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  • The Cover
  • Sarah Wadsworth (bio)

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The materials in the Woman's Building Library emanated from forty American states and territories, the District of Columbia, and twenty-three foreign countries, distributed across four continents.1 They included valuable manuscripts and rare books, popular, scholarly, and belletristic works, self-published volumes, scrapbooksof journalistic writing, yearbooks, cookbooks, newspapers, andmusical scores. At every stage, the development and managementof the library involved creativity, cooperation, and the occasional compromise. Its fate after the fair ended was no exception. With its parade of proprietary labels, paying tribute to Northwestern University Library, the Biblioteca Femina, the Chicago Public Library, and the 1893 World's Fair, the bookplate featured on the cover of this issue reflects something of the collection's checkered career after the Columbian Exposition drew to a close.

Although the Woman's Building Library was neither a circulating library nor a reference library, for some it was, nevertheless, in a very real [End Page 162] sense, a "working" library. During the entire six-month run of the fair the library was a hive of activity for the team of professionals hired to staff it. Together with half a dozen assistants, senior librarians Ellen M. Coe (director of the New York [City] Free Library), Mary S. Cutler (New York State Library School vice director), and Hannah P. James (of the Osterhout Free Public Library in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) made themselves available to answer questions and educate fairgoers about thecollection, modern librarianship, and the public library movement. Meanwhile, cataloger Edith E. Clarke (head cataloger at the Newberry Library) and her team of compilers attempted to document the thousands of items that amassed in the Woman's Building Library before late September.

Recommended to the Board of Lady Managers by Melvil Dewey, Clarke had obtained a leave of absence from her position at the Newberry in order to lead the cataloging effort in the Woman's Building. Clarke, a graduate of the New York State Library School, had been carefully trained in both the technical intricacies and the ideology of the Dewey system, and her substantial experience and prominent position in the field equipped her with the expertise needed to manage the library and categorize its holdings using the most efficient and up-to-date methods. Yielding, however, to a demand from the library's largest donor, the literary committee of New York State's Board of Lady Managers, the fair's national Board of Lady Managers decided not to integrate and organize by subject matter the myriad collections donated by the various state and foreign committees. Instead, the board allowed the volumes to remain clustered according to state and country of origin, an arrangement that preserved the integrity and prominence of the New York collection. Of course, the resulting geographical organization of materials was completely inconsistent with the Dewey system. Therefore, Dewey suggested that Clarke and her colleagues prepare only a shelf list of the volumes on display and an abbreviated author index to serve as a finding aid.

According to the minutes of the Board of Lady Manager's Executive Committee, Clarke actually took on a much more ambitious project that included three distinct functions. First, she was responsible for "installing, listing, invoicing, classifying, and cataloging each book." This function also included placing a Woman's Building Library bookplate in each volume. In addition, she interviewed and corresponded with the individuals responsible for the various components of the overall collection. Finally, and most impressively, she used "reference books and correspondence" to "[gather] statistics concerning each author and [incorporate] them in the Catalog."

In her preface to her List of Books Sent by Home and Foreign Committees to the Library of the Woman's Building, Clarke refers to this "card [End Page 163] catalogue of authors, classes and biographical statistics of authors which was prepared at the Library of the Woman's Building from May to August, during the Fair."2 Unfortunately, Clarke records, "the printing of that more elaborate catalogue was found too costly for present means." Moreover, not only was the catalog never printed from the cards so carefully prepared, but the card catalog itself was eventually lost...


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pp. 162-165
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