Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Circa 1940 - How do you use the Los Angeles Public Library?

Do you remember how you learned to use the library?  Perhaps through a school field trip or a parent took you and explained the ropes.  For some people they go years between visits to a public library and have to re-learn that nonfiction is broken done (generally) by the Dewey decimal system and that fiction is shelved alphabetically by the author’s last name.  But there is more to know to get the fullest benefit of what a public library has to offer.
With that in mind, City Librarian Althea Warren compiled the Los Angeles Public Library Handbook of Central Library Collections in 1940.  The handbook served as gentle instruction on potentially daunting tasks such as obtaining a library card, finding a book in the catalog, and locating the item on the shelves.  One thing that I felt was lacking in the handbook was a reassurance that reference librarians do not bite and are there to help guide you in your search for information.  Each of these things, how to get a card, find what you are looking for, ask for help, are still obstacles for some patrons today.
There are interesting facts revealed throughout the handbook.  For example, having a phone book/city directory listing in your name, along with a photo ID, was the quickest way to get a library card in 1940.  The oldest holding specifically mentioned in the handbook is a 1535 edition of Ptolemy.  
Originally priced at 25 cents, the 60-page handbook is a fascinating glimpse into the workings of a pre-WWII Central Library.  With only two floors open to the public they packed a lot of knowledge into a small area, and each specialized department is still recognizable today.   Compare maps of the 1940 Central Library to the renovated library today.

In 1940, the first floor featured Teachers and Children’s books, Genealogy, International languages, Philosophy and Religion, Periodicals, Newspapers, the bindery, and the lecture and exhibits room.  (Today it holds the Popular library, Circulation desks, Library Store, Security, Meeting Rooms, and cafe.)

The second floor in 1940 featured History, Sociology, Science and Industry, Fiction, Literature, Art, Music, the Map room, and the California Room.  The Circulation counters were located in the Rotunda that features Dean Cornwell’s murals.  All that remains of the card catalog can be seen there as well.  (Today its the Children's section, Teen'scape and the Getty Gallery.)

Each specialized department is given several pages in the handbook.  Specific Department Librarians summarize their department beginning with where it is located within the Central Library.  Additional information given includes the (then) current total of books in each Dewey decimal subclass, certain items in the collection are highlighted, the most-used reference materials in the department are listed, and oftentimes needs or goals of the department are communicated.
Want to know more? You can read Los Angeles Public Library Handbook of Central Library Collections for yourself at the Central Library!  (Call number: REF 027.47949 L881-8 1940)

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