Publications: Pamphlets of The Committee on Library Work with the Foreign Born, 1924-1929

During the early 1900s, as great waves of immigrants continued to come to the United States, the American Library Association’s Committee on Library Work with the Foreign Born produced a series of resources to support library services for new immigrants. Each publication is rich in the experienced perspectives of library leaders of its time. Read on to learn more about early foreign born American literacy publications!

In 1929, after years of meeting to share information to better inform librarianship practice, the Committee on Library Work with the Foreign Born (1918-1948), then chaired by Massachusetts Free Public Library Commission librarian Edna Phillips, published a handbook titled Reading Service to the Foreign Born.

The handbook was a collection of expert essays, including:

  • “The Approach to the Foreign Born Reader” by Cleveland Public Broadway Branch librarian Eleanor E. Ledbetter;
  • “Lists for Americanization Workers”, compiled by the Committee;
  • “Dealers in Foreign Books”, compiled by the Committee again;
  • “Program to Coordinate Work in Adult Education by Libraries and Schools”, by the Massachusetts Department of Education;
  • “Cataloging Foreign Literature” by Detroit Public librarian and Chief of the Cataloging Department Adelaide F. Evans;
  • “Racial Organizations with Educational Programs”, by Foreign Language Information Service Chief of the Division of Individual and Organization Service Marion Schibsby;
  • and “National Organizations that Promote Americanization and Inter-Racial Understanding”, compiled by Massachusetts Federation of Women’s Clubs Department of Americanization Chief Mrs. Charles H. Danforth.

The first pamphlet of the series, first published in 1924, The Polish Immigrant and His Reading, by Cleveland Public Broadway Branch librarian Eleanor E. Ledbetter, is a 40-page guide to Polish immigrants’ library needs. This work is divided into two sections: “The Polish immigrant and his reading” which is a series of short essays on Polish immigrant culture, history, literature, and immigration history to the U.S.; “Suggested list of titles for a beginning collection in the Polish language” which is a series of short book lists of Polish language reading materials organized by genre.

The second pamphlet of the series, published in 1925, The Italian Immigrant and His Reading, by Cleveland Public Alta Branch librarian May M. Sweet, is a 64-page guide to Italian immigrants’ library needs. In fact, in the pamphlet’s forward, researchers will read that the time of publication, May Sweet had been working with Italian immigrants for twenty years, and she took it upon herself to learn Italian–which she even used to personally evaluate every book in the book list. Like the previous pamphlet, this work is divided into two sections: “The Italian immigrant and his reading” which is a series of short essays on Italian immigrant culture, history, literature, and immigration history to the U.S.; “Suggested list of titles for a beginning collection in the Italian language” which is a series of short book lists of Italian language reading materials organized by genre.

Seven years later, the author produced a supplement Italian Books for American Libraries too. The 35-page supplement also includes an essay describing contemporary challenges facing Italian booksellers and Italian bookbuyers, to aid librarians building Italian libraries.

The fourth pamphlet of the series, published in 1929, The German Immigrant and His Reading, by St. Louis Public librarian Melitta D. Peschke, is a 32-page guide to German immigrants’ library needs. This pamphlet is unique, because while it does not include a table of contents and forward, the first section begins written directly to the reader, describing the challenges and benefits of growing up in a multilingual American childhood. Like its predecssors, this work is divided into two sections: “The German immigrant and his reading” which is a series of short essays on German immigrant culture, history, literature, and immigration history to the U.S.; “Suggested list of titles for a beginning collection in the German language” which is a series of short book lists of German language reading materials organized by genre.

In four installments, the Committee on Work with the Foreign Born produced a series of carefully compiled resources for American librarians working with growing diverse immigrant populations. The Committee continued to advocate and support immigrants for an impressive thirty years, from the end of World War One through the end of World War Two. Library resources like these help readers understand how American librarians have historically responded to the needs of their library communities and the ever expanding story of library access in United States.

Copies Available at Your ALA Archives

Physical copies of early Library Work with the Foreign Born committee publications are available for viewing at the ALA Archives. Please view the Record Series 29/45/14 database record entry, for more information.

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