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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

CWRU - School of Library Science

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 7, 2014


I was talking with a new librarian who had recently completed his Graduate Work at the Kent State University School of Library and Information Science and was surprised that in some ways his experience was the same as mine some 40 years earlier.


Yes, computers and web sites are an integral part of Library School in 2014, as well as courses online, but there were similarities between 1976 and today.


One of my mentors from a long time ago insisted that I must attend the Case Western Reserve University School of Library Science as he had studied there.  The school had been established thanks to Andrew Carnegie in 1903.


It had strong connections to the Cleveland Public Library, with many staff and department heads lecturing in the classes at CWRU.


So, after completing my bachelor’s degree at WVU, I was off to Library School.  In those days, you had to start your Graduate program in June, and take summer classes dealing with the philosophy and theory of library science prior to beginning regular coursework.


It was a hot summer in 1976, but the introductory class was held 4 hours per day, 4 days per week in the Baker Building’s small auditorium which was air conditioned.  Four senior professors from the School of Library Science took turns lecturing.


I was absolutely fascinated with the discussions about why libraries exist, and how the public can benefit from libraries.  One professor got so carried away with his lecture that he walked right off the low stage and fell to the tile floor below, but quickly bounced up and exclaimed that he was okay.


A former Dean of the School lectured on library organization and the Dewey Decimal System which turned out to be far more interesting that I could have imagined.


His name was Dr. Jesse Hauk Shera, a man in his 70s always with a gray suit who took command of the room when he lectured.  The textbook for the course, “Introduction to Library Science,” was authored by Dr. Shera along with over 300 books and journal articles that formed the basis for Library Science.


He was a fascinating professor, and we learned that he had promoted the loaning of books among libraries as early as the 1930s to make more information available to the public.  In the 1970s, he also promoted the use of computers to expand library services, a view not held by all in the field at the time.


We were brought to Columbus that summer to see OCLC, the Ohio College Library Center, which had been formed in 1967 to develop a union catalog of library holdings and produce computer-generated library catalog cards.  Today, OCLC is the largest library services company in the world, and it all began in Ohio.


My Graduate Work at CWRU included courses in science, history, literature as it related to reference sources, as well as library administration and cataloging classes.


Yes, we sat in a classroom with large typewriters with platen-holders for catalog cards and counted off the number of spaces between the author, title, and subject entry.  Believe it or not, the format I learned there remains the computerized format of an online record in 2014.


I was assigned to work in the government documents department of the Freiberger Library on campus, assigning SuDoc numbers (Superintendent of Documents) to the massive collection of publications received from the federal government.


Like all libraries where I have worked, everyone seemed to be enjoying their occupation and loved to learn the new things that land on the shoulders of librarian daily.


Unfortunately, CWRU School of Library Science closed in 1986, and even the Freiberger Library and Baker Building are gone from the campus.  Kent State University is now Ohio’s only School of Library Science.


In the 40 years that have passed, the basic theory of a public library has not changed, only the tools that we have to achieve that theory has changed.


It is an exciting new world of library service today.  Our library web site is another vehicle for the public to access millions and millions of pages of information that wasn’t available in 1976.


And yes, I love every day of work at the library as information pours over me like chocolate syrup over ice cream!