Washington, DC Chapter

Chapter History

DC/SLA: The First 50 Years (1940-1990)

Introduction

For ten years, Washington’s members of the Special Libraries Association had been going to Baltimore to attend meetings, though occasionally the meetings came to Washington. By July 1940 they were tired of traveling and wanted a chapter of their own. A small group, led by Adelaide R. Hasse and calling themselves the Washington Activities Committee, outlined plans and drafted a constitution for a Washington, DC Chapter of the Special Libraries Association.

The September 30, 1940, meeting of the Baltimore Chapter was held in the auditorium of the Potomac Electric Power Company in Washington, DC. President Esther S. Horine called the meeting to order, made a few announcements, and recognized Miss Hasse to set forth the purpose of the meeting, i.e., “to effect the withdrawal of the Washington members of the S.L.A. from the Baltimore Chapter of the S.L.A. and to form a Washington Chapter.” There was no unfriendly feeling on the part of the Baltimore or the Washington members, but there were over 90 members in Washington, they needed only ten to start a new chapter, and opportunities abounded for group special library activity. [Resolution to establish DC/SLA – Hasse speech (Sept. 30, 1940)

Elizabeth Cullen moved the adoption of a resolution to withdraw; the resolution carried. The petition she presented was signed by 49 members. The Constitution was presented, amended, and adopted. The following officers were elected:

  • President: Adelaide R. Hasse
  • 1st Vice-President: Phillips L. Temple
  • 2nd Vice-President: Dorothy Graf
  • Recording Secretary: Mary Virginia Lee
  • Corresponding Secretary: Esther Ann Manion
  • Treasurer: Ruth H. Hooker
  • Directors: Miriam C. Vance, Ellen Commons

The first order of business for the new Treasurer was to collect fifty cents from each member present to cover the cost of stationery, books, stamps, etc. until an allotment was received from SLA Headquarters. The meeting was adjourned after thanks to and congratulations from Mrs. Horine and other officers of the Baltimore Chapter.

The petition was sent to the SLA Executive Board and approved on October 26, 1940. DCSLA was born. The new Chapter met on November 18 to ratify the proceedings of the September meeting, to form committees, and to plan programs. The new Executive Board began to meet on a regular basis, setting policy, planning programs, working on special projects, and finding ways to cooperate with DCLA and other groups to promote the cause of special librarianship in Washington, DC.

The “objects” of the Chapter, as outlined in the Constitution “shall be to advance and maintain the standards and to promote the interest and activities of the library profession; to foster and develop special libraries; to provide opportunities for cooperation with others in investigations, studies, or other lines of endeavor within the field of special library work; and to encourage and correlate the library work being performed by special libraries.”

The Chapter organized itself to meet these objectives in three ways: through chapter meetings and programs designed to educate the membership on the issues of today and the technologies of tomorrow that will affect us all, through group activities designed to foster cooperation between librarians who share a subject specialty, and through committee efforts to provide services to our members and the library community at large. Chapter Notes is published to keep the members informed, printing all the news that fits.

Chapter Programs and Meetings

The first two meetings of the Chapter were primarily organizational, although there was a discussion of the LC Project on Population Studies. The first meeting to feature the speaker was held on January 14, 1941, at which Harriet M. Root discussed the U.S. Information Service; the second included a moving picture on wildlife and soil conservation, with explanation of how librarians can assist directors of documentary films; the third covered map classification. This early start set a precedent for a wide variety of topics and formats to come. Chapter programs have been presented on such diverse subjects as provision of library service in the field during WWII, civil defense, book binding, Abraham Lincoln, personnel classification and other management issues, libraries for children, and the International Geophysical Year. The first meeting on library automation — our most frequently recurring theme in 1990 — was on May 29, 1945, at which the IBM Service Bureau demonstrated a punched card circulation record control system. Other speakers have included cartoonist Herb Block, poet Eugene McCarthy, documentalist Mortimer Taube, management expert Herbert White, and many, many others.

