Today the District of Columbia prides itself on its school library system. Librarians and library services are available to students in all of its public schools, elementary through senior high. This was not always the case. Not very many years ago only the senior high schools had them. Libraries in the lower grades were for the most part makeshift affairs, often comprising only a few shelves in one of the regular classrooms and staffed by parents or substitute teachers. It took years of battling to get sufficient funds into the District's budget before the present level of excellence was achieved, and our Guild was in the front lines all the way.
The subject of school libraries was brought to the Guild's attention in the spring of 1959 by Katherine Scrivener, then Director of D.C. Elementary Education. After describing the serious lack of books, libraries, and librarians in the District schools, Ms Scrivener suggested that the Guild might do something to awaken the public and the elected officials to this pressing need.
The Guild responded. Immediately after that luncheon, four members--Will Barker, Barbara Nolen, Dagmar Wilson, and Hazel Wilson - held a meeting to consider possibilities. Later a number of concerned individuals and city-wide organizations were invited to join them and together work on the problem. The result was formation of the Action Committee for Public Schools, which operated for seven years, 1959 to 1966.
Every year was a struggle, but the Committee was indefatigable. Membership fluctuated from year to year, sometimes as few as thirty, sometimes as many as sixty. Volunteers all, their efforts financed wholly by themselves, they kept a constant stream of information flowing to the public through every available channel: news releases, newsletters, pamphlets, and graphic displays.
The newsletter, edited by Barbara Nolen during its entire existence, was sent free of charge to as many as five hundred individuals and groups: Board of Education members, school administrators, school principals, PTAs, home and school organizations, civic associations, editors, and friends of libraries. It provided a running account of the Committee's major activities, its legislative program for getting librarian positions and funds into the local budget, the efforts of the volunteers to establish libraries in individual schools, and expressions of school library philosophy.
Of the greatest importance for later developments was the Committee's presentation of its views at budget hearings before the Board of Education, the District Commissioners, and Congressional Committees, stressing always the need for money, money, and more money to hire librarians and buy books.
The Superintendent of Schools, in a statement before the House Committee on D.C. Appropriations, paid tribute to the Action Committee as having been, under the leadership of Barbara Nolen, "unusually effective in providing library improvements in the District of Columbia School System." Barbara also received awards from the D.C. Education Association and the American Association for School Libraries.
Slowly the necessary support was given and funds provided, first for the junior high schools and finally for the elementary grades. Then, after seven years of unremitting labor, its goal reached, the Action Committee closed up shop, a shining example, if ever there was one, of the influence that can be exerted by concerned citizens of any community.
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The Guild also took part in the crusade to have a consultant in children's literature appointed to the staff of the Library of Congress. The Library had, among its many collections, a wealth of materials - books, catalogs, periodicals, and other relevant matter pertaining to the history and the development of children's books throughout the world - and it was felt in the children's book field that these were not being used to their greatest advantage.
Acting jointly with such organizations as the American Association of University Women, the American Library Association, and the Association for Childhood Education International, the Guild petitioned the Librarian of Congress, at that time Dr. L. Quincy Mumford, to establish the position of Consultant, pointing out that it would greatly facilitate the best use of the materials which were available for research and reference.
Dr. Mumford was in favor of the new appointment but was up against the inevitable question of finding money to pay for it. However, one way or another, this problem was solved, and sometime in 1962 sufficient funds were on hand so that the following year Virginia Haviland came down from Boston to set up the Division, now flourishing as the Center for Children's Literature.
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The Guild enjoys a special relationship with the Cleveland Park Branch of the Public Library, where children's books are housed in the Catherine Cate Coblentz room, named in honor of our first president who lived and worked in that area. This was appropriate, states the program distributed at the library dedication, "not only because she left a rich heritage for young readers in her many books, but because of her tireless efforts in behalf of this new branch."
In 1955, when the library was two years old, a lasting tribute to Mrs. Coblentz, in the form of ten beautiful panels executed in intaglio relief on glass, was installed on the walls of the children's room. The subjects - all from her books - reflect the basic ideas of liberty, beauty, and tolerance which run through her writings. The designs include illustrations by Guild artists: Janice Holland's The Blue Cat of Castleton and Hilda Van Stockum's The Bells of Leyden Sing and The Beggar's Penny. The panels were the joint gift of the Cleveland Park Community Library Committee and the Connecticut Avenue Citizens' Association.
It is the Guild's practice to contribute a sum of money to this branch library for the purchase of books in memory of its departed members. These books are identified by a handsome bookplate also designed by Janice Holland.
Continue to VI. A Medium of Contact