History: The More Things Change…
An article from Bay State Libraries

The Massachusetts Library Club, the predecessor of the Massachusetts Library Association, was founded on October 22, 1890, at the State Library in Boston.  Inspiration for its establishment came from the American Library Association’s 1890 meeting in the White Mountains, where the President, Mr. Crunden, the Librarian of the St. Louis Public Library, recommended that each library have its own association.  The ALA had been founded, as we know, at the suggestion of Melvill Dewey in 1876, and during its first twenty-five years Massachusetts librarians had been presidents for eighteen years: Justin Winsor of the Boston Public Library and Harvard; Samuel S. Green, librarian at Worcester; William I. Fletcher of Amherst College; Herbert Putnam, Librarian at Boston; and William C. Lane of the Boston Athenaeum and later librarian at Harvard, as well as William Friedrich Poole who had been librarian of the Boston Athenaeum. 

In response to a call from Charles Ammi Cutter of the Boston Athenaeum and the informal group of 13 librarians who had met at the State Library, eighty-two librarians met and formed the state organization.  A constitution was soon adopted, and the first president was Cutter, the inventor of the Cutter classification, which came to be used by a number of libraries in Massachusetts and across the nation.  (The Boston Athenaeum and the Watertown Public Library are among those still using it.)

Early concerns of the Massachusetts Library Club were basic: circulation systems; vandalism and theft; book circulation for large and small libraries.  Meetings were held in such diverse places as Stockbridge in 1929, Jamestown, Rhode Island (membership was extended to librarians in Rhode Island as a satellite of Massachusetts!); and on the Isle of Shoals, Maine (1920).  In Swampscott in 1921 the Association held a joint meeting with the American Library Association.

The Massachusetts Library Club Bulletin first appeared in 1911 during the Presidency of Robert K. Shaw and was published in Fairhaven, where the secretary, Drew B. Hall, was Librarian.  The first issue announced a forthcoming meeting to be held in the “beautiful new building” in Brookline.  New buildings, incidentally, held the same interest for librarians as they do today: in 1900 a meeting was held at the new building in Providence, and meetings followed at such other new libraries as Pawtucket, Brookline, Springfield, Somerville, Malden, Waltham, Camp Devens and Amherst.

In September of that year the editorship of the Bulletin past to John G. Moulton; in subsequent years, under various editorships, the publication attained considerable national prominence. The Bulletin became the Bay State Librarian in 1956 and in 1962 won the H. W. Wilson Library Periodical Award under the editorship of John N. Berry, III.

The Massachusetts Library Club was incorporated under the laws of Massachusetts in 1924.  The purpose was declared to be “the promotion of library service and librarianship, the advancement of education, and the assistance of needy librarians.”  From its organization meeting in 1890, with a membership of 82, the MLC and MLA grew to a membership of 1122 in 1940 and now in 1974 boasts a membership of 1065.  The lower current figure is perhaps a result of two factors: scrupulous weeding of the membership files instituted in the last few years and the higher financial commitment required by a graduated membership fee begun in the 1960s. 

One of the Association’s recent concerns has been to extend membership into all types of libraries and to all types of librarians.  Back in 1898, under the presidency of Mr. Tillinghurst of Harvard, there was discussion of making a special effort to extend membership to small libraries.  It was voted that any local library club in Massachusetts or Rhode Island desiring affiliation might be represented, and pay an assessment of five cents per member.  Fourteen clubs and associations became affiliates, from the Bay Path Library Club to the Western Massachusetts Library Club (founded by John Cotton Dana), and including Special Libraries Association of Boston.

The recent intensive effort to include representative librarians from different types of libraries, different age groups, and from all geographical regions is not a new one.  In 1904, Miss Margaret McGuffey stated, “The great trouble with the Massachusetts Club in its present condition lies in its unwieldiness…the time has come when certain results will be marked: either the Club will break into smaller clubs with little or no connection with one another – or there must be immediate and concerted action, to keep a continuous and binding interest in the present organization which will hold the state together as one in its library relations.”  (The Library Club and Small Libraries, a paper read at the Greenfield Meeting of the MLC, June 16, 1904, by Miss Margaret D. McGuffey.)

Many other concerns of librarians appear with some degree of frequency during the early years of the Club and the later Association.  Library cleanliness was one of the simpler ones.  In 1891, at the meeting held at Clark University, “Mr. Cutter started a discussion on HOW TO KEEP LIBRARIES CLEAN.  His former method was to use a feather duster and open window, but this left most of the dust in the building.  (Ed. Note; here he seems to be talking about cleaning books.)  A later plan was to use a common washtub, covered by a cloth arranged in the form of a tent, the tub being filled with water, and the tent dampened.  The books were introduced through a flap in the tent and brushed or beaten together.“ (From Daugherty’s Fifty Years of the Massachusetts Library Association, pg. 9.)

Keeping a library clean, among other responsibilities, was also discussed as being a duty of library trustees.  In her report of the Gloucester meeting of the Club in July 1911, Miss Lalia McNeil quoted Prof. Z. W. Coombs of Worcester who said that “trustees should be responsible, interested, free from all tendency to graft or favoritism in appointments, should show no political or religious bias, and should regard public office as a public trust…”  Miss Alice G. Chandler of Lancaster, speaking especially of small towns where the income was from $15 to $100 a year, said “Almost anyone if told that the small sum mentioned must include a room, light, fuel, salary and books, as well as provide for repairs and deterioration, would feel like retiring from the contest, but if the room is already provided, the trustee’s duty in regard to it is a simple one.  It should be kept clean, and made as attractive as possible; the ceiling should be white, the walls covered with clean paint or paper, the stove kept black, and the floor swept, even if the trustees have to do it themselves.” (The Massachusetts Library Club Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 4, July 1911.)