Most years have seen at least three or four Chapter meetings, some of them cosponsored by one of the groups or by one or more of the other library organizations in Washington. Purely social occasions have ranged from receptions for new members and holiday parties to cruises on the Potomac. Most programs have been combinations of fun and information.

Groups

The Chapter has always emphasized the formation and coordination of groups of librarians with similar interests and concerns. The list of such groups and their status is shown in Table 1. Three groups started in the Washington, DC Chapter and later received Division status in SLA (i.e., Biological Sciences, Geography & Map, and Military).

Table 1 DCSLA Groups
Group Founded Status
Association of Liberated Librarians 1988 a
Biological Sciences 1945 a
Business (had been Finance, Commerce & Insurance) 1945 d, 1953
Documentation (later, Information Technology) 1961 n, 1979
Environment & Resources Management 1989 a
Fine Arts (had been Museum) 1947 d, 1953
Finance, Commerce & Insurance (later, Business) 1941 d, 1953
Geography & Map 1941 a
Information Technology (had been Documentation) 1979 a
Legislative Reference 1941 s, 1958
Military 1953 a
Museum (later, Fine Arts) 1941 n, 1947
News 1984 a
Picture 1953 d, 1989
Social Sciences 1941 a
Science-Technology 1941 d, 1977
Students, Catholic University of America 1987 a
Transportation 1947 d, 1977
University & College 1943 d, 1944
a=active in 1990; d=disbanded; n=name changed; s=absorbed into Social Sciences

While the groups are divided in their subject specialties, they have worked together in several ways and on several projects. Some of the committees (e.g., Hospitality and Nominations) are composed of representatives from each of the groups. Many meetings and programs have been joint efforts of two or more groups. For example, the Transportation Group sponsored one meeting with the Science-Technology Group on the Air Transport Association, one with the Social Sciences Group on airports in the community, one with the Business Group on railroads as businesses, and two with the Biological Sciences Group on survival on land, sea, and in the arctic. Beginning in October 1947 the groups hosted a series of “radio luncheons” on Station WOOK, each presenting a planned, rehearsed discussion of a subject specialty or special service within the libraries represented. A common theme since the late 1940’s has been automation; the Documentation/Information Technology Group has sponsored many joint meetings with other groups on the topic as well as hosting its annual Online Weekend/Online Update in recent years.

Committees

The work of the committees affects all members, whatever the group. Our first committee wrote the Constitution; the second nominated the first set of officers. In 1990 we have eighteen standing and five ad hoc committees. The following is a brief description of some of the major committees that have functioned over the years.

The Archives Committee was established in 1947 with the appointment of Jane Brewer, Recording Secretary. The archives remained the responsibility of the current Recording Secretary until 1968, when Mary Murphy, who had been in that post, staved on as Archivist when Elaine Kurtz was elected. Beginning with Miss Murphy the chairmanship has been an appointed post of indefinite tenure. Even for the time when there was no one officially in charge of the records, the documentation of the chapter’s history is remarkably intact. An almost complete set of Chapter Notes is available for use, with few missing or damaged issues; volumes 1-28, 1941-1969, have been bound, and later issues be in 1991. The archives and working files also contain minutes of Board meetings and other files, Chapter manuals, membership handbooks and directories, and other Chapter publications The files for 1940-1945 have been microfilmed and deposited at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library, Washington, DC.

The Employment Committee was formed in 1940 to help members find jobs. Miriam C. Vance was Chair of the Committee from 1944-1959, using donated office space in the American University Library long after she retired. During her tenure she found opportunities for hundreds of librarians and set the standard for matching applicants with positions. The Committee continues to coordinate applications and opportunities and lists positions available in Chapter Notes.

