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30 Vintage Photos of People in Libraries

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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 Helping People 

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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.

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Until 1976, blind children had their own schools and libraries with books written in braille. Blind children collect books from the braille library at the Berlin Institute for the Blind, 1920. 

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

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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.

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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.

Checking Out the Books

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Not all of a librarian’s duties involve directly 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

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A woman inspects a map bigger than she is. The giant book was loaned for an exhibition at the Manchester Central Library in February, 1937. 

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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.

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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

See Also: 24 Awesome Librarian Tatoos

Groups of Librarians 

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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.

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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 who 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.

Librarians Posing 

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

Around the World 

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Librarians at El Azhar Mosque at Cairo in 1950. 

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Russian refugees look for books at a compact Russian library in Paris, 1906. 

Interiors

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The inside of the Gladstone Library in 1920. If you find yourself completely engrossed in a book, you can always stay the night. 

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Karl Marx was a frequent visitor of this enormous library known as the Reading Room in the British Museum. Picture taken in 1925.

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An inside peek at Mudie's lending library in 1910. 

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Here is the gorgeous personal library of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, circa 1930. 

Hard at Work

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The House of Commons Library in London has adopted the saying, "contributing to a well-informed democracy." Here are some men working to do just that, November 1919.

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A woman sorts photographs at the Keystone Press Agency picture library in 1951. 

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A librarian in the (at the time) new National Central Library places books into a dumbwaiter to transport them to another floor. The Carnegie United Kingdon Trustees poured $50,000 into the library, which was a lot of money back in 1933.

Students

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A librarian explains the progress of the war to schoolchildren at Roath Library, Cardiff, November 1939.

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Libraries often double as an art gallery for young students' creations. See children gather around a student-created model of Battersea Fair displayed in the Beckenham Central Library. It took the hard work of four Beckenham students to create in 7 months. 21st November, 1952. 

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1955: A student leafs through a book in the Bennet Library at the Wyoming Seminary, a prep school in Northern Pennsylvania

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A young boy repurposes a pile of books as a step ladder to reach a higher shelf at the Police Athletic League library in 1955. The library was designed to provide children with recreational activities to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. 

Bonus: A young boy checks out a book from the mobile library in 1955. Mobile libraries and book mobiles are still around, transporting books to retirement homes and areas with no library. 

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Artist Makes Colorful Prints From 1990s VHS Tapes

A collection of old VHS tapes offers endless crafting possibilities. You can use them to make bird houses, shelving units, or, if you’re London-based artist Dieter Ashton, screen prints from the physical tape itself.

As Co.Design reports, the recent London College of Communication graduate was originally intrigued by the art on the cover of old VHS and cassette tapes. He planned to digitally edit them as part of a new art project, but later realized that working with the ribbons of tape inside was much more interesting.

To make a print, Ashton unravels the film from cassettes and VHS tapes collected from his parents' home. He lets the strips fall randomly then presses them into tight, tangled arrangements with the screen. The piece is then brought to life with vibrant patterns and colors.

Ashton has started playing with ways to incorporate themes and motifs from the films he's repurposing into his artwork. If the movie behind one of his creations isn’t immediately obvious, you can always refer to its title. His pieces are named after movies like Backdraft, Under Siege, and that direct-to-video Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen classic Passport to Paris.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of Dieter Ashton

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The Hole Story: A History of Skee-Ball
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In the early 1900s, the thing Joseph Fourestier Simpson desired most was to create something people respected. A career hustler—real estate agent, cash register salesman, and railroad clerk were just a few of the many jobs he held—Simpson longed to invent something he could patent that would have lasting appeal.

A handful of his inventions made minor waves: He perfected an egg crate that could protect shells during bumpy transportation routes, and created a new kind of trunk clasp that kept luggage tightly shut. None of it made him rich, but one invention in particular would at least gain him some national recognition. It was a ramp that could be set up in arcades and amusement parks, a kind of modified form of bowling that allowed players to lob a wooden ball over a bump and into a hole with a pre-assigned point value. He dubbed it Skee-Ball after the skee (ski) hills—and especially the ski jumps—that were then becoming popular in American culture.

Simpson filed for a patent in 1907 and received it in 1908. Later, he would see his Skee-Ball become a popular and pervasive attraction along the Atlantic City Boardwalk, in Philadelphia, and across the country. But Simpson wouldn’t see any profit from it. In fact, he'd suffer financial ruin. Even worse, history would become muddled to the point where most people wouldn’t even realize it was Simpson who had invented it.

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Up until recently, it was common for accounts of Skee-Ball’s history to name Princeton University alumnus J. Dickinson Este as the man behind the game. As the story goes, Este was motivated to find an inventive birthday gift for his son in 1909 and decided to craft an alley for a small, handheld ball using lumber he had obtained from his father’s successful wood business, and Skee-Ball was born.

