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Diamond Jubilee: Seventy Five Years of Public Service

VI. Human Resources

Table of Contents


Helen Vogleson, County Librarian, and staff (1932). The Los Angeles County Public Library has been led during its seventy-five year history by six County Librarians: Celia Gleason (1912-24), Helen E. Vogleson (1924-46), John D. Henderson (1946-63), William S. Geller (1963-73), Carol E. Moss (1973-80) and Linda F. Crismond (1980-__). These directors provided creative leadership during both boom times and hard times. Of course, it was realized right from the beginning that the success of the Library in serving the community rested on the hard work and dedication of the entire staff, most of whom have never been named in any report or singled out for any special recognition. As the County Librarian put it in her fifteen-year report of 1927: "Limited space prohibits the listing of all who have been members of the staff, but tribute is paid to all who have helped to build up and to strengthen the service for which the Los Angeles County Free Library stands -- the best books at the time they are wanted."

One of the first acts of the first County Librarian was to appoint a secretary and a cataloger. From such a modest beginning, staff grew to 191 by 1924, to 334 by 1937, to 821 by 1961, to 1397 today. From sixty percent to eighty-five percent of this staff has always consisted of part-time employees. During the early years, there were only a handful of librarians and the branches were operated by clerical staff and volunteers under the guidance and supervision of professional staff from Central. As a matter of fact, professional librarians did not begin spending part of their work week in the branches until the late 1930s (a practice suspended during the Second World War), and the first children's librarians were not assigned permanently to the field until 1947.

A definite distinction between the "career ladders" of professional and nonprofessional staff was not always clear during the early years. Only gradually were standards for personnel raised until two lines of procedure emerged: professional library work and clerical work. The former came under Civil Service Regulations in 1916, while work at the branches remained for many years under rules relating to the unclassified service. Library school training, "or an equivalent of successful experience in an approved library," was first required of librarians in 1926. A request by the County Librarian that such training involve a full-year's course in a library school accredited by the American Library Association was approved by the Civil Service Commission in 1932 -- the same year that the five day, forty hour work week was established for full-time employees in the County Library and in most other County departments. A five-step salary schedule was first adopted in 1940, and the Library appointed its first Personnel Assistant the following year. In 1943, the Library issued a Classification and Pay Plan, the first of its kind in the country for a county library. Collective bargaining became a fact of life after a majority of Library employees in 1963 joined the Los Angeles County Employees Association, which affiliated itself with the Service Employees International Union in 1970. In 1972, the Library Affirmative Action Committee was created to help direct recruitment efforts and to help assure equal opportunity for all staff.


Driver for County Librarian, at work on the Library's Buick (1918) The role in Library history played by facilities support staff has been critical -- especially in rapidly changing times. Like the Library, the Facilities Section began as a one-person operation (whose first incumbent, incidentally, also served as chauffeur to the County Librarian). As the Library expanded the Facilities Section grew in importance and achieved divisional status after the Reorganization of 1927. It met its first critical test with the St. Francis Dam disaster, which entirely wiped out two branches of the County Library in 1928 (and drowned many patrons). A "Property Man" was appointed to head the division in 1929 (whose title was changed to "Chief Maintenance Man" in 1937), and under his direction a Library shop was set up, much of the equipment in the early branches was built and repaired, and the business of transportation between the branches was developed. A Dodge truck was the first transportation equipment purchased by the Library, back in 1921. In 1936, a weekly truck express was established to eighty-five library branches within a radius of thirty-five miles from Central. To conserve gasoline and rubber, this was cut back during the Second World War but was resumed and expanded during the postwar era.

The Importance of communication and on-going training among employees of the Library was realized early on. A number of in-house bulletins and newsletters have come out over the years for this purpose, the most notable early example being Books and Notes, founded in 1926 as a tool to acquaint field staff with new titles as well as to serve as an information organ about Library staff and services. (Its first function was superseded in 1955 by supplements to the new book catalog; the second, by a discontinuous series of other bulletins, from the Staff Newsreel of 1935-39 and The Messenger of 1940-43 to the Update and the various Regional newsletters of today.) The first comprehensive community library procedures manual, A Manual of Instructions for Branch Libraries, appeared in 1926. Monthly staff meetings -- called "clinics" during the early years -- also started at Central in 1926 and today are carried out mostly on a Regional basis. The first major, system-wide in-service training course (for work with children) was given in 1947, followed in 1952 by an ongoing reference course for paraprofessionals. Today, in-service training meetings and workshops have become a mainstay of staff development. In 1986, a training budget for this purpose was assigned to each Region for the first time and, in the following year, the position of Training Officer was established. Of all the get-togethers, however, probably the most delightful and certainly the most enduring has been the Library Book Breakfast, an annual tradition held during National Library Week since 1942.

The need for fraternity among staff also was realized very early on. An informal Staff Association was started in 1927 and formally organized in 1937. Over the next thirty-five years it assumed duties and interests in behalf of personnel welfare and professional growth and made generous contributions to many charitable interests -- it even led bond drives during the Second World War. Although today defunct as a formal organization, its spirit industriously lives on in a vibrant project which it founded in 1970: the Vesta Bruner Scholarship Fund.


Belvedere Library Improvement Committee (1926). Support from the community has always played an important role in the success and effectiveness of the Los Angeles County Public Library. This support has taken various forms. Of course, invariably there has been the support and appreciation shown by the patrons. (A user survey done for National Library Week in 1987 showed a ninety-five percent satisfaction rate.) A constant flow of donations of books and other materials to the Library has been another measure of community support. Probably even more important, however, have been the incredible donations of time. Volunteers have been important to Library operations since the very beginning. As early as 1924 there were twenty-three volunteers working the Library -- fifteen percent of the workforce in the field at that time. Today, over two thousand volunteers contribute over eighty thousand hours to the Library each year -- figures which have almost doubled in just the past five years.

The Library has relied on advice and support of civic and community groups throughout its history, but it was not until 1935 that the first formal County Library Advisory Committee was organized, composed of five citizens, one from each Supervisorial District. It was operative until 1947. In 1959, following regionalization, the functions of this original committee were superseded by Regional Library Councils representing the cities and unincorporated areas in each Region. Their purpose, as stated by the Board of Supervisors, was to "consider matters relating to the Library policy, administration, operation and service within their respective regions, receive reports from the County Library Department and make suggestions and recommendations for the betterment of the County Public Library system." During the past three decades, these councils have advised and supported the Library on such important matters as funding, policy questions, and building programs and have made many important contributions for the strengthening of service. More importantly, these citizen groups have provided a much needed link between the communities and the Library's administration.

Another group of citizen bodies, self-organized and self-supporting, began operation with the formation of the first Friends of the Library at Claremont in 1957. By the end of 1961, eight of these groups had been organized, and today there are fifty-seven Friends of the Library groups with over 4500 members. Their purpose is to support and benefit local community libraries through fund-raising, programming and many other activities and through public awareness campaigns and legislative advocacy. They have helped bring about a closer relationship between the public and the Library as well as to provide a means whereby all citizens interested in library service on a local level may participate in a support program for their local library. That same opportunity is provided on a systemwide level by the Los Angeles County Public Library Foundation, a nonprofit, public benefit corporation established in 1982 for educational and charitable purposes and committed to keeping the Los Angeles County Public Library free and open to all persons.

Images:

  • Helen Vogleson, County Librarian, and staff (1932).
  • Driver for County Librarian, at work on the Library's Buick (1918)
  • Belvedere Library Improvement Committee (1926).


Diamond Jubilee:
Seventy Five Years of Public Service
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