The Membership Committee recruits and greets new members, encourages active members to be even more active, and tries to retain members who fail to renew. Membership has grown fairly steadily from the original 49 petitioners to 103 by November, 1940, to more than 500 by April, 1946, and to more than 1,000 by March 1989. In 1941, 1943, 1958, and 1972 the Chapter won SLA’s award for the largest percentage increase in membership. DCSLA is and has been since 1941 the second largest chapter in SLA, second only to New York. But this increase has not come without effort. Promises of War Bonds, cash prizes to groups, and a cocktail party, not to mention all the benefits of membership, were made in an effort to increase the membership roles.

The Professional Activities Committee began in earnest in September 1945 with a survey of library facilities in local penal institutions; its report was incorporated into a citywide report prepared by the Council of Social Agencies. In 1947 the Committee addressed the questions of library education and career guidance. Working with vocational advisors, PTA officials, and librarians in high schools and colleges, they -.attempted to interest students in library careers. On February 15, 1948, they hosted the advisors at a recruitment tea at CUA Library School. In 1952 the Committee began working with the Civil Service Commission, rewriting the specifications for position standards for both the professional and sub-professional library series. The specifications were finally accepted in 1958.

The issue of educational requirements for membership in SLA came to a head in 1958 with the proposal to require a library degree. The Washington Chapter was united in its opposition to the change, fearing a drastic membership decline. “The Association can make a greater contribution to the profession by trying to educate the unqualified than in excluding them from membership,” wrote President Karl Baer. In spite of his and other valiant efforts, the change went into effect in 1959. The feared decline did not happen, but recruitment efforts were hampered.

Other projects of this Committee have included: reduction in binding costs for federal libraries; simplification of procedures for acquiring library materials on the Federal Supply Schedule; compilation of a roster of translators and translating services in the Washington area; subject field survey of library resources in the area; standardization of federal library forms; review of the educational opportunities available to local librarians; and cooperation in the storage and disposition of shadow collections.

The Scholarship Loan Fund Committee was established in 1941 to provide interest-free loans to students requiring financial assistance. The first loan was approved in 1948. By 1952 the Fund had grown to over $1000. The Board decided to limit the Fund to $1000 and transfer the rest to the General Fund. In 1953 SLA asked the Washington and New York Chapters to turn over the entire balance of their local Funds to the Association’s Scholarship Fund. DCSI,A denied the request; however, the Board did agree to donate $150 in memory of Adelaide R. Hasse, who had died recently. The local Fund continues to remain separate from the Association’s Fund. In September 1970, the Board changed the name to the Student Loan Fund; its purpose remains the same.

Fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Fund have included a moonlight cruise on the Potomac, a lecture series at Constitution Hall, theater parties at Arena Stage, pool parties at Kitty Scott’s home, two Book Fairs, and a non-event in which members were requested to donate funds instead of coming to a party.

The War Activities Committee was established in December 1942, with Carol Warmer, Chair. By March 1943 the Committee was collecting books for war prisoners, including the Japanese evacuees in W.R.A. settlements; maintaining a listing of bibliographies; encouraging substitutions and conservation in libraries, offices, and homes; and offering volunteer services by librarians to the Red Cross, U.S.O., Stage Door Canteen, O.C.D., and similar organizations. By June over 2,000 books had been contributed.

On October 28, 1943, the United Nations Service Center opened at what had been the Capitol Park Hotel, 500 North Capitol Street, Washington, DC, providing a place for rest and relaxation for thousands of service men and women during WWII. On May 13, 1944, DCSLA volunteers took over operation of the Library and went to work collecting donations of money, books, hometown newspapers, and magazines; they cleaned, sorted, shelved and staffed the library until it closed in January 1947. Ann Trittipo wasn’t satisfied with offering only reading material, so she took on the responsibility of providing and arranging fresh flowers and plants throughout the Center. Mr. & Mrs. Moody Martin donated flowers from their stand, and the Botanical Gardens loaned palm trees. The armed services were pleased. On March 20, 1947, Admiral Davis of the Bureau of Naval Personnel presented Certificates of Achievement to DCSLA and other organizations participating in the recreation program.

