ALSC Voices & Faces | June 2013
Professor and Coordinator, School Library Program, and coordinator of the Writing for Children and Young Adults program
McDaniel College, Westminster, Md.
ALSC Membership - 25 years
Where did you attend library school?
I attended Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas for my M.L.S. and Ph.D.
What was your very first library position?
My first library position was at J.B. Little Elementary School in Arlington, Texas, as the first professional elementary school librarian the school had ever had.
What is your favorite library memory?
My favorite library story is from Little School, when I came back to school too soon after being sick, and I fainted at the circulation desk before school. A fifth grade girl continued to check out her book, stepped over me, and said, “Well, I guess Mrs. Kerby is dead.” I felt proud to influence children reading while flat on the library floor.
You’re marooned on a desert island; what three books and one food item do you need to survive?
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Children of God by Maria Doria Russell
Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
What are your hobbies?
What three words best describe you?
Funny, Tenacious, Tired
Reminiscing: A First ALA Conference: 1953
June, 1953 -- Dwight Eisenhower was the U.S. president. Dag Hammarskjoeld had become secretary general of the United Nations in May, two months after the death of Joseph Stalin. The next month, Elizabeth II became Queen. The American Library Association met in Los Angeles, California, toward the end of June, and its Council adopted the statement on freedom to read that had been drafted at the Westchester Conference in May. Its concluding sentences still ring with conviction:
We believe rather that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.
That Los Angeles ALA conference was the first one I attended. I have no memory of the Council’s action nor of any comment on it.
A preconference on children’s librarianship in Pasadena enhanced the prospect of going to ALA. I loved meeting children’s librarians from across the U.S. and hearing the inspirational Frances Clarke Sayers, children's librarian, author of children's books, and lecturer on children's literature. Attending the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet was a must. A ticket cost $7.50, but it was worth every cent. Presiding there was Elizabeth Gross, Coordinator of Children’s Services at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. She had taught the course on children’s materials and services that I had taken in library school at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. I was thrilled that she remembered me and urged me again to consider working at Enoch Pratt. I lost no time in visiting the placement area and committing myself to a new job there, to start in September. I was assured I would probably be at a branch library, on my own as the children’s librarian, not just one of three in a branch, as I was in Kansas City, and my salary would increase by ten per cent -- from $3,000 per year to $3,300. Riches!
Doris Gates, a children’s author and former children’s librarian, spoke at the Children’s Library Association program. I was charmed by her. Among other things, she responded to criticism she had received for having written a book for children using a controlled vocabulary. She explained that she had heard that Will James’s Newbery-Award-winning Smoky the Cowhorse was going to be revised to make it easier to read and she thought it was better to write an original book that was easier to read than to corrupt a classic. That made sense to me.
General sessions were scheduled in an auditorium, while two hotels served as headquarters, meeting sites, and exhibit space. Meetings often were scheduled well into the evening, but time was allowed for meals. The scholarly Robert Bingham Downs of the University of Illinois presided as ALA president with pleasant formality and occasional flashes of humor. One afternoon was reserved for tours, and I chose to visit film studios.
Square dancing was a conference tradition. I chose it over a concert offered free to attendees. I think that square dancing had been introduced after World War II, when somewhat bumptious new librarians, many of them military veterans, wanted to liven up the organization. They also pushed for new leadership or at least new ideas on the part of the leadership, and their efforts were meeting with success.
I walked past every one of the exhibits, as we had been encouraged to do in library school, as a gesture of gratitude to the exhibitors, and a practice I have followed pretty well ever since. I left the conference rather sure I would have a new job in September -- and I did. I also left with the conviction that I would go again to an ALA conference, learn more, meet more people, see more country -- and I have. -- Peggy Sullivan, ALA member: 62 years; ALSC member: 30 years
Conference attendance in 1953: 3,230; ALA Membership: 19,551
Conference attendance in 2012: 20,134; ALA Membership: 57,540
Recipients of the 1953 Newbery and Caldecott awards: Ann Nolan Clark for Secret of the Andes (Viking) and Lynd Ward for The Biggest Bear (Houghton)