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30 Vintage Photos of People in Libraries

June 26, 2014
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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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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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Warner Bros., IStock
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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
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Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

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