Crowdsourcing and Collaboration: 20th Century Style!

Thanks so much to my friend and colleague, Julia Skinner, for writing this guest post.  She’s a historian,  book-arts whiz, and she blogs regularly at Julia’s Library Research Blog and Modernizing Markham.  She’s also currently on the prowl for someone to publish her book on World War I-Era Libraries.


Cedar Rapids Carnegie Library
I’ve been feeling so inspired lately by all the exciting work people around the country are doing with #HackLibSchool (a collaborative effort by students to discuss library school and to share experiences and tips), and I can’t help seeing connections in other areas of my life! I just finished up a major research project on World War I-era Iowa libraries, in which I looked at 6 Eastern Iowa libraries and talked about their administrative records in the context of the statewide and national climate. I was amazed that even in an era before the Internet (or private telephone lines) librarians were collaborating and sharing resources, and using each other as inspiration!

Librarians from several of the libraries would visit each other to talk about what was going on in their libraries and share ideas — in Cedar Rapids especially, the librarian mentioned meeting with others in Eastern Iowa. She even compiled statistics about all the libraries so she could compare how they were doing! Like today, librarians also attended conferences, and they also wrote reports about what was discussed and what they learned. What’s really cool is the overlap between what they discussed then and what it discussed now — there was a lot of talk about how to improve services to patrons!

Librarians even shared with each other across state lines. Cedar Rapids Public Library had a big immigrant population, but did not have enough German and Bohemian (Czech) books to serve all its patrons. To help remedy this, the librarian frequently borrowed foreign language traveling libraries from Nebraska (traveling libraries were boxes of books sent to rural patrons on loan and then returned — it made it so these patrons who otherwise couldn’t access books would be able to!). Even when librarians didn’t leave records of collaboration between institutions, there was still collaboration among library staff. In Mt. Pleasant, for example, the librarian worked much more closely with her assistant than at any other library. Both women attended all the same meetings and participated in decision making, which made it so the assistant librarian could take over the head librarian’s role easily when she needed to! Most exciting of all to me is the same undertones of excitement, optimism, and passion that you can feel when these women talk about their work, and that’s definitely something that carries over to modern librarians.

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3 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing and Collaboration: 20th Century Style!

  1. Great post, Julia. I worked in a two-person library as an assistant myself. The librarian and I also attended the same meetings and when she was away I was in charge. A wonderful, elegant woman, Kathy, she taught me so much about work and life!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Garrett! I agree that it makes *so* much difference in the work-environment when your supervisor is willing to view you as a colleague and collaborator. I think it really opens up an atmosphere of energy and creativity, where employees feel more empowered to contribute ideas that might end up actually benefiting the library. I’ve worked in both kinds of environments — a few that have been open to collaboration, and several more that were more interested in “reigning-in” everyone. I wish every library employee a wonderful woman like Kathy to work with. :)

  2. Pingback: >Guest Post at Banana Suit Librarian! | My Blog

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