World Libraries, Vol. 14, No. 2, Fall 2004
The Pioneers: Carl H. Milam
Carl H. Milams major contribution to librarianship was his leadership as secretary (then the chief staff position) of the American Library Association from 1920 to 1948. He had worked in several library positions after graduating from the New York State Library School at Albany in 1909 and came to national attention in his work with the Library War Service from 1917 to 1920. Herbert Putnam, then Librarian of Congress, was the first director of the Service, but much of the daytoday work was Milams responsibility, and in 1919, Milam became director. The Library War Service was recognized as one of the Seven Sisters, along with the Red Cross, the Young Mens Christian Association, and other agencies providing quasiofficial services for people serving in the military. It was an exciting time for librarians and for the American Library Association. The Carnegie Corporation provided funding to build libraries on military bases, and librarians were enthusiastic about being a part of this effort. Milams reputation for efficiency and leadership, thus acquired, was acknowledged when he was named to succeed George B. Utley as secretary of the American Library Association in 1920.
Carl H. Milam and the American Library Association, published by H.W. Wilson in 1976, is still the major biography of Milam, and it also includes much of the history of ALA before and during his years as secretary. As the author of that work, I included a chapter titled ALAs Program for International Development (pp. 193237). Most of the following material is adapted from that chapter.
Of all the aspects of Milams work at ALA, the one for which his personal background probably prepared him least was the Associations international program. He had never been outside of the U.S. when he became ALA secretary, and most of his life had been spent in the Midwest, but he was quick to see the need and the potential for U.S. participation and leadership in international librarianship, and he has appropriately been called the catalyst that helped to carry ALA into the international field.
The American Library in Paris was established when ALA contributed $25,000 plus books, furnishings, and equipment when the Library War Service in Paris was phased out. Milams first European trip focused on the Library, when Colonel Robert F. Olds, then acting president of its board of trustees, asked him to see the Library for itself rather than to judge it all the time through the eyes of others.
The Library was the site of the Paris Library School, which existed from 1923 to 1929. Sarah Comly Norris Bogle, who served as Milams secondincommand on the ALA staff, provided leadership for it throughout that period. At first, on leave from ALA, she provided onsite direction, but later, during Mary Parsonss tenure as resident director, Bogle continued to supervise it through correspondence and occasional visits.
The primary audience for the School was intended to be French, but by 1927, 184 students from 19 countries had matriculated, although most of them were French. ALAs intent had not been to manage the school indefinitely, but to get it firmly established so that it could survive on its own. Money was always a problem. In 1926, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave $37,500 to support the school for another year, with the provision that ALA should find additional support for its continuation. Bogle attempted to get an American university to take it over, and, although there was some interest from Chicago and Columbia, funding was still a problem, and in 1929, the school closed.
An ongoing problem within ALA throughout Milams administration was that there were several leaders and several membership groups responsible for different aspects of the Associations international relations program. At one point, Herbert Putnam, who had served as ALA president in 1898 and again in 19031904, chaired a committee that focused on American representation at international conferences and protocols for library cooperation at fairly high levels, while William Warner Bishop, also a former ALA president (19181919), led a group that worked to send gift materials to libraries in other countries. As World War II spread in 1940, an ALA committee to assist libraries in wardevastated areas was set up, with an emphasis on gathering microfilm materials to be provided to wardevastated libraries after the war and to prevent a recurrence of the problem of trying to fill in collection gaps as had been done after World War I. By 1944, under the leadership of the Council of National Library Associations, of which ALA was a member, the American Book Center had been established at the Library of Congress as the place where the materials gathered for libraries in other countries could be collected and stored.
In that same year, 1944, as Milam looked toward postwar planning, he and others realized that only the U.S. government had the scope and power to provide the financial and other support that libraries would need internationally. The Association sent a memorandum to the State Department identifying thirteen priorities for the department to consider in its postwar planning. Prominent among these were several kinds of direct aid to libraries, e.g., repairing and reopening wardamaged libraries, restocking libraries abroad with American books and periodicals, and reopening channels of communications. As a part of this effort, Charles McCombs of the New York Public Library compiled, with assistance from library colleagues and learned societies, an 85page list, Books Published in the United States 19391944: A Selection for Research Libraries. The Rockefeller Foundation, which had supported other ALA international efforts, funded the publication of this list in 1945.
Books for Latin America, Books for China, Books for Europe, Books for the Philippines, Books for the Near East (the latter covering the Middle East and Africa as well) were variously organized under the ALAs aegis, variously funded, and met with varying success, but all had the goal of assisting libraries affected by World War II in building their collections, especially with materials from the U.S.