As might be expected in those early days, cataloging was discussed, but perhaps of more interest to today’s librarians is the following paragraph from the 1892 meeting at Boston University: “They discussed the form of author’s names, which they felt should be in full on the title page.  Mr. Jones suggested (that) a woman must also add the name she expects to have when she marries!  Mr. Houghton favored taking one name and keeping it, whatever happened, letting domestic arrangements take care of themselves.  Some lamented using full names on all cards, as Ernest August Karl Johannes Leopold von Sachsen Coburg-Gotha.”  (Dougherty, pg. 14)

Censorship has been a concern of the MLA throughout its history.  At its Lenox meeting in 1929, the following resolution was adopted: “That the Massachusetts Library Club, while firmly opposed to the circulation of obscene books and pictures, believes that the emphasis should be laid on the spirit and purpose, rather than the letter, of a book.  Increasing freedom of speech has brought greater frankness into many good books.  The Club recommends amendment of the existing Massachusetts law on the subject so that in passing judgment, not merely isolated passages but the entire contents of a publication shall be considered.” (From Report of the Lenox Meeting, October 17-19, 1929.)  In 1944, when Emerson Greenaway (then at Worcester) was President, the Association unanimously adopted a resolution submitted by Harold A. Wooster of Newton protesting “police censorship or ‘banning’ of books by threat of prosecution and a bookseller’s agreement to withdraw from sale any book thus threatened.”  He described such methods as “arbitrary, irresponsible (and) extra-legal in nature.”  They not only defeat their “purpose by arousing prurient interest and public resentment” but lend themselves to “intolerance, abuse, injustice, error, and infringement of the right of adult readers in the Boston area to read books which on a national basis are considered wholesome, valuable and even of outstanding merit and significance...”  (From Minutes of the 1944 Meeting, Philip McNiff, Secretary.)  This motion was precipitated by the action of police against bookstore owners in Boston, and while the case of STRANGE FRUIT was still before the courts.  On many later occasions, the Massachusetts Library Association has come out strongly against censorship, and has recently worked with the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts to obtain passage of an enforceable obscenity statute to replace the one declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court.  An Intellectual Freedom Committee was formed in 1962 to protect the rights of readers.  In order to preserve the rights of individual librarians, the Association approved in 1972 the formation of a new Ad Hoc Committee on Professional Rights and Responsibilities, whose duties have now been assumed by the Intellectual Freedom Committee.

Since World War II, when librarians discussed problems of security and information leaks to the enemy, the Association has placed great emphasis on professional standards.  Regional library service had been introduced to the (then) Division of Public Libraries; the first bookmobile lent to the Division by MLA began operating in the Pittsfield region in 1940, and Catherine Verxa, the WPA State Supervisor, noted in the MLA Bulletin that regional library activity was built on a pattern of local libraries.  This inter-dependence sparked a plan designed to provide standards of librarianship in the Commonwealth “as a means of classifying librarians in respect to their training and experience, for the benefit of library boards employing librarians for all positions of professional grade.”  (MLA Bulletin, January 1941)  Four grades of certificates were issued by the Board of Library Commissioners, and with revisions, this practice has continued until the present.  The plan was administered for a time by the Committee for Library Standards of the MLA, and each issue of the Bulletin included the names of those who had been certified.

The program of state aid to public libraries, enacted into law in 1960, started a new period of public library development in Massachusetts, the details of which have been described in articles published in the Bay State Librarian, beginning with an article by V. Genevieve Galick in July, 1964.  A representative of the Board of Library Commissioners has regularly attended Executive Board meetings and the Association has introduced and supported legislation to strengthen public libraries through direct state-aid grant.  It has also supported the development of the regional library systems and has endorsed standards for professional and non-professional librarians.

The MLA early in the ‘40s formed a Committee on Public Relations and one on Radio, encouraging local librarians to use the media to bring libraries to the people.  The winter meeting in 1943, in the middle of World War II, anticipated “the library of the future as using pictures, documentary films, and television records for reference, circulation, and display purposes.”  At the same meeting, Freeman Lewis, a publisher of paperback books, described this “new technique of publishing inexpensive books,” and said that the books are aimed to attract the pleasure seeker, (and) the bus and train riders.”

Important in the history of the Association was the work of the Planning Committee, which made recommendations for the reorganization of the Association in 1964, and also submitted a report to the Massachusetts Education Study (which resulted in the Willis-Harrington Act).  Unfortunately, the study largely ignored public libraries in its report, but continued implementation of standards through ESEA funding resulting in the improvement of school libraries, one of its recommendations.  The By-Laws of the Association have been revised several times in recent history, and I will not recapitulate them here.  From the perspective of history, they will probably reflect the concerns of present-day librarians to those of the future, who may read our story with amusement.

In this history I have purposely spent little time on recent history, with which our members are familiar through our Annual Reports.  One does, however, gain from the old reports an insight into the professional concerns of our colleagues of the early days of the Association.  Their problems were, perhaps, much the same as ours.  If only we could go back to 1937, when plans were being made for the Annual Meeting in Plymouth.  We read (from the minutes of the Executive Board): “When Miss Masters arrived, she submitted the menu offered by Hicks, caterer of West Lynn, price $1.00 to include tips, to consist of a main dish of filet of beef, lobster salad, and the usual ‘fixings’.”  Having served as program chairman in the past, I am sure that if we could get that same menu at that same price today, we’d have some happy participants in the conferences of the Massachusetts Library Association.

Sigrid Reddy, President 1972/1973 and Librarian, Watertown Public Library

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