History of the Michigan Chapter, Special Libraries Association — Part I
By Dianne Lee Bish, Archivist
The “Roaring Twenties!!” The time of “flappers” and bathtub gin and a host of other things! What a wild time in which to begin a new group for librarians — “special” ones, at that! But that is exactly what happened. What is now known as the Michigan Chapter, Special Libraries Association went through a three-year gestation period, and was “born” on March 14, 1929.
This first of four articles on the history of the chapter will focus on the beginnings, from the first informal meetings to the signing of the “Petition for Local Chapter in Detroit, Michigan.” Following articles will trace the development of the chapter to the present For now, let us go back in time to the 1920′s.
The first meeting of record is an afternoon session for Special Librarians which was held at the Wayne County Library Association Meeting at the Scripps Branch Library. The chairman of that meeting, Miss Maud Carabin was absent, so Miss Jane Hicks of Ford Motor Company served as temporary chairman. The special librarians at the meeting “…agreed… that an association should be organized to meet once every two months.” That was on March 11, 1926.
Nothing further about the proposal is known until August 1927 when a letter from Miss Christine H. Haller (Detroit Public Library, Business and Commerce Division) was sent to thirty-six selected libraries in the Detroit area, concerning the Michigan Library Association’s annual convention to be held in Jackson that year. Miss Haller identified herself as the Acting Secretary for the Round Table for Research Librarians and stated in the letter, “It is proposed to include on the program a Round Table discussion of some of the problems which concern particularly those librarians who are dealing with limited and special field of research…It will be the first of its king in Michigan….”
Twenty-seven librarians attended that Round Table on October 15, 1927, with Mr. Francis Goodrich, Associate Librarian at the University of Michigan, presiding. A decision was made to continue to hold such Round Tables for librarians dealing with special collections at future annual conventions of the M.L.A. A letter from Miss Haller to Mr. William Webb (then President of M.L.A.) reported the decision of the group and stated, “Mr. Bishop named it Round Table for Business and Research Libraries, for he as well as Mr. Strohm not excluding myself abhor the term ‘Special Libraries’.”
After the M.L.A. convention, a group of librarians, identifying themselves as “Special Libraries of Detroit” began announcing meetings, one on October 18, 1927 (that possibly never took place) and another on January 31, 1928 at Detroit Edison Company. The topics of the latter meeting were “Library Bulletins and Obsolescence Problems,” and the charge of $1.00 included a luncheon.
By the autumn of 1928, the group changed its name to “Detroit Group of Librarians of Special Libraries”, and a letter was sent by Grace England, Chairman, listed meetings to be held on October 16 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, on October 19 at the annual M.L.A. Convention in Lansing, and on December 5 a the Fort Shelby Hotel. A letter from Louise C. Grace (Grace and Holiday Advertising Council), designated Chairman of the Special Libraries Section of M.L.A., also announced a Round Table to be held at the M.L.A. annual convention. Topics would include public library cooperation with special libraries. Here apparently is shown a relation between the annual meetings of the variously named Special librarians group in Detroit. The currents of motion generated by both parts began to coincide an flow stronger together.
The next available information is from a letter written by Grace England on January 8, 1929, to Mary H. Brigham, Executive Secretary of the Special Libraries Association. Ms. England described the Detroit group as being “…very simple, there being no officers other than the Chairman, no dues, no secretary, ‘no nothing’ you might say.” She then explained that various libraries had been the sites of meetings, with the host or hostess librarians acting as temporary Chairmen. She further stated that affiliation with S.L.A. had come up “only casually” and that “…there is a general sentiment against anything which will in any way increase formality or add any complications to our organization.” However, Ms. England herself, Chairman of the group as a whole, believed that a more formal organization and affiliation with the national group would be to the benefit of the group. In the letter, she stated, “I have planned to bring the matter before the group at some time during the year, …presenting the suggestions to the members for their decision. There will be another meting shortly and I will writer you after that.”
No records of any meetings can be found in the Chapter Archives, but one may safely say that at least one meeting took place between January 8 and March 14, 1929. At some meeting during that time, the group voted “yes” on becoming a Chapter of S.L.A. and Ms. England communicated the decision to S.L.A.
In a letter dated March 14, 1929, from Rose L. Vormelker, Secretary of S.L.A. to Ms. England, acknowledgement of the group’s decision was made. “The next step,” Ms. Vormelker wrote, “is the formal petition (suggested from enclosed) which should be signed by ten members of the Special Libraries Association who are in your group.”
The petition itself is a simple page, devoid of ornamentation, which states: “Petition for Local Chapter in Detroit Michigan. In accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Special Libraries Association, we, the undersigned petition the Executive Board of the Special Libraries Association the privilege of organizing a local chapter of the Association in Detroit, Michigan.” In order of signing, the ten signatures of members are: (1) Caroline W. Lutz, G.M. (Later President, 1930-31); (2) Dorothy Cosford; (3) Ada M. Mosher, Detroit P.L.; (4) Ione W. Ely, Detroit P.L. (later Secretary-Treasurer, 1930-31); (5) Louise Thompson, Detroit P.L. (later Director, 1933-35 and 1940-41, and Treasurer, 1937-38); (6) Grace A. England, Detroit P.L. (President, 1928-29); (7) Donna L. Watkins, Detroit P.L., (later Director, 1936-38); (8) Elizabeth W. Bushnell; (9) Frances E. Curtiss, Detroit News (later President, 1931-32); and (10) Louise P. Dorn, Detroit Edison (later President, 1934-36). In addition to these then, five others have been listed as Charter Members: (1) Marjorie J. Darrach, W.S.U. Medical School; (2) Louise C. Grace, Grace and Holiday Advertising Council (later Director, 1932-34 and President, 1945-46); (3) Jane L. Hicks, Dearborn High School (later Vice-President, 1934-35); (4) Merle Manning, Detroit Edison (later Treasurer, 1941-43; Vice-President, 1945-47; President, 1947-48; and Director, 1948-50); and (5) Ford M. Pettit, Detroit News (later President, 1929-30, and Director, 1945-47). These individuals then were the forefathers and foremothers of the Chapter.
The formal petition was merely paperwork to be completed and returned. In her letter of March 14, 1929 to Grace England, Rose Vormelker informed her that “As your letter came the day before I left to attend the Executive Board Meeting, I took it along for official action by the Board. There it was ‘moved, seconded, and carried’ to accept the request from Detroit ‘subsequent to obtaining the necessary ten signatures.’ “ Thus, the Chapter may celebrate March 14, 1929, the date of the petition for affiliation with the Special Libraries Association, as the founding date.
During the same time (1926-29) that the group of special librarians was rushing toward the formation of a Chapter of S.L.A., other events of importance occurred. The Book-of-the-Month Club began its existence in April of 1926. Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight took place in 1927. On the lighter side, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon was made in 1928. But none of these events had such an effect on everyone in the United States as did the panic on Wall Street in the fall of 1929. This happened just as the newly formed Detroit Chapter of S.L.A. began its first year; special librarians are a hardy breed, however, and the small group continued its existence and grew during the ten-year depression that followed the stock market crash in 1929, But that’s “another story,” and will be Part II of this History.