When the war was over the Committee was renamed the Community Services Committee and continued to help organizations in need of library assistance. They held book teas and card parties to raise money and book donations for the Children’s Division of the DC Public Library, the Barney Neighborhood House, Gallinger Hospital, Mt. Alto Veterans Hospital, Lorton Prison, and the Episcopal Children’s Home; organized and cataloged the medical library at Children’s Hospital; provided a magnifying glass and library management advice to the Blue Plains Home for the Aged; entertained foreign librarians visiting the United States; and collected magazines for the U.S. Book Exchange. Not forgetting the origins of the Committee, they provided books and magazines to the USO Lounge at Union Station, the Belasco Service Center, and the day room at Fort Meade during the Korean War. In 1958 the Committee changed its name again to the Services Committee. They continued their work with foreign visitors and Children’s Hospital.

Chapter Notes

Volume 1, number 1 of Chapter Notes (CN) was published on October 1, 1941, a simple” bulletin, one 8.5″ x 11″ page printed both sides, eight or nine issues per year, Helen Scanlon, Editor. Since then CN has been mimeographed, dittoed, photocopied, and commercially typeset and printed. Volumes 1-7 were copied courtesy of the National Fertilizer Association, the American Potash Institute, the American Federation of Labor, and other employers of Chapter officers. Now ten issues per year are written and edited on a desk-top computer and printed by a specialist in newsletters. The cost of CN has always been one of the Chapter’s major expenses. Beginning with volume 8 in 1948, a portion of that cost has been defrayed by advertising, Sidney Kramer Books being the first, and for several years the only, advertiser.

Finances

DCSLA finances began with the fifty-cent donations made by each founding member at the first meeting. Major funding comes from the annual allotment from SLA. Local fundraising efforts for the general coffers have included magazine subscription sales, book auctions, book fairs, and T-shirt sales. Funds are used to publish and mail Chapter Notes, to defray meeting expenses not covered by registration fees, to help pay the travel expenses of Chapter officers on official business, to cover the cost of doing the Chapter’s business, and to pay for awards, memorials, and special projects.

In 1988 the Finance Committee began to develop a long-range financial plan for the Chapter. A year later the Committee presented a detailed plan, including recommendations for changing the fiscal year, revising all aspects of the budget process, planning fund-raising activities, making better use of Chapter and group allotments, and making meetings and other programs more cost-effective. Some parts of the plan (e.g., purchase of accounting software) have been implemented; other parts (e.g., the change in the budget cycle) are still under consideration.

Cooperation with Washington Colleagues

DCSLA is one of several library- and information-related organizations in the Washington area. There has always been a spirit of cooperation between DCSLA and these other groups, especially with the DC Library Association. DCLA was already 46 years old when our Chapter was born. Indeed, there was some concern about the need for an SLA chapter in addition to DCLA. But over the years we have shared book auctions and fairs; invited each other’s presidents to attend Board meetings; tried to merge our newsletters; cohosted receptions for librarians in uniform, retiring colleagues, and newly appointed Librarians of Congress; and sponsored many joint meetings on topics of interest to all librarians. Federal standards for library and information services positions, contracting under A-76, the FBI Library Awareness Program, dissemination of government information in electronic formats, and other issues have prompted joint meetings and efforts. In 1986 we shared our annual Spring banquets, this time a cruise on the Potomac aboard the Diplomat.

The Joint Venture was a non-profit cooperative endeavor of DCSLA, ASIS, DCLA, the Biological Sciences Communication Project of the George Washington University, and the Federal Library Committee. The group was formed in January 1971 to meet the needs of the library-information science community for useful reference tools which would not ordinarily be published. Their first publication was the eighth edition of the Library and Reference Facilities in the Area of the District of Columbia, based on the earlier editions published by the Library of Congress.

