries in neighboring communities.

The "baby boom" following World War II highlighted another community need:  Early childhood literacy.  For many Hoosier elementary schools, first grade was a child's entry into formal education.  To improve youngsters' chances to succeed academically, MPL began offering its first Kindergarten classes in the Library's basement (in November/December 1947).  These classes continued into the early 1960s.  It was another example of MPL's innovation in library services.  During the 1940s, the concept of early literacy development was just beginning to be scientifically examined by college educators and psychologists.  It was quite "cutting edge" and "radical" for MPL to be among the first small town Hoosier public libraries to offer early literacy programs.

Another development at MPL was a change in acquisitions.  Before WW II, the Library had concentrated upon purchasing books.  There were popular magazines, of course, in the Library's collections, but books were still the primary focus.  After the war ended, it became clear that Americans were reading more periodicals.  To accommodate this demand, the Library began dramatically increasing its serial holdings (i.e., magazines), particularly during 1947-1948.

As the Library expanded to serve its growing community, the Library board decided it was time to upgrade MPL from a Class III to a Class I public library under a new Indiana libraries law (Acts of 1947).  This status change meant greater public funding, and responsibility to further serve, the patrons of Mooresville and Brown Township.

Marguerite Fields
MPL Director & Librarian (1952-1956)

Another innovation for a small-town Indiana public library was having staff who had earned a professional degree in library sciences.  This was an educational field in its infancy in the state--Indiana University first received accreditation for its library sciences degree in 1951--so, during Summer and Fall, 1951, Marguerite Fields, then MPL assistant librarian, became the first Library employee to enroll in the library sciences degree program at I.U.-Bloomington.

Mrs. Fields was quick to apply her new library science skills she was developing at I.U.  In December, 1951, Mrs. Fields began giving regular book talks in the Mooresville schools.  This was one of the earliest applications of young readers' advisories among Indiana's public libraries.

The year 1951 also saw an expansion in the Library's collection management practices.  The Library board formally sanctioned the distribution of "weeded" materials to charities for fund-raising purposes.  This policy allowed for the subsequent creation of the Friends of Mooresville Public Library, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the Library and its programs, including major fundraising ventures.

The unexpected death of Mrs. Sage on April 20, 1952 jolted the community.  Much had been accomplished on her watch, but much remained to be achieved.  Fortunately, Mrs. Fields was prepared to step-up to the plate, and thanks to the quality library science education she acquired from I.U., she was willing and able to continue the innovative tradition that marked MPL as a public library of excellence in serving its constituency.

P.S.  Notice the spelling discrepancy in Mrs. Sage's first name?  This is a common encounter for historical researchers.  Library records show Mrs. Sage's first name primarily as Lenna, although Lena also makes its occasional appearance (e.g., the MPL Obituary Card Files).  Two newspaper obituaries use variant spellings.  The cemetery records use both.  The 1910 Federal Census for Brown Township, Morgan County, Indiana, spells her name as Lenna.

April, 1952 Newspaper Obituaries From
The Mooresville Times & The Indianapolis Star
Use Lena and Lenna

White Lick Cemetery Records
Listing Lena (Lenna) Sage's Burial Site
(and Her Husband's, William H. Sage)

1910 Federal Census Lists Lenna H. Sage

Of course, misspellings occur in each of these primary or secondary sources.  Even the U.S. Census Records are not immune from such errors.  However, when one encounters variant spellings in several sources, especially those involving vital records (birth, death, marriage, census, etc.) or obituary and burial notices, then there is evidence suggestive that both spellings were used during the person's lifetime.  Ultimately, it would be helpful to interview living persons who knew the subject when she was alive, but we have not received any replies from such inquiries.  For now, we will stand with both spellings, until (or if) we subsequently obtain conclusive evidence otherwise.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

MPL Through the Roaring Twenties & Great Depression

During 1917, Mooresville Public Library began expanding its public services by allowing its basement assembly hall to be used for community and organizational meetings and banquets.  There were rules, of course, for how the area was to be utilized.  These had been adopted the year before, when the "Carnegie" Library building first opened.

Library Rules Governing Assembly Hall Use (1916)

Although the rules had been adopted in 1916, most of that year had been spent consolidating the Library's collections, acquiring new materials, circulating items, and concentrating upon library card issuance and patron registration.  The Library registered 684 new patrons in 1916.  This patron list was too large to scan on our flatbed digital scanner, so we took digital photographs instead.  Click each image to enlarge.  If they're still too small to read, right-click each image and then select "open link in new tab" or "open link in new window."  From there, you may zoom-in to enlarge the view.

The Library's patronage increased dramatically when the government of Madison Township (Morgan County), which is immediately east of Brown Township, agreed to support Mooresville Public Library in exchange for use privileges. Madison residents joined those of Brown and Mooresville in 1920, and this cooperative arrangement continued through 1928, when Madison citizens decided to discontinue the partnership due to financial reasons.