The problem? Virtually none of it appears to be true. According to Thaddeus Cooper and Kevin Kreitman, co-authors of the recently-released Seeking Redemption: The Real Story of the Beautiful Game of Skee-Ball, Este was the beneficiary of Simpson’s innovation, but not the innovator. The authors cite their five years of research into the game’s origins and a key discovery at New Jersey's Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, where, among other papers, Simpson’s 1908 patent for the machine resides.

“The history has become really muddled, at least on the internet,” Cooper tells Mental Floss. “Este, for one thing, didn’t have a son in 1909. He had twin daughters, much later on.”

Accounts seem to have conflated two different events: Simpson’s invention and Este’s later acquisition of the Skee-Ball business. After Simpson noticed the amusements industry taking off, he invented and patented the device; he and his partners, John Harper and William Nice, started marketing it to potential operators. None of the men were marketers, however, and they were never quite able to adopt the kind of salesmanship nor the resources needed to make Skee-Ball a household term. “It was your typical start-up problem,” Kreitman says. “They had the idea but not the money.”

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Simpson’s pockets ran dry; by 1911, he had even lost his house and was staying with friends. Este, who had been playing and enjoying the game in Philadelphia, rented some space near Princeton and installed a handful of alleys. When he saw that students were tripping over themselves to play, he decided to make a substantial investment—about $30,000 to $50,000 in today’s dollars—in the game. By 1914, he owned all rights and began an aggressive marketing effort using his wealthy family’s connections in the Pennsylvania news media.

“It was aggressive,” Cooper says. “You’d see ads with actual photographs, which was rare for amusement ads at the time. The copy would say something like, ‘Everybody is playing. Where have you been?’”

The hard sell worked. Soon, outlets like The New York Times were taking notice of the Skee-Ball craze spreading from the east coast. Co-ed tournaments sprung up; in Atlantic City, people seemed to be enjoying it a little too much, with the city clamping down on “noisy amusements” operating on Sundays.

Still, Skee-Ball was becoming a hit, thanks in part to a key design change prompted during the Depression. Originally built with a 32- to 36-foot-long ramp, the machines were cleaved in half so operators could fit the alleys into smaller, more affordable venues (10 feet is now the standard length). Not having to launch the ball such a long distance helped attract more kids to the game, who—along with adults—were plunking down an endless stream of nickels so they could get their nine balls and attempt to sink them. Prizes or tickets redeemable for prizes would be awarded to winners.

By this point, Este had exited the amusements business, selling his interest to his partners. By 1935, Skee-Ball was under the Wurlitzer umbrella. The jukebox maker had realized that Simpson’s device was outperforming their music libraries in several locations.

“They thought they would make a killing,” Kreitman tells Mental Floss. “They ramped up production and produced 5000 machines in 1937 alone.”

What Wurlitzer didn’t quite realize was that the machines made in the decades prior were so durable that they rarely needed replacing. “It took them about seven years to sell their stock,” Kreitman says.

Ownership changed again in 1945, when the Philadelphia Toboggan Company purchased Skee-Ball, and didn’t pass to other hands until 1985, when a businessman named Joe Sladek purchased it. Each owner has pursued Skee-Ball as a result of its considerable longevity and appeal, even though some local administrations have occasionally taken issue with the devices and their loose flirtation with gambling.

“I know at some point in Chicago some cops came in and chopped Skee-Ball machines apart with axes, then tossed them out the back door,” Cooper says.

Ryan Basilio via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Remarkably, Skee-Ball has remained largely unchanged for the past 110 years. Cooper says that Simpson’s early concept designs strongly resemble today's machines. It’s still a very analog experience: Pitch the ball, and hope you hit a high-scoring target.

In 2016, Skee-Ball changed hands once more, this time to the Bay-Tek company. It’s estimated that more than 125,000 machines are in operation today, with many locations organizing loose tournaments. Brewskee-Ball has made a name for itself as a leading competition league. Players can—and usually do—drink while playing, with winners receiving a cream-colored jacket and trophy as proof of their Skee-Ball prowess. Like roller derby participants, they favor colorful player names like Brewbacca and Monica LewinSkee and play during “skeesons.” (Back in March, Brewbacca was the focus of an ABC News digital feature.)

While some machines dating back to the 1940s are still in operation in a few locations, Cooper says he and Kreitman have yet to come across any of the original models from either Simpson or Este.

Simpson died in 1930, living long enough to see Skee-Ball become a popular pastime but unable to reap the financial rewards he had worked so hard to try and achieve.

“He was 57 when he invented it,” Kreitman says. “He saw the success, but never saw the financial benefits.”

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