Jul 122009

This is a speech given by Bob to the Library Club at Stanford in about 1926, as reported by Frances in an undated letter to her mother. The content is apparently the joint work of Bob and Frances. Although he had no formal training in librarianship, Bob was employed as reference librarian in the Hoover War Library from 1923 to 1927 while he worked on his dissertation. Frances also worked in the library for part of that time, and it may have been there that they first started spending time together (although they were also both members of the History Club at about that time). From the earliest days of their relationship they collaborated on writing projects, producing a weekly column on current events in Europe for the San Francisco Journal (Feb. to May 1924) and culminating in their sociology book What is Right with Marriage (1929).

The jokes about current trends in librarianship and the future of libraries will be familiar to anyone in the business who has heard similar discussions at conferences in the present day.

Yesterday evening we went to the Library Club dinner at the Cardinal hotel. Bob was called on for a toast. It ran like this:

I have just returned from a library convention and would like to give you a report of some of the discussions I heard there, although some of the papers read were too technical for me to follow. One paper that impressed me was read by Dr. Kilowatt, of an eastern library. While abroad he had investigated the Bibliothèque National at Paris, and had found there that fifty percent of the people using the library came there to get warm. It is very difficult to get books at a French library, and this, of course, discourages reading. In fact, the question has come up in the Senat as to whether people who cannot read should be given cards admitting them to the library, and the Senat has decided, with that sterling sense of democracy that distinguishes the French people, that it is none of the public’s business whether people can read or not.

On returning to his own university, Dr. Kilowatt observed that many of the students never came near the library. He installed couches and comfortable chairs, had soft music played in the reference room, and found, that by emphasizing the library as a place to get warm, he increased its use by twenty-three per cent. I thought this a very valuable contribution to library method.

One of the most impressive reports at this meeting was a paper by a Miss Pilsener on “The Library as a Matrimonial Bureau.” Her paper was very scholarly and I am not sure that I followed her, but the general purport was this. At all times, in all societies there has been some social device by which young people can get together and look each other over. Now Miss Pilsener, after sociological investigation dealing with her own university, had discovered that the devices originally meant for this purpose did not function properly. Dances usually follow a fixed program; automobile parties are usually made up in advance. In fact, the only place where a young man can come and make a broad, general survey, pick out the young lady he wishes to speak with and enjoy her company without interruption, is the library. Miss Pilsener had no constructive program to offer, but she felt, and I agree with her, that library staffs should be as helpful as possible in carrying out this important library function.

A very charming young woman, Miss Wedel, spoke on “The Library as a Day Nursery”. She had originally been in a public library, and on changing to university library work, had found that the freshmen behaved in much the same manner as the children who had come to her story hour in the public library. So she held a story hour for freshmen regularly in the reference room, and the surprising result was that mischief in the university was reduced by fifteen percent.

An inspiring, middle aged man, who had been in the garage business and then went into the library business, told how he had applied his motto of Service Plus to the library. It was his custom, at examination time, to send delivery boys with books to the fraternity houses, so that the boys who needed books would have them at hand. He also established the custom of employing japanese boys to go about the library serving beef tea to students who became exhausted from study.

The time is too short to allow me to report on all the valuable contributions made at this convention, and I will report only briefly on a few others. There was the suggestion that the admirable library method of covering subjects alphabetically, be applied to the curriculum, so that freshmen would study only from A to E, sophomores from E to L, and so forth. As you all know, University comes from the Bulgarian word meaning to know everything, and it is lamentably true that very few of our university graduates do know everything. By applying this thorough alphabetical method, nothing would be missed. I thought there was a good deal to what he said.

The idea was also advanced that the library method should be applied to conversation, using in this case the Dewey Decimal system. Thus one would begin the dinner-table conversation with 00.00 Bibliography, and advancing numerically would soon come to the 330′s, including the woman problem, and so on. I thought there was something to that.

The conclusions reached at this convention are worthy of mention. It was the general opinion that the library is the hope of civilization, and that the advancement of knowledge depends in large measure upon adequate library staffs with generous salaries.

They found this speech very amusing–although probably it doesn’t seem so to people not in library work. About half of it is mine. We did not write it out, however, so I have just given you a rough idea of what was said.

Note on date: the letter mentions a meeting of the “Historical Association” at which Bob’s articles on war guilt were mentioned but no job materialized. This must have happened between the publication of Bob’s and August C. Mahr’s article in the Frankfurter Zeitung (28 Feb. 1926) and his accepting the NYU job in March 1927. The “Historical Association” in question is not the AHA, which amazingly did not meet on the west coast until 1965. It shouldn’t be difficult to work out which association it was, and come up with a more precise date.

The mention of “Miss Wedel” is probably an in-joke about Bob’s friend Oswald Wedel and his wife. Oswald was a fellow student in the History Dept. and ended up teaching at the University of Arizona; he and Bob corresponded for the rest of Bob’s life.


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