During Milams years at ALA Headquarters, the Associations role in international programs significantly increased, and the need for better coordination of its diverse efforts led to the establishment of a Board on International Relations with some of ALAs foremost internationalists serving on it, as well as an International Relations Office (IRO) housed at the Library of Congress and directed by Harry M. Lydenberg, who had been the first director of the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City. That library, established in 1942, was ALAs first experience in administering a Latin American library for the U.S. State Department, and it was, from the beginning, of great interest to Milam.
Lydenberg and Milam traveled throughout Latin America for two months in 1944. Their itineraries varied somewhat, but Milam visited at least ten countries. His travel was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, Lydenbergs by the U.S. State Department. They prepared a report together, highlighting the good work being done by Latin Americans who had received their library education in the U.S., stressing the need for school library development, and noting that the U.S. cultural institute libraries were not good examples of organization and service, perhaps because of limitations imposed by Washington.
Lydenberg, who had been ALA president in 19321933 and had retired as director of the New York Public Library, was Milams first staff colleague since Bogles death in 1932 who was his peer in experience and in the respect he had earned from library colleagues. Lydenberg also impressed Archibald MacLeish, then Librarian of Congress, with his knowledge of library administration, and became an honorary consultant to the Library of Congress in 19431944. It was he who traveled in Europe from January to June of 1946, with David H. Clift, then the associate librarian at Yale, to obtain books for the Library of Congress as Europe experienced peace after six years of war. Lydenberg undertook that effort as a staff member for the Library, another indication of the respect in which he was held.
Under Lydenbergs leadership, the IRO engaged in four major activities: planning, advisory services, purchase of books and periodicals, and actual administration of libraries. Around the time of Lydenbergs retirement, ALAs Board on International Relations asked Ralph Shaw, who had no connection with the Board or the Office, to review the work of both. Shaw was quite complimentary to Lydenberg, but noted that there were no younger people prepared to replace him and others like him in the international area. He also observed that Milam personally contributed much to the ALAs international leadership, but that there was a need for both the Board and the Office to focus more attention on their rapport with the ALA membership. He felt that the impact and meaning of much of the work of international relations were not clearly understood, appreciated, or supported by ALAs members. Throughout ALA history, similar assessments could well have been made.
The tradition of ALAs international interests is a narrow but steady stream, with men like Bishop, Lydenberg, and Milam providing leadership between and during the world wars. They were among those who represented the U.S. to libraries and librarians abroad, and they frequently welcomed and corresponded with librarians from other countries. American participation in the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) was one of IFLAs major strengths, and Milam was one of the major participants.
In 1926, Milam was authorized by the ALA Executive Board to attend the International Conference of Libraries and BookLovers in Prague, June 18 to July 3; to visit the American Library in Paris, the Paris Library School, the Library of the League of Nations; and, to visit other libraries and people in the interests of ALA. Milam focused on Germany, France, and England, but he was handicapped by his lack of knowledge of the French language. His meetings with individuals were of greater interest to him, since they related to plans for the ALA conference in October, 1926, when the Associations fiftieth anniversary would be celebrated and when the planners wanted to have international guests.
One action of the Prague conference was the appointment of a provisional international executive committee to be headquartered at the American Library in Paris. ALA was asked to provide $1,000 for this purpose, onehalf of the projected budget for 19271929.
The ALA conference of 1926 did attract a number of representatives from other countries, and the discussion on international cooperation resulted in a list of thirteen possible activities, including international exchanges of librarians, funding for scholarships, exchange of publications, expansion of the Dewey Decimal Classification, and formation of an international association of librarians. It is interesting to note that 80 years later, many of those interests remain the same.
In 1927, an international conference in Edinburgh was the next step toward establishment of an international association of libraries. This time, Milams wife, Nell, accompanied him and wrote home to their two little girls telling them, among other things, how hard their father was working, meeting with a committee one night until 1:45 a.m. after a dinner that had ended at 10:45 p.m., and reporting that he received many compliments on a talk he gave there.
In 1929, this group became the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) at a meeting in Rome, with more than one thousand attending. Milam served as temporary secretary at the opening of the conference until T.P. Sevensma (see http://www.worlib.org/vol14no1/sevensma_v14n1.shtml) of the Netherlands was named permanent secretary. Benito Mussolini welcomed the participants to Italy, and Pope Pius XI, who had been Vatican librarian for some years, entertained them at a reception in the Vatican Library. On that same trip, Milam visited libraries in Spain and attended a conference on adult education in Cambridge, England.