Why did Madison Township residents join MPL during the "Roaring Twenties"? Mooresville is closer than Martinsville to most Madison Township dwellers, and during the 1920s, Martinsville had its own public library but no branches throughout Morgan County. (Today, Morgan County Public Library serves all townships in the county except Brown, which is served exclusively by MPL.)  So it was a simple matter of transportation and time.  Country roads throughout the county were mostly unpaved, rendering travel troublesome during wet weather.  This resulted in lengthy driving times of an hour or more that today could be covered on modern highways in a matter of minutes.  Madison residents wanted access to a library but didn't want to drive any further than necessary, and in the 1920s, Mooresville's Carnegie Library was the most logical option available to most Madison families.

MPL History on Display
Outside the Library's Indiana Room

For most of America, the Great Depression (1929-1941) was a period of economic difficulties, and many governmental services floundered.  Fortunately for its patrons, Mooresville Public Library expanded during the Depression.  According to the Mooresville Times, June 24, 1937, a copy of which is currently on display outside the MPL Indiana Room, the Library's collections (by 1937) had grown to 8,400 volumes, which was actually beyond its anticipated capacity.  There were 2,245 borrowers registered with the Library by 1937.  To accommodate the dramatic increase in patron use of the Library, additional staff and volunteers were recruited.  Clearly, the Library was a staple of the town and community.

Why such growth?  People couldn't afford to purchase books for themselves--many could hardly feed and clothe their families during the 1930s--and so having a public library from which they could borrow books, magazines, and other resources was essential.  Taxpayers were grateful to have a well-stocked, professionally-operated library in town at their convenience.  Those who worked at the Library were likewise grateful to serve their neighbors (and, frankly, to have jobs).  It was a perfect example of how communities support public enterprises for the common good during arduous economic times.

This mutual support extended to other Library activities.  When the Library withdrew materials, these were immediately donated to local school libraries that needed and wanted them.
Helen Stone Keller
MPL Director & Librarian (1922-1939)

Much of the Library's growth and expansion of public services during the "Roaring Twenties" and Great Depression is attributable to its director and librarian from November. 1922 to 1939, Helen Stone, who became Helen Stone Keller following her marriage to Chester Keller.  Her nearly two decades of leadership firmly established MPL as a community resource of primary importance to the citizens of Mooresville and Brown Township.

More MPL History on Display
Outside the Library's Indiana Room

We have more Library history on display outside the MPL Indiana Room.  Please stop by whenever you have an opportunity during your upcoming visits.  We would love to share our history with you, as we have shared our resources during the past century.

World War II ended the Great Depression, and along with it many social changes came to Mooresville.  The Library evolved into a more modern, sophisticated provider of multiple resources.  Before the war, much of the Library's services had been lending books and periodicals, along with public use of the basement assembly hall for various types of gatherings.  As the end of WW II approached, MPL discovered or invented new ways to help its patrons.  Many of these activities are commonplace today, but in the middle-20th century, they were innovative.  We'll explore this territory in our next installment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Library Realia on Display

As part of Mooresville Public Library's centennial celebration, I am putting together a display of MPL history.  An entire 157 years of interesting artifacts (going back to the town's first paid membership lending library in 1855) will be in the Indiana Room display cases.  Be sure to take a look on your next library visit.

Here is some of our library realia already on display.  Watch for more!  It's a work-in-progress.

Want a quick summary of the library's history?  Some of this blog's past postings, too, afford an enjoyable walk along the library's memory lane.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dedication Day Arrives

Mooresville Public Library
(the Carnegie Building, 1916)
(Photo by J. P. Calvert)

January 27, 1916, was dedication day at Mooresville Public Library.  It was the big event in town at the time, as evidenced by the front page of The Mooresville Times (January 28, 1916).  Click each image below to enlarge.

Laminated Copy of The Mooresville Times
January 28, 1916 (Vol. 27, No. 14)

I could paraphrase the newspaper articles, but there's something charming about reading accounts contemporaneous to the events described.  So please click the images below to read the original stories.  If the newspaper clippings appear too small (even after enlarging), then right-click them and select "open link in new tab."  You may then go to View on your web browser's menu bar and select "Zoom" (a value of 200% or 400% should suffice).

Reading the original newspaper makes you feel more like you were actually there at the time.  This is a historical artifact of enormous importance, because it is the only copy MPL has of the first two pages of that particular Times edition.  The microfilm copy in the MPL Indiana Room Collection, which the Indiana Historical Society filmed from paper copies available at the Indiana State Library, omitted the January 28, 1916 issue of The Mooresville Times.  Apparently, the State Library did not have a paper copy of that particular edition.  So this yellowing, laminated original is the only record MPL has of the Carnegie Library's dedication.

