This summer, I used grant money from traveled to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which holds the archives of the American Library Association in its beautiful Horticulture Field Laboratory, immediately adjacent to the university arboretum. I went intending to examine mostly the archives of the ALA’s Bibliotherapy Committee, which operated in the late 1950s and ‘60s. I also hoped to take a look at some of the holdings concerning the War Library Service in WWI, but this was more for the purposes of historical context than the main primary source research. Once I arrived, however, it became clear that the Bibliotherapy Committee materials were rather more meager and administrative than could form an engaging body for my project. The War Library Service material, however, was diverse, sometimes professional and sometimes personal, and occasionally funny!
I hope to spend the upcoming semester writing an honors thesis, with at least one chapter on the War Library Service. However, beyond the descriptions I could read online, I did not know exactly what I would find once I opened the boxes. What I did find was hundreds of pages of circular letters, instructions to librarians, records from those running the program, invitations to lunch, photographs, requests for various kinds of information or assistance, and a great deal else.
Through this research process, I was reminded once again that research is never linear, and almost never goes on just as expected! I was also reminded how grueling it can be to document a huge amount of material in a short period of time—I had only a few short days actually in the archives, so I had to do a lot more scanning than reading in order to allow the rest of the work to continue later—as well as how exciting it is to open a bound volume or a folder and find personal connections and empathy with people who lived a hundred years ago. I look forward to making these peoples’ stories known!