15 Vintage Photos of Librarians

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Here are some old photos of librarians showing both the diversity of their duties and the diversity of the workers themselves. All images courtesy of the Library of Congress, unless otherwise mentioned.

Helping Others

Here are a few images of librarians being their wonderfully helpful selves.

Story time duty is nothing new for librarians, as you can see in this image, taken by Jessie Tarbox Beals in 1910. A librarian is sharing a Native American legend about the Northern Lights with an audience of youngsters from a nearby Jewish school.

Librarians are vital in helping people locate and check out books. Here we see a 1941 image of two different librarians struggling to keep up with the crowd of youngsters at the Brooklyn Public Library’s children’s room.

Here’s a view from the perspective of one of the same librarians, as we see her help a young girl check out a book.

This Woodrow Wilson High School student librarian doesn’t look too excited to be learning the ropes for her new position, does she? The image was taken by Ester Bubley in 1943.

During WWII, rationing registration often took place at local schools. Here we see one such event occurring in a school library in Lititz, Pennsylvania. The school principal, M.C. Demmy, handled the registration while the town librarian, Mrs. Searle, overlooked the process and kept a watchful eye on the library itself. This image reminds us that libraries often play important roles in communities that extend beyond the simple lending of books. Photo taken by Marjory Collins in 1942.

In the Library Alone

Not all of a librarian’s duties involve helping the public though. They also must organize new additions to the collection, put back books taken from the shelves and otherwise keep things running smoothly. Here is Dr. Giles E. Dawson, a reference librarian at the Folger Library, inspecting a new collection of 9,000 rare, antique books valued at $2.5 million. All of the books were printed before 1640, and 787 of them were the only copy known to exist at the time the titles were purchased. 1938, Harris & Ewing

Remember that before television became the norm as a means of entertainment, books were a critical part of a person’s recreation. That’s why even Farm Security Administration camps developed during the Great Depression would often feature libraries, like this one at the Arvin camp for migrant workers. Here is the librarian for the small collection, as shot by Dorothea Lange in 1938.

Similarly, here is a librarian at work for the small library built for the Casa Grande Valley Farm Collective that was created as part of the New Deal. 1940 image by Russell Lee

Group Photos

Just like any occupation, librarians have a number of trade organizations to represent the interests of their profession, and many of these organizations are over 100 years old. In fact, the American Library Association has been going strong for over 136 years now, helping to fight censorship, support libraries, and promote literacy all the while. Here’s a shot of the association after a big 1919 meeting at the New Monterey Hotel in New Jersey. I’ve broke it into multiple sections so you can actually see the entire image, but if you want to see it all assembled, click this link to see the whole thing on The Library of Congress site.

This smaller group shot features members of the Special Libraries Association and was taken after their 20th annual convention in Washington D.C. in 1928. While the Special Libraries Association currently represents a number of information professionals that do not even work in libraries, at the time they differed from the ALA in that the members of this group all worked for business, government, law, finance, non-profit and academic organizations and institutions, whereas members of the ALA could work in any type of library anywhere.

Notable Librarians

While most librarians operate on a local level, a few reach national positions like the Librarian of Congress. Here is one such success story, that of Ainsworth Rand Spofford, the sixth Librarian of Congress, photographed sometime around the time his term ended in 1897.

His successor, Dr. Herbert Putnam, was relatively young when he started working in the position. Here he is around 1900.

And here is Dr. Putnam again near the end of his 44 years of service in the Library of Congress in 1939.

All the way over in Australia, in 1901, the two houses of Parliament decided they needed to establish a library where all records of parliamentary hearings could be stored. Arthur Wadsworth, Head Librarian of the Victorian Parliamentary Library, was named as a temporary librarian for the new Commonwealth Parliamentary Library until it found a permanent home – and he kept the position for 26 years. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

While it might not be as big of a deal as the Library of Congress or the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, I’m sure most librarians would jump at the opportunity to serve as the Librarian of the Smithsonian National Academy of Science. Here is the 1924 librarian in the position, Paul Brockett.
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Now, I know we have plenty of librarian readers. Is there anything else you’d like to add about being a librarian? Also, how have things changed in the profession since these images were taken? Obviously card catalogs are out and computers are in, but what other changes have been made?

And for you non-librarians, take this article as a reminder of just how important the profession is and go thank a librarian near you!

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April 27, 2012 - 6:20am
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