A Toast to the Past Century
by Andrea Kross
In the not so distant past, I was a professional student. In those eleven years,the professor who made the biggest impression on me was Dr. Christopher Gordon-Craig in the English department at the University of Alberta. Three things stand out in my memory. First, Dr. Gordon-Craig taught us to abhor "firstly" because pretty soon you're up to "tenthly," which inevitably leads to"twenty-fifthly," which is simply absurd. Second, he told us fascinating stories about the inner workings of the Bodleian Library, where admission is by invitation only and the application process for getting an invitation can take a year or more (now honestly, wouldn't we all like to work in an orderly library like that?). Third, ten years ago, Dr. Gordon-Craig predicted that most people would celebrate the coming of the new millennium on New Year's Eve, 1999. The true millennium begins in January 2001, he declared: we don't begin counting with zero when we count anything else, why should we do so with centuries? So he told us that at midnight on 31 December 2000, he would be quietly having a glass of champagne to toast the new millennium. In the next two issues of Virginia Libraries, we join Dr. Gordon-Craig in a toast to say goodbye to the old century and hello to the new.
The Virginia Library Association will celebrate its ninety-fifth birthday on December 6th. On that date in 1905, a group of librarians met at the State Library in Richmond at 8:00P. M. , where they drafted a constitution: "We, citizens of Virginia, believing that library facilities are necessary for the education and culture of the people and that libraries are as important as any branch in the great system of public education, do hereby organize ourselves for the promotion of a closer intercourse among librarians and all interested in library working Virginia and to further library interests in general . The name of this organization shall be 'The Virginia Library association. '"1 State Librarian John P. Kennedy was the instigator and he became the association's first president. In February 1906, the association boasted twenty-seven members. After five years of regular meetings and one meeting in 1912, the association almost disappeared, but it was reorganized and conjoined with the Virginia Educational Association in 1922. In 1925 VLA regained its independence and regular meetings have been held in various parts of the state since then. The longest tenured president was Jack Dalton, who kept the organization going from 1941 to 1945 when the government banned unnecessary meetings and when there were few other librarians left in the state to do the work or run for office.
The first request for state aid for rural libraries was drafted by a VLA committee headed by VLA President Earl Gregg Swem in 1927. This bill requested $25,000 for each biennium, 1928/29 and 1929/30, to meet the levels of funding given by Virginia's neighboring states. The bill was defeated. It was not until 1942 that a bill was passed giving state aid to public libraries, but only to those meeting standards established by the State Library Board.
When the American Library association recommended that each state develop county library systems, VLA lobbied to make this a reality in Virginia. The state was appropriating $15,000 a year in 1929 to develop county library systems, an amount far below what was needed. Local communities raised additional funds through radio programs and announcements in movie houses, and by charging patrons for using the library. In 1955, there were still sixty-six counties in Virginia that did not have libraries.
Throughout its history,members of the association have lobbied for a library science graduate school in Virginia. As early as the 1920s, legislators turned down VLA's request that the government support the Geereport, which recommended the development of a graduate program in librarianship in Virginia. At the time, undergraduate courses in library science were offered at several Virginia universities. In 1948 the graduate school idea was debated again, this time defeated by VLA members. VLA offered to support the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's graduate library science program in 1980, and fifteen years later that university offered a distance education program for its master's degree in information science. Distance education is still the only choice for library school students who choose to stay in Virginia, but in recent years nearby universities offering graduate programs such as catholic University have coordinated with Virginia universities so that students can take most of their courses in Virginia.
VLA held its first conference on 3 March 1923 at the Norfolk Public Library under VLA PRESIDENT Mary D. Pretlow, who was also the host librarian. How appropriate that Norfolk was also the site for the last conference in this century. For many years, conferences were held in one of two locations: Roanoke or Richmond. After the 1945 annual conference when the association could not hold integrated meetings for all of its members in the hotel it had booked and had to move to the nearby Second Baptist Church, VLA resolved to hold conferences only in locations where people of all races were welcome. Sadly, this limited the choice of hotels to two for many years. In 1973 the annual conference was first held at the Homestead, the beautiful mountain resort in Hot Springs. This location appealed so much to VLA's members that conferences were held there almost every other year for the next two decades.
Virginia Libraries was published from the mid-1920s to 1932. Its last issue (Vol. 4, no. 4, January 1932) included a bibliography on the recent economic tail spin and suggested that libraries collect clothing and provide meeting space for unions and the unemployed. It was not until April of 1943 that the Extension Division of the State Library published the first issue of The Virginia Library Bulletin. In 1954, it was replaced by the bimonthly Virginia Librarian, which became the quarterly Virginia Librarian Newsletter in 1976. In 1984, its editor, Alan Zoellner,expanded it to a journal format. The title was shortened to Virginia Librarian in 1986, changing to Virginia Libraries in 1995.
If you've ever wondered why VLA has been so adamant about saving a year's operating budget, it all began in 1980 when VLA was audited after hiring Publishers Services,Inc. to fill the vacant executive director position. This audit revealed that there were severe financial problems requiring a new financial accounting system, and that it would take several years to get back on track. In 1993, VLA faced another financial crisis when membership benefits cost more than the membership dues generated, and conference revenues shrank. Anew financial plan was developed in 1994 which saved the organization $12,000. This year, VLA successfully reached its goal of holding in reserve one full year of operating expenses.
Other firsts of interest:
- The first Jefferson Cup award was given in 1983 to Milton Meltzer for his book the Jewish Americans: A History in Their Own Words 1650-1950.
- In 1987, the first issue of the VLA Newsletter was published.
- The first Virginia Library Legislative day was held in 1990; that same year a bill was passed in the General Assembly which created Virginia's Library week.
- The first VLA scholarship was awarded to Tommie Jo Brown in 1991.
This has been an exciting century for the Virginia Library Association, though it has been challenging at times to meet the goals set out for the association nearly one hundred years ago. As we continue to look at where we've been and what we've done, we need to congratulate ourselves for the many positive steps we have taken as an association. VLA accomplished a lot in the twentieth century. To the past!
1From the account written by Henry James, Jr. titled "Milestones in the evolution of VLA 1905-1980," which first appeared in the conference program for the 1980 Virginia Library Association Annual Conference to mark VLA's 75thanniversary.
James, Henry. "Milestones in the Evolution of VLA 1905-1980. " VLA Conference Program, 1995 Annual Conference.
"Presidents and Conference Sites: Virginia Library Association. " VLA Conference Program, 1995 Annual Conference.
Trask, Sue. "1980-1995:A Brief Stretch of Road on the Information Highway." VLA Conference Program, 1995 Annual conference.