The South Side library was built in 1909 and was last of the Pittsburgh libraries built with funding from Andrew Carnegie. Not everyone was thrilled.
The man in charge of the 10th Street incline had not great cordiality toward the library. He insisted upon calling it ‘Mr. Carnegie’s library’ and said he would never set his foot in the place because the money was stolen from widows and orphans and etc. (March, 1913)
One of my favorite discoveries as a library manager were copies of the Annual Reports. Now, I know the words “Annual Report” don’t exactly scream CRAZYSEXYPARTYTIME, but believe it not, they are fascinating (I have read up to World War I)*. They are less formal than the current reports and often hilarious, whether intentionally or not. Librarians back in the day had no problem referring to a young man as:
…a cripple, having been run over by a car, as well as deaf and dumb…
The second meeting of the club was a horror. Dr. Campbell of the University read a paper on ‘Goethe’s Italian Tour’ which was quite the dullest thing we have had the misfortune to hear. It chiefly consisted of long German quotations very badly translated into English. Fortunately, we have an exceptionally small attendance.
Needless to say, if those little tidbits showed up in my yearly report, someone from HR would be having a sit-down with me.
When the library opened it had books in English, Polish, German, Lithuanian, Italian and Slovakian.
Well, sort of.
As proof that librarians are never, ever happy with anything, head librarian Hannah C. Ellis wrote in 1911:
The Lithuanians are not even yet so discouraged that they have altogether given up asking for books in their own language, but their hopeless manner reproaches us more than anything they could say.
In fact, for her entire tenure (1910-1915) Ms. Ellis asked for books in Lithuanian. Every. Single. Month. She was also very, very, very displeased that her library hours were cut.
Our statistics are becoming worse than sulky they are getting to be positively malicious; the only apparent cause is our curtailed service. (April, 1915)
SULKY! MALICIOUS! In case you didn’t get it, four months later:
Only a callow optimist could anticipate pleasing statistics for the rest of this year. The handicap of our retrenchments in the library combined with the rush of work in the steel mills makes a miracle the only means of rescuing our circulation. (August, 1915)
But Ms. Ellis had a sense of humor, too.
Visits in the narrow back streets and alleys are destructive to the complaisance of a laissez-faire attitude: only a sense of humor and the realization of our powerlessness keep us from joining the revolutionists. (1915)
Yes, in 1915, if you were a kid and your mom or dad couldn’t get to the library, the librarian would visit your house and get you a card.
Some of my favorite passages involve library staff.
Librarians were carried off with regularity by scarlet fever, measles, tuberculosis, meningitis, and appendicitis. Or they left to join convents. They got the worst pink eye EVER. When they got sick, they were sick for weeks and months at a time. In September of 1916, they had to completely close the children’s room because of the infantile paralysis epidemic. These reports sure make me appreciate things like penicillin and Xanax.
The spirit of the staff has been much depressed on account of the serious nervous collapse of Miss Shepperson who was obliged to leave early in the month. Because of her illness in the winter we had tried to be particularly careful of her and she was apparently remarkably well and happy when she very suddenly went to pieces. (June, 1911)
Poor Miss Shepperson is never mentioned again! Staff got FOUR weeks of vacation every year. And these weren’t the kind of ladies who stayed home and cleaned.
“Going to Europe” is an epidemic in our little staff this year. The branch librarian and children’s librarian spent their vacations in Italy and Miss Cameron expects to spend hers in Scotland. (June, 1914)
FILE UNDER KIDS WILL BE KIDS
The Children’s Room is beginning to fill up during the evenings. The street gangs come in for a few noisy moments and depart with as much disturbance as possible. A borrower who was showing a friend about was heard to say, “You’d ought to come at night, it’s fine then- the Children’s Room is full and all the children fightin’ and scrapin’ and the teacher puttin’ them out.” We think it is fine too because we’ve had a deserted room so long and we think the manners of the children will soon tone down a bit. (1910)
As far as I can tell, the children never toned down.
We were much chagrined over the treatment the younger boys gave Mr. Kamback (councilman) who came to talk to them on Washington’s birthday…As is our custom he was the given the boys quite to himself but it is the last time we will put an untried person in such a position. The boys evidently didn’t like his look, and unwisely he started out with the tale of the cherry tree- but he didn’t get beyond the start- they jeered and hooted at him and simply wouldn’t hear him and he had finally to let them go. Mr. Kamback was very polite about it and said he’d like to try again- that he knew it was his fault for not understanding them. We assured him that it was just an illustration of what a big problem we have – and he seemed sufficiently impressed with that. (1911)
The boys “didn’t like his look.” Ha!
The awful chronic dirtiness of many of the children’s hands is making a sad sight of even our newest books. It is now five months since we have had towels and this condition aside from greatly increasing the cost of replacements is very demoralizing. One of our greatest problems in this district is how to meet the careless destructive attitude of the child. Probably because he has so little of value and nothing of beauty in his home and so a low standard of decency, he does not realize the value of things. Washing facilities here are not only a protection to our books but an important educational measure. If we send even the very dirty children home to wash our circulation will suffer greatly. (1914)
The programme consisted of an address by Father Lebjiouski of St. Josephats, recitations of poetry by three young women (one quite gorgeous in pink satin and spangles) and folk stories told by Mrs. Sadowski. (1911)
I wonder what happened to “pink satin and spangles”?
Mr. Hastings was one of the originators of the club. Balzac would have found him a masterpiece. He is poor and old and ill but his love of reading makes another world for him. Since the branch opened he has read everything we have on European history and has borrowed exhaustively from central. We suspect him of knowing large parts of Gibbon by heart. (1915)
We wanted to have a German meeting this month but when we consulted Father Chrysostom of St. Michael’s about it he advised us to wait until after Easter. He is very cordial toward the library and we were very glad of the opportunity to talk with him. He evidently feels keenly that present social conditions are destroying our established ideals and that our civilization is in danger of great retrogression. The contrast between his point of view and that of our Socialist patrons is extreme- of course it is these vivid differences that make the district so interesting- and make us realize the importance of being “all things to all men.” (1912)
Finally, a poem written in honor of the South Side library.
South Side and the Library
Mary D. Lindsay
With pillars of smoke that cloud the day
And pillars of flame by night;
With thud of mighty bellows and forge
And roar of the coal in its red hot gorge,
The people we serve, pursue their lives,
Bee in the giant factory hives.
They’ve come from over the seven seas,
Out of a hundred lands,
Come with traditions and native ways,
Stories of far off horses and days,
Differing customs and language and jokes,
Living together- a town of folks.
And each has brought his hopes and fears,
His vision and great desire,
Sometimes tarnished and growing dim,
Sometimes burning a fire in him,
Humdrum living and seething thought
Strange philosophies life has taught.
And we, as is meet, must give to each
The fuel to fan his flame.
And knowing them all, make each one see
The gifts he can bring in that some degree
Will help all the others to understand
Themselves, each other, and life’s demand.
*When I get through the next 50 years, I’ll write another annual report post.
NY Resolution Update: Vegetable for January was Brussel Sprouts from Dish Osteria, which I loved. Vegetable for February is parsnips. I’ll let you know. Using this recipe. On Day 13 of hot yoga. Everything hurts.