International library visitors came in greater numbers to the U.S. in the period between the two world wars. Two notable visitors to ALA Headquarters in Chicago in 1929 were Eugene Tisserant, later a Roman Catholic cardinal and librarian of the Vatican, and Anna Kravchenko, a Russian in the Department of Adult Education, who was interested in how library science education had developed in the U.S. as well as in the Associations role in adult education. The next year, the Bodleian Library Commission visited ALA Headquarters.
William Warner Bishop was elected president of IFLA at the 1931 meeting in Cheltenham, England, which Milam did not attend. IFLA accepted the U.S. invitation to meet in Chicago in 1933, during the Century of Progress International Exposition. In 1935, Milam was among the 500 librarians from 24 countries who traveled to three sites in Spain (Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid) for different sessions of the conference. During that meeting, Milam met with Walter Kotschnig, high commissioner for refugees from Germany, on the problem of refugees entering the United States and their need for jobs and other assistance.
There were some differences of opinion about accepting an invitation to hold the IFLA conference in Germany in 1940, with Milam being among those reluctant to commit to that site, but the issue died as World War II broke out. IFLA was dormant during the war, but Milam and others continued their interest in international librarianship and began to plan for postwar development. During the war, Milam met one evening with officers of the U.S. State Departments Division of Cultural Relations, and overnight, prepared a threepage plan for a proposed American Library in London. This became a virtual model for U.S. Information Agency libraries as they developed in numerous other countries.
Milam attended the international conference in San Francisco at which UNESCO was established, and made his last overseas trip as an ALA representative to go to the UNESCO General Conference in Paris in 1946. Again, he combined that travel with a visit to the League of Nations library in Geneva, Switzerland, and spent several days in London, renewing acquaintances and planning for the future.
While IFLA activities occurred primarily in England and Europe, Milam maintained a steady interest in library development in Latin America. He traveled to assess the need for and interest in an American Library in Mexico City, which became the Benjamin Franklin Library, and was especially interested in the Escola de Biblioteconomia in São Paolo, Brazil. The grant of $25,000 which assisted in the establishment of that library education program has been credited with having a major positive effect on Latin American library development through the work of its graduates in libraries throughout Latin America.
In 1948, when Milam resigned from his position with the American Library Association, he was 63 years old, and many of a new generation of librarians, some of them recently returned from military service, were advocating the need for new leadership for ALA. Milam accepted an appointment which kept him on the international library scene when he became director of the United Nations Library in New York. Doris Cruger Dales study, The United Nations Library: Its Origin and Development, published by the American Library Association in 1970, is an excellent account of his work there. She considered that his arrival as director on May 4, 1948, began two of the most exciting years of the UN Library, as well as two rewarding years for Milam himself. In a concise evaluation of his work there, she wrote:
It was Carl Milams administration ... that set the library on a firm course. He was responsible for internal administrative reorganization and the recruitment of an excellent staff which he used to good advantage. He was a member of the first survey group of the library, and commissioned many other surveys, the most important one of which was the International Advisory Committee of Library Experts. This was an example of an internal agent commissioning an external group, the combined deliberations of which led to a series of recommendations and eventually to a written library policy. Mr. Milam was also responsible for bringing the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Library to the United Nations. Even after he resigned from the directorship he continued to be of service to the United Nations by aiding in the fundraising program for a new building and by drawing up building programs. The librarians who followed in his footsteps continued his policies and practices, a course which was in itself a strong vote of confidence for his administration.
Milams wife became ill during the time he work at the UN, and he left after just two years, returning to Illinois and devoting much of his energy to caring for her until her death in July, 1956. A highlight of his last years was his attendance at the dedication of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library of the United Nations in New York in November, 1961. His role in the development of the Library was warmly acknowledged during the program. Milam wrote on November 21 to Mary and Bill Seidler, his daughter and soninlaw: At 77 I can perhaps be allowed to enjoy the past. Now I put behind me all the delusions and illusions of grandeur and concern myself with food, dishes, laundry and occasional sweeping and dusting. He was becoming frail and had decided to move to Iowa to live with the Seidlers when he died in his sleep at his home in Barrington, Illinois, on August 26, 1963, at the age of seventyeight.
Details of all of the sources used in this research appear in Carl H. Milam and the American Library Association, the title of the 1972 University of Chicago dissertation which was published in 1976 by the H.W. Wilson Company. Milams letters, travel diaries, and related papers are now in the ALA archives at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign (see http://web.library.uiuc.edu/ahx/ala/default.asp).
About the Author
Peggy Sullivan was Dean and is Professor Emeritus, Northern Illinois University. She was also Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University (19951997). A past Executive Director of the American Library Association (19921994), she is currently a library consultant specializing in executive searches for public libraries.
Email: pslibcon [at] earthlink [dot] net
© 2006 Peggy Sullivan
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