The Carnegie Library was a showcase of Mooresvillian civic pride. The structure sat 40 feet north of the front of an 80-ft.-by-153-ft. lot.  The 56 ft.-by-36-ft. building was constructed in an Elizabethan architectural style.  The exterior was vitrified fire clay brick (four shades of tan) inlaid using dark brown mortar, with stone trim and twin gables.  The original roof was tile.

The Carnegie Library employed a steam heating system and, of course, no air conditioning, which didn't generally exist in 1916 (although American scientists had experimented with A/C as early as the mid-19th century).  Interior lighting was semi-indirect, meaning that some were overhanging lights while others were recessed behind wall plating.

The reading room consisted of three adult tables, three children's tables, and two reference tables (for librarians' use).  The basement included an auditorium with a seating capacity of 300, which could be utilized by local organizations and school groups for meetings, programs, and events.  It was the forerunner of today's MPL Bonita Marley Community Room.  In addition, the basement was equipped with a complete kitchenette.

The 4,000 square foot facility initially provided shelving for 6,000 books, which was subsequently increased (during the 1920s) to 8,300 volume capacity. The library's initial collection featured 1,143 books, or less than half the number of volumes currently contained within the MPL Indiana Room (2012). But acquisitions steadily increased, so that, by 1937, the Library housed 8,400 books and had 2,245 borrowers.  By 1936, the Library's annual circulation of books was 20,250.

Quick quiz!  How many items does MPL currently have in its various collections?  Take a wild guess.  Well, let's check the latest inventory report.  As of this very minute, MPL has 86,232 items in its collections.  Were you close?  I'd have wagered around 90,000, but then I have access to the reports.

The 1916 Library Board published the Library's policies on cards distributed to the public.  These were nicely printed on classy cardstock, which were disseminated when patrons obtained their first library cards.

MPL's First Library Policies (1916)

Inside Pages of MPL's First Library Policies (1916)

MPL Library Board of Trustees & Librarians (1916)

The Library also posted its rules for using the assembly hall downstairs.

Library Rules Governing Assembly Hall (1916)

Now that Mooresville had its own fabulous library, residents of neighboring Morgan County townships were interested to see if they could utilize this valuable community resource.  Madison Township residents were the first to seek lending rights to MPL.  Did they succeed?  Find out next time.

Philanthropy Delivers the Dream

On January 9, 1913, the Carnegie Corporation formally offered the Mooresville Public Library Board of Trustees a $10,000 grant to construct the town's new library building.  This offer was acknowledged on January 17, 1913, when Dr. C. L. Hallam, Secretary of the Library Board, sent the following letter, of which we have a photocopy.  (As always, please click the images to enlarge.)

Letter of Acknowledgement of $10,000 Carnegie Grant Offer
From Dr. C. L. Hallam, Library Board Secretary (Later President)
January 17, 1913

Legally speaking, Dr. Hallam's request for a $12,500 grant amount (rather than $10,000) would be construed as a counteroffer.  The Carnegie Corporation must have been disinclined to increase the sum, as the Library formally accepted the original $10,000 offer on May 4 & 6, 1915.

Library Board Formally Accepts $10,000 Carnegie Grant Offer
by Resolution (enacted May 4 & 6, 1915).

Why the two-year delay?  The Library Board minutes remain silent on this point, but one may make some reasonable inferences, based upon an understanding of how local Hoosier governmental spending was driven at the turn of the 20th century.  As part of the grant application process, the Library (and the Town of Mooresville, Indiana) were required to furnish statistics as to how much revenue the library tax levy, which was authorized in May, 1912, would generate for an "annual income" to the library. To make this determination, the town (and Brown Township) government needed to actually collect tax dollars and determine the sustainability of an annual budget from the town (and township) coffers. That meant at least two taxing years (1913-1914) were needed to accurately gauge, or trend, incoming tax revenues.  Once this data was compiled, construction began in earnest during 1915, following formal acceptance of Carnegie's offer.

While awaiting the tax revenue reports, the Library Board considered multiple construction bids and proposed contracts for furnishings, supplies, and other resources.  Considerable effort was expended to maximize the purchasing value of the $10,000 grant.  

Construction began in 1915 and proceeded rapidly.  By December 20, 1915, the work was nearly completed.  Library Board Secretary D. B. Johnson applied to the Carnegie Treasurer to secure the final $2,000 installment of the $10,000 grant.  The Library was formally dedicated a month later.

Consider that $10,000 in 1915 dollars built an entire library for the citizens of Mooresville and Brown Township.  Roughly speaking, how much would that sum purchase in today's dollars for our library?  Find out by clicking here.  [Thanks, Indiana State Library, for furnishing our Library Services & Technology Act (LSTA) grant to make that purchase for the MPL Indiana Room.]

In our next installment, we'll attend the library dedication ceremony.  Well, sort of.