Letters from Women in Early Seattle
No notable or unusual work has been undertaken during the past year,-indeed, much of the work regularly done in former years by this department to further the growth and advancement of the library, has this year been neglected, owing to the smallness of the reference staff in comparison to the increased demands made upon it.
The "checklist of books and pamphlets relating to the history of the Pacific northwest" (undertaken last year, but not published until the early part of this year) has proved as great a benefit to the libraries co-operating as anticipated, and has already saved the time spent by this library as its share in the compilation.
No effort has been made to enlarge the "Seattle Authors' Collection" since the first active work at the start, but even the beginning made then resulted in the presentation of a number of volumes which the Library would not have acquired otherwise, and proved one of the main drawing cards to the Library during the Exposition, the interest in it still continuing unabated. The authors themselves are apparently becoming convinced that having their books in this collection is well worth their while, although the attitude of some when first approached was that the library especially should encourage home talent by purchasing them. After a tactful explanation that most of them were not reference books, and therefore could not be bought for this department, they cordially cooperated by giving autograph [sic] copies of at least one work. The idea was mentioned only to a comparative few, with whom the head of the department was acquainted, the thought being that after the collection was well started and its possibilities realized, the attention of other authors would be called to it, and the collection eventually become a complete record of the literary production of Seattle, which would serve to aid in conter-acting [sic] Seattle's reputation for commercialism. Judging by the remarks of visitors and also of the authors themselves, this collection, incomplete as it is, has proved a revelation to all. Active effort would doubtless more than triple the books in this case, with no cost to the library save the time spent in sending letters to all authors calling Seattle their home, but for certain reasons it is doubtful if this will be done.
A number of reading lists for clubs, debating classes, etc. have been prepared, not alone as an accommodation to those for whom they have been compiled, but as a saving of the time of the staff in furnishing the material desired. It requires far less time to prepare such lists, from which Pages can get the material and collect on shelves to which persons can be referred, than it does to look up something on a subject each time it is asked for.
Only two of these were printed, these because requested, though of less importance than the others, for the material for these to, "Birds" and "books for Sunday School Workers" was already well brought out in the card catalogue, and therefore did not require the research necessary in compiling such lists as "Commission plan of government", "Conservation of natural resources," etc.
In the last quarterly report mention was made of the fact that the subject work for the last month had not shown the normal increase over the same month during former years that one might reasonably expect. Hardly had the report been written before the reference subjects began coming in, from clubs, schools and individuals, both in and out of town, in most unprecedented numbers, while the reference rooms were so crowded with persons of all ages, requesting material upon every conceivable subject, that it was quite impossible to even try to serve them all. I doubt if any library ever had a more sustained rush than we had for the next two months.
Even at a conservative estimate should say that the work of this department had more than doubled during the past two years, while the staff is even less than it was two years ago, since one of the reference attendants must now devote all of his time to Document work, to which formerly but little attention was given. A great injustice is done the Library by so inadequate a reference staff, which is especially felt by the head of this department, who has almost no time for even the most necessary details of the work for which she is responsible. The reasons for the resultant consequences are not always understood by either staff or public, and the reference librarian misjudged accordingly. For the good reputation of the Library it is to be hoped that this condition will soon be remedied by the addition of at least two experienced employees, who entire time may be devoted to the work of the reference department.
This department is also sadly lacking in the most necessary equipment, although frequent requests for certain supplies have been made at intervals for many years. Lack of funds has been the reason given for not supplying these, but as seemingly far less necessary and much more costly improvements have in the meantime been made in other departments, it would appear that the head of this department had failed to convince those in power of even the most evident needs of the Reference Department, though so keenly aware of them herself. This is especially strange since she has quite the opposite reputation outside the library, to such an extent that when anything seems hopeless of accomplishment it is very frequently turned over to her, with some measure of success; a recent example of which might be quoted. In view of this it would seem that some consideration should be given her continued lack of success in this particular instance. To know the reason of her failure would doubtless prove of benefit to both herself and the Library.
In regard to the property marks in books and pamphlets belonging to this Library, which have recently been greatly changed, would like to say of present method, that, while in the main, an improvement over former way, the one objection is that there is now little to aid in the identification or prevent theft, at least of pamphlets, many of which may later prove of untold value, and which could not be replaced, if stolen. These, I am informed receive rubber property stamp only on outside cover, which is the least durable part of a pamphlet, and even when little used, is soon torn off, or could easily be removed without destroying value of pamphlet to any one desiring it. Under existing conditions thefts may go undetected for an indefinite period. There is reason to believe that even with former unnecessarily thorough system of marking, many valuable pamphlets have been lost; but as the majority of them have never been shelf-listed no inventory can be taken, and it is next to impossible to otherwise know what is missing. It would seem that a shelf list would prove of much more practical value than an accession record, if both cannot be had. Would recommend that all publications received (including public documents, library bulletins, etc presumably at present not stamped at all, because not sent to the Order Dept. where all such work is now done) have perforation stamp placed on some inside page (not tipped in) or at least that some such page receive the property stamp, if nothing more.
Before leaving the subject of pamphlets will state that it is greatly desired to place all pamphlets on the open shelves with the books (incases as at present, but smaller) but this cannot be done until some provision is made for additional shelving in reference rooms, as requested some months ago. This need of extra shelving is urgent, all shelves now being over-crowded, with no room for the new volumes rapidly coming in.
An inventory of the entire library seems particularly necessary at this time, for several reasons. In the first place none has been taken for several years, and in the second place numerous changes in book numbers, etc. have resulted in certain conditions impossible to straighten out unless an inventory is taken. Many books now apparently missing may prove to be only recatalogued, but until they can be located it is hard on the staff, at least in the reference department, since there it cannot be said that the book is out, if it cannot be found. Although the most logical time for taking an inventory is during the quieter summer months, by that time we shall probably be in the midst of re-Cutter numbering the Library, and in that case, to then take an inventory would be out of the question.
Would like to suggest that a list (on either cards or small sheets) be made of all volumes not in regular places on open shelves in Reference Rooms, and kept near the card catalogue for reference, as a substitute for the dummy system now in use; the wooden dummies proving both unsightly and bulky.
There are a number of other suggestions that occur to me, such as the need of study rooms, etc. but as this report is already too lengthy will end with the appended statistics. Unfortunately, under present arrangements no statistics can be kept of either the attendance or subject work done, although should advocate the keeping of both, were it possible.
Courtesy Seattle Public Library, Departmental Annual Reports