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.

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