The Joint Spring Workshop has been the most visible and permanent sign of cooperation between DCSLA and the other groups. In Spring 1967, DCSLA and DCLA began a series of annual continuing education workshops. Others joined the effort, and in 1973 the event was renamed the Joint Spring Workshop; there were seven sponsors in 1990. The self-supporting annual event brings speakers from across the country. Each sponsor appoints a member of the planning committee; the leadership rotates each year to assure that the interests of all groups are served.

Cooperation with the Association

As the second largest chapter in SLA and as the chapter in the nation’s capital, DCSLA is in a unique position to provide financial, strategic, and logistical support to the Association as a whole, especially since the headquarters moved to Washington, DC, in 1985. We have hosted Annual Conventions in 1948, 1962, and 1980; a Winter Meeting will convene here in January 1991. We were so enthusiastic about the headquarters move that we raised over $10,000 for the Building Fund from individuals, corporate sponsors, and Chapter and group funds. And when the staff moved in, several local members turned out to help unpack and arrange the Information Resources Center. The Center is located in the DC Chapter Room, so named because of our contribution to the Building Fund.

DCSLA’s Government Relations Committee has been a vital force in SLA since Mary Huffer was appointed the first chair in 1971. The Chair serves as the federal liaison to the Association’s Executive Board and coordinates responses involving the Chapter and other local organizations. This work provides a service to the members everywhere, especially federal librarians and those directly affected by federal policy.

The Chapter is also in a unique position to use the SLA headquarters building for the annual new members reception. Each February the SLA allows us the use of the building to welcome our new members to the Chapter and the Association.

Awards

Many DCSLA members have received awards from the Association. In 1989 the Chapter’s Board decided to establish its own awards program.

The Board of Directors’ Award will be given to an individual or a group in recognition of a special achievement or contribution to the field of special librarianship; the recipient need not be a member of the Chapter. The first award was presented to Mary K. Feldman in 1989 for her long record of service to the Chapter and her students.

The Member of the Year Award will be presented to a Chapter member for outstanding contributions to the Chapter, public service activities, assistance in professional development, promotion of special librarianship, or publication of a professional paper. The first award was given to Bill Neff in 1990 for his achievements as Chair of the Membership Committee, including an unprecedented growth rate of seven percent per year for two years and the passing of the 1000-member mark. A plaque honoring winners of this award now hangs at SLA headquarters.

Long-Range Plan

An ad hoc committee was organized in 1983 under President Joan Gervino to develop a long-range plan for the Chapter. Charged with examining both special issues of current interest and developing a plan of action for the future, the Committee made the following recommendations: development of a mission statement; design and administration of a membership survey to obtain specific demographic information and to elicit areas of interest; encouragement of member participation; improvement of both intra- and extra-Chapter communications and development of an ongoing planning structure. These

recommendations were accepted and Long-Range Planning became a standing committee landmarks in the Committee’s history include: the membership survey in Spring 1984, the development of the first formal Long Range-Plan for the Chapter with both short- and long-term objectives in 1987, and formal review and update of this plan in 1988, 1989, and 1990.

Conclusions

The Washington, DC, Chapter of the Special Libraries Association was founded in 1940 by a band of weary travelers who wanted to build “a system of superhighways through the maze of data” pouring through the city. The system they built has served its stated purpose. It has helped promote the profession, foster the development of special libraries, and provide opportunities for cooperation between libraries and for continuing education of librarians. We must continue to build, to help, to serve. We owe our predecessors no less.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the following people who granted interviews, provided background material and photographs, and otherwise helped in the preparation of this history of the DCSLA: Mary Brown, Paul Burnette, Kathryn Dorko, Evelyn Fass, Kav Grigsby, Mary Huffer, Paul Klinefelter, Charles Missar, Karen Patrias, Catherine Scott, Winifred Sewell, Paula Strain, Carol Wanner, and all the authors and editors of Chapter Notes from whom we have quoted freely.

Mary Jane Edwards and Mary B. Bonnett

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