James Bennett Childs Award

About the James Bennett Childs Award The James Bennett Childs award honors an individual who has made a lifetime and significant contribution to the field of documents librarianship.  Contributes may be based on stature, service, and publications in any or all areas of documents librarianship. 


Mr. James Bennett Childs was honored by the Government Documents Round Table as the recipient of the first GODORT award for distinguished contribution to documents librarianship. In his honor, the award was named after Mr. Childs.

Mr. Childs, reappointed to a fourth three year term as honorary consultant in government documents bibliography at the Library of Congress, celebrated his eightieth birthday earlier this summer [1976]. This is not the first time an ALA award has been presented to Mr. Childs. In 1971 he was given the Isadore Gilbert Mudge Citation for Distinguished Contributions in Reference Librarianship.

At the Library of Congress since 1925, Mr. Childs is the author of numerous books and articles. Outstanding in the list of his writings is Government Documents Bibliography in the United States and Elsewhere (3rd edition, 1942) and the more recent article titled "Government Publications (Documents)" which appeared in volume 10 of the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science.

The following are Remarks of Donald F. Wisdom, Chief, Serial Division, Library of Congress, at the American Library Association, Government Documents Round Table meeting held in Detroit, Michigan, June 21, 1977, published in DttP v.5 no.5, (Sept. 1977)

James Bennett Childs, Specialist in Government Document Bibliography at the Library of Congress, died at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland on May 14, 1977 at the age of 80. During a career which encompassed 55 years of service, Mr. Childs occupied a position of eminence in the library profession and was recognized as the principal authority in the field of government publications, not only in the United States but through out the world. His contributions to the acquisitions and organization of government documents enabled the Library of Congress, where he was continually in residence from 1925 until March of this year [1977], to become one of the world's greatest repositories of official publications.

Many librarians are acquainted with his major publications; including An Account of Government Document Bibliography in the United States and Elsewhere, of which three editions were published between 1927 and 1941; the Memorias of the Republics of Central America and the Antilles, published in 1932; the Guide to the Official Publications of the Other American Republics, 1945-1948 and many others. All of which were pioneering bibliographies. His most recent major contribution to the literature was a comprehensive survey article entitled, "Government Publications" published in the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science in 1973.

James Bennett Childs was both a scholar and librarian. He was equally at home and interested in the eighteenth century as in the late twentieth century; on the one hand researching the documents of the first Congress of the United States, a subject that he wrote a notable article about, or on the other hand reviewing recently published documents from an Asian or Latin American country. As a scholar/librarian he was a unique type of individual that you only rarely come in contact with in today's world.

I can well remember the first bit of advice he gave me over twenty years ago. "Mr. Wisdom," he said, "if you really want to learn about government publications you've got to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty." Mr. Childs' admonition may sound rather simple and down to earth. The idea he was stressing was that a true documents librarian needed to know what is inside the many publications that passed through his hands and with that knowledge he or she could better serve the scholarly researcher. In truth, I have to say that I never saw Mr. Childs roll up his shirt sleeves, it was not his style; but no librarian I have ever met more thoroughly examined the research materials that regularly flow into the Library of Congress. And Mr. Childs was constantly sharing with others the information he gathered from a wide variety of sources. The personal reference experiences he enjoyed the most was when he could aid a scholar in locating elusive material. His pursuit of the difficult to find document was never confined by any boundaries.

Concurrent with his interest in serving the reference needs of scholarship, Mr. Childs dedicated a substantial amount of his time to the acquisitions of new additional research materials both to meet the needs of the present and future generation of researchers. In fact to his reference services and a vigorous acquisition program were inseparable. His vision of the resources the Library should acquire was very broad. He believed that a great library, such as the Library of Congress, should have comprehensive collections, including materials that may well be on the fringes of scholarship. His own acquisitions efforts clearly revealed a dogged determination that must have been at the heart of James Bennett Childs, the person. For example, he once old me the story of how he acquired a then complete set of the published proceedings of the Argentine Senate. According to Mr. Childs' account, he had obtained a list of members of the Argentine Senate and first wrote the President of that body inquiring as to how the Library could obtain its published proceedings. No reply was received, so Mr. Childs wrote the Vice- President of the Argentine Senate. Again no response. In total, Mr. Childs wrote eight letters to members of that legislature. The eighth member responded in a most positive manner and shortly thereafter the Library received a complete set. In concluding this story, Mr. Childs said "Sometimes you have to be damed persistent to get the material you need." There are a multitude of similar stories that could be told of Mr. Childs' successful efforts to strengthen the collections of the Library. He justly earned the reputation of an acquisitions specialist who made the Library of Congress one of the world's greatest repositories of official publications.

One other measure of the man was his relationships with his colleagues, both at the Library and throughout the world. During the period that I have known him, Mr. Childs sought to indoctrinate---and if indoctrinate seems like a very strong word, we should remember that James Bennett Childs was a strong personality--a new generation of librarians with his own broad vision of library resources and the extraordinary efforts needed for their creation. Despite the fact that his efforts were not always appreciated, he continually gave encouragement to those with whom he came in contact, both in person and through correspondence. His teachings of the new generation were marked by the same persistence as his scholarly pursuits, but tempered by a patience that also characterized the man. Certainly, he endowed some with his convictions and set a noteworthy example for us all.

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