A Little Library History: 1912 Library Director’s Report

Note: An update to this blog post.

Last week was National Library Week. Our library director shared with us her predecessor’s library report from 1912. I was struck by how many of the report’s themes are still integral to today’s libraries.

Library Director's Report from 1912 - photo courtesy Carroll University Archives

Library Director’s Report from 1912 – courtesy Carroll University Archives

Authored by Amanda Flattery, who worked as college librarian from 1905-1915 and who was described as possessing “outstanding scholarship, high ideals, and ready humor” (see her obituary – page 2), starts her report by describing the the juggling of multiple duties. Sound familiar, librarians? It then moves on to the year’s major activities and issues. Here’s where I see parallels to today’s library work:

  • Creating bibliographies: Aren’t those today’s LibGuides?
  • Students unable to find desired information: Yep, even in today’s info-rich environment, this is still a hallmark of what we do.
  • A course in reference work and bibliography: That has morphed into information literacy.
  • Issues with organizing information and providing access: A key issue in the 21st century!

Below are some excerpts relating to the main themes:


“Many hours of time are required for research work for students who are ignorant of books, or unable for find information.”

“Exhaustive bibliographies have been prepared by the librarian for all inter-collegiate debates.”

Check out some of the topics that students were researching at the library:

  • Japanese social classes
  • Witchcraft in England
  • Student government at Princeton
  • Statistics on condensed milk
  • Visiting nurses
  • Hamlet’s insanity
  • National music of Scotland
  • Description of a cash register
  • Municipal aid for the unemployed
  • Headache powders

Information Literacy

“a course in reference work and bibliography has been given, consisting of lectures, with criticism of practice work done by the class.”

Collection Development

“A notable addition to the resources of the library consists of about 350 pamphlets on up-to-date subjects…prove to be excellent materials for debate work.”


“To establish cordial relations with the women of the town, the librarian has given help to different members of the women’s clubs…”

Organization of Information

“Of the 3000 vols…only 1183 had been recorded in the accession book. There was no shelf-list, and the cataloging had been done in a confused and imperfect manner. It was impossible to build upon such a flimsy superstructure. It was absolutely necessary to go back to the very beginning and make the records correct and complete.”

Consistent Core Services

Years pass by, technology changes, people come and go, but a library’s core duties remain the same:

  • Providing access to information
  • Organizing information
  • A place to learn and get help
  • Materials for your community

PDF of the 1912 Library Director’s Report.

9 thoughts on “A Little Library History: 1912 Library Director’s Report

  1. Reblogged this on Templeton Radiology Library and commented:
    Last week I attended the Washington Library Association conference, where I had the chance to chat with librarians who have been in this profession for decades. When I asked them what changes they’d seen, many of them didn’t know where to begin, but others thought the profession hadn’t really changed that much. Here’s the account of someone in the latter camp.

  2. Reblogged this on Medical Library Matters and commented:
    Here I am in the middle of writing up assignments, my head filled with marketing strategies; 4Ps; library design; metadata; information literacy and justifying the existence of the physical library. Enclosed in a university library since 8 this morning, I’ve emerged into gorgeous sunshine. A small walk though Botanic Gardens to one of my favourite spots – Conor’s Cafe. Having sat down to clea my emails, I came across this wonderful posting from Mr Library Dude, aka Joe Hardenbrook. Love the way Joe has linked it to present day librarianship. Some things don’t change. Libraries are a victim of their own branding – hard to get past the perception of a library as purely a repository of books and librarians doing nothing but shelving them, with a bit of cataloging. Thank you Joe fo posting this. Hope you enjoy it too.

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  5. this was a great find. reading it, i can see how some people would get the impression that librarians are still doing the same thing we were doing a hundred years ago, signifying a lack of growth and evolution within the profession. when i read it i see how our fundamentals and goals have remained the same. maybe the details have changed, but what the librarian *is* and what they *do for the community* have remained the same. that says to me that the profession is still a requisite part of the community.

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