History of the Michigan Chapter, Special Libraries Association — Part II
By Dianne Lee Bish, Archivist
The headline of Variety for October 1929 laconically stated, “Wall Street Lays and Egg,” thus announcing heard times for the country. However, they were growing times for the newly formed (hatched?) Detroit Chapter of S.L.A.
During its first full year of existence, 1929-30 the Detroit Chapter held monthly noon luncheons, with average attendance of 35. Membership at the end of that period consisted of 14 active and 3 institutional members; one year later there were 22 active, 4 institutional members, and 21 associate members. The Chapter has continued to grow ever since.
The first Constitution and By-Laws were adopted on February 9, 1931, calling for two officers (President and Secretary-Treasurer) and three committees (Membership, Program, and Publicity). Caroline W. Lutz, President, had this to say: “With the establishment of the office of Secretary-Treasurer, I hope we shall be able to keep the minutes of our meetings. No records have been kept in other years and many a librarian would despair should she be asked for complete information regarding them….Some day some one may want to write a history of the Detroit Chapter”.
A big event for the new Chapter occurred on June 13, 1931, when “Detroit Day” was celebrated by members of S.L.A. attending the annual convention in Cleveland. On Friday, June 12, members in Cleveland boarded a steamer at 11:30 P.M. and were transported to Detroit, arriving Saturday morning. A luncheon at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club (cost $2.00) was followed by a garden party at Detroit Public Library. The evening’s entertainment consisted of a theater party and buffet supper at the Civic Theater (cost $2.00), after which weary members took the steamer back to Cleveland. Later reports indicated members enjoyed this excursion immensely, and became aware of the new Detroit Chapter.
At the low point of the Depression in 1932 (monthly unemployment averaging 12 million for the country). The Detroit Chapter continued to grow, so much that a name change was felt to be in order. The President’s report for the year 1931-32 stated that, “At the annual meeting of SLA of Detroit, the name of the organization was changed to SLA of Michigan, inasmuch as it is the only chapter in Michigan and we hope by so doing to interest business librarians out side of Detroit.” Members numbered 66 at that time, and membership was growing.
An Employment Committee had been established by 1932, to aid in placing special librarians. There were problems of members losing their jobs, and the Committee tried to help in finding new positions. The loss of jobs is also reflected in various Treasurer’s statements of that time; most balances are around $30.00.
At a board meeting on November 21, 1933, “…the Board decided that $50 was the absolute minimum on which the chapter could function….”
A “Union Serial List of Detroit” was a project much in need in the early days of the Chapter. In the Chapter year 1933-34, a report of the costs, etc., was prepared and submitted to the Civil Works Administration, but the government curtailed support of the CWA before the project could even be started. The project was tabled.
Japan began invading Manchuria, FDR began his first term of office the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, the Supreme Court voided the ban on James Joyce’s Ulysses, and the Chapter continued to grow during the early 1930′s. Meetings were held in various locations, including Greenfield Village, the GM Proving Grounds in Milford, the Belcrest Hotel, the Detroit News and others. Topics varied quite a bit, from programs on library-related subjects to programs on the activities in Europe, the Depression, and other “hot issues.
On January 24, 1935, the Chapter “…petitioned the Mayor of Detroit to endorse a budget item providing for Wednesday service in Detroit Public Library, thereby restoring six-day library week.” Apparently even then, a strong relationship between the special libraries in the area and the Detroit Public Library existed, as special librarians borrowed from DPL’s collections, and extended special reference courtesies in return.
In November of 1935, members began receiving a new publication as one of the benefits of membership. The Bulletin began publication with Volume 1, Number 1, a one-page newsy item well received by members. From this small beginning, our present Bulletin evolved into a many-paged quarterly, still well appreciated by members.
