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You’ve Got Mail: Carnegie Libraries, As Seen Through Library Postcards

The history of public libraries in the United States is as vast and varied as the histories of the towns and cities they inhabit. Despite providing essential services since their inception, the spaces libraries inhabited were not always befitting of their importance. Many were kept in small backrooms or were forced to share space with other local organizations, impeding access to information and depriving citizens of a central gathering space. In this dearth, Andrew Carnegie – an enterprising businessman who at one point was the richest man in the world – saw an opportunity. Between 1893 and 1919, Carnegie gave away $60 million of his fortune to fund 1,689 public libraries across the country [1, 2]. Adjusted for inflation, that figure today reaches towards $1.3 billion. These “Carnegie libraries” became cultural centers in towns big and small and were instrumental in constructing the blueprint of small-town America as we know it today.

These towns were often so proud of these monuments of culture that they distributed postcards celebrating the new library. Many of these postcards, along with thousands of other postcards of libraries around the world, are housed at the American Library Association Archives in the Sjoerd Koopman, Celene Bishop, Judy Muck, and Daniel W. Lester Library Postcard Collections.

Carnegie Library, Washington D.C., 1910 (Record Series 97/1/55)

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Publications: Interpreting America, 1942-1947

From at least 1942 through 1947, known under the series title Interpreting America, the American Library Association produced a series of lists to support reading about cultures, histories, and politics of people in the United States. Each installment is rich with recommendations of contemporary writings on the peoples of the USA. Read on to learn more about early Interpreting America!
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Publications: Books and Pamphlets on Library Work, 1921-1937

As early as the 1920s through 1930s, the American Library Association published Books and Pamphlets on Library Work to organize the many new expanding catalog of A.L.A. publications about library services and administration. Each publication is a helpful bibliography of extant library publications of its time. Read on to learn more about Books and Pamphlets on Library Work!

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Social Gatherings of Times Past: Century 21 Exposition (Seattle, 1962)

It doesn’t seem too long ago that gathering in large groups was a normal part of life, but the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the world has made such gatherings feel like a distant memory. In the absence of any significant social gatherings in the near future, take a tour through one from the past – the Century 21 Exposition, also known as the Seattle World’s Fair, which over the course of its run attracted over 10 million people from all over the world to its many exhibits. One such exhibit was sponsored by the American Library Association, who showcased the importance of libraries to a world yearning for innovation.

Fair map from 1959 promotional booklet (Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives)

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Publications: Library Video Magazine, 1986-1990

From 1986 through 1990, the American Library Association produced a series of videos about general issues in library administration known as Library Video Magazine. Each installment is rich in the experienced perspectives of library leaders of its time. Read on to learn more about Library Video Magazine!

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Publications: Books for Young People, 1922-1940

As early as the 1920s through 1930s and known under a variety of titles, the American Library Association produced a series of resources to support popular young people’s reading in libraries. Each publication is rich in the experienced perspectives of library leaders of its time. Read on to learn more about early books for young people!

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Publications: Recent Children’s Books, 1925-1939

From 1925 through 1939, known under the series title Recent Children’s Books, the American Library Association produced a series of resources to support collection development in children’s libraries. Each publication is rich with recommendations of contemporary children’s literature. Read on to learn more about early Recent Children’s Books!

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“Librarians Are More Freedom Fighters Than Shushers”: Carla Hayden

Carla Hayden, 2003 (Record Series 13/6/15, Box 4)

In a career that spans state and government agencies, Carla Hayden has always fought for the people who need library resources the most and championed their right to have equal access to these resources, free of any government intervention. In a June 2003 news release announcing Hayden’s tenure as ALA President, Hayden stated that, “Equity of access is not only one of the basic tenets of our profession but it encompasses all of our basic and pressing contemporary concerns as well. We need to recommit ourselves to the ideal of providing equal access to everyone, anywhere, anytime and in any format, particularly those groups who are already underserved.” [1] Read More »

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Publications: Children’s Books for General Reading, 1924-1929

During the 1920s, the American Library Association produced a two-edition series of bibliographies for children’s libraries known as Children’s Books for General Reading. Both installments are rich with selections of contemporary children’s literature. Read on to learn more about early Children’s Books for General Reading!

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Publications: Readers and Primers, 1929-1933

From 1929 through 1939, known under the series title Readers and Primers, the American Library Association produced a series of lists to support collection development in children’s libraries. Each publication is a rich with recommendations of contemporary children’s literature. Read on to learn more about early Readers and Primers!

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