The Chapter entered the realm of state politics for the first time in 1937. At the Executive Committee meeting of March 3, “…we drafted resolutions to be sent to Lansing…” in support of State Aid for public libraries (bills sponsored by the Legislative Committee of the Michigan Library Association). A letter dated March 4 was sent to the membership at large form the Executive Committee, stating that “Any comments…will be greatly received by your President if you will telephone her at the Detroit News…by Wednesday, March 19. If we do not hear from you by that time we will assume that you approve the committee’s policy in this matter.” The letter was signed by Esther Hooper, President. The Annual Report of the Secretary reported that “…the vote returned was in favor of approval of the bills and the President ans Secretary sent individual letters to all state senators and representatives, putting the Chapter on record as supporting the bills.” (Note: the bills passed in 1937.)
An interesting bit of publicity highlighted various chapter members as Sally Woodward, WXYZ commentator, hosted a program on special librarians in July1937. “If you like peaceful routine, and a quiet life, you’d better look for something else. I hardly think you’ll find it as the desk of a special librarian,” she stated, on the air. (A copy of the transcript is available in the Chapter Archives.)
By the end of the 1930′s, as FDR was appealing to Hitler and Mussolini to cooperate in the peaceful solution of un-settled European problems on one hand and beefing up the nation’s defense budget on the other hand, and a Britain and France declared war on Germany, the chapter membership rose to over 100 for the first time (105 to be exact.) Attendance averaged 57 with 5 meetings during the chapter year 1938-39. National President Alma Mitchell was guest speaker at one of the meetings.
In late 1939, the question of S.L.A. becoming part of the American Library Association was an issue. A letter from Mary Giblin, President of the Chapter at that time echoed the sentiments of the Chapter: “S.L.A. members have worked too arduous and long to become an entity, and to submerge that entity right now, when we have become a recognized professional group that is serving trades and professions as specialists….” Ms. Giblin also put the Chapter on record as agreeing to abolish the “local members” category, by which persons could be members of local chapters without being members of the national S.L.A. The Chapter was part of the majority, and S.L.A. remained separate from A.L.A., and the “local members” category was abolished.
A move to bring the national conference of S.L.A. to Detroit in 1943 began with a resolution passed at the meeting on October 14, 1941. However, Pearl Harbor became the focus of world attention on December 7, and the country entered the war. After the first of the year, it was disclosed at a special meeting that the Los Angeles Chapter had withdrawn its invitation for the national conference because of war conditions. At that meeting on February 16, 1942 a motion was passed that the “…Michigan Chapter write the Executive Board that it believed that war effort demands made the cancellation of the 1942 convention advisable.” However, in the event that the Board decided that the plans for the 1942 conventions should be carried out in modified form, the Chapter wished Detroit to be considered as convention headquarters and assured the Board of its whole hearted cooperation.
At the next meeting on March 27, 1942, the decision of the Executive Board to “…go through with plans for a 1942 convention to be held at the Hotel Statler in Detroit from June 18-20 inclusive” was announced. George Gilfillan, then President of the Chapter, was appointed general chairman of the convention, and the tentative plans “…are for a war convention with a minimum of social activity.”
The national conference was held in Detroit, and it was strictly business for the most part. In a letter to Mildred Treat, then Archivist, President Gilfillan stated “You can enter in the archives that the Chapter put over a darned good convention and that the folks turned in as nice a bit of work as has been done anywhere.”
The Archives Committee had only recently been established in 1941, with Ms. Treat appointed as the first archivist. One of the first things she noticed, in gathering the records of the chapter, is that certain records were missing. “Did you know there are no minutes for 1940?” she asked President Gilfillan in a letter dated January 21, 2942. (Note: to this date, no minutes can be located in the archives.) However, she was successful in finding many items and starting the collection. Later on, in 1947, the archives were deposited in the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, where they may be found today.)
A May 14, 1942 report on the Union List of Serials disclosed that 4 WPA workers had prepared “…one Master card file alphabetically arranged, indicating by symbol the location of the periodical holdings of 38 libraries in metropolitan Detroit.” However, work was brought to a full stop as the workers were called away for defense jobs. The Union List was not ready for publication just yet.
By the end of the chapter year 1941-42, members were being urged to buy war bonds and were being kept up to date on members in the service. The war years had begun, and special librarians joined in the efforts at home to help the country’s efforts. The membership count of 117 would be added to in the decade to come, and the chapter would experience further growth and new activities.