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Brief History of School Libraries & The ISNS-UNI Laboratory School Library

By Gail Froyen

Normal School to Training School  Library



The MPLS/NUHS library traced its beginnings from the Iowa State Normal School (ISNS) library.  Gerald Peterson’s essay on the development of the ISNS Library states:

“Though faced with the discouraging reality of a 1200 volume collection to serve about three hundred students, Principal Homer Seerley had a grand vision for the role of a library in an institution of higher learning. In his first report to the Normal School's Board of Directors he stated that "a good library is a necessity . . . it is a requisite. It should come before teachers and students." He went on to say, "A school to do a great educational work must have an extensive, well chosen library, a well-supported reading room containing current magazines and literature, and a member of the faculty as librarian, whose chief work will consist in teaching students how to use books.”


In the spring of 1894, the Normal School Board hired Anna Baker at an annual salary of $500 as the first regular staff librarian of the institution. The library was to be open from 7:30 AM until 5 PM Monday through Friday and from 1 PM until 5 PM on Saturday. President Seerley arranged for a student to come in for an hour around noon so that Miss Baker could go to lunch. The new librarian spent a portion of the summer of 1894 becoming acquainted with the Normal School library before she officially began work in September 1894.


In 1897, just three years after the school hired its first regular staff librarian, a children's book collection was set aside. This was the foundation of today's Youth Collection. This unit was variously known as the Children's Collection (1897-1925), the Juvenile Collection (1925-1957), and the Youth Collection (1957-present).


The collection initially served two purposes: first, it served as a model collection for college students training to become teachers; and, second, it served as a working library for the children attending the campus Laboratory School. The collection was able to focus solely on the former purpose after the Price Laboratory School was built in the early 1950s at 19th and Campus Streets and was equipped with its own library.


The first reference to a Juvenile or Youth Collection in the library appeared in The Normal Eyte (one of the many names for the college newspaper) in January 1897; in that year, a new department for children was established when eighty-eight children’s books were acquired. These included books by Jacob Abbott, Louisa M. Alcott, and Charles Coffin. In 1912, a year after the relocation of the library to the newly constructed building now known as Seerley Hall, a separate room was designated for use by children enrolled in the campus Training School. The library included a collection of circulating children’s books and a building-use collection of books recommended for purchase by school district libraries, intended to provide teacher training students with access to a representative collection.


Edith R. Morse, the first Children’s Librarian, as she was then known, was appointed in 1924. This new department survives today as the University of Northern Iowa Rod Library's Youth Collection. From its earliest days, this department featured a fine collection and annual displays of children's books.


The Model School was founded in 1883 as part of the new Iowa State Normal School (founded in 1876). Ten years later the name was changed to the Training School, and the school continued as such until 1944 when it became the Campus School. In 1949, the name was changed to the Campus Laboratory School, and in 1959 the new building was named the Malcolm Price Laboratory School (MPLS) after the fourth president of the institution, who was the prime mover in obtaining funding for this building.


Prior to MPLS, Training School students walked from their classrooms in Sabin Hall to the library for books and research. The library was located in the center of campus in Seerley Hall only a few steps directly east of Sabin Hall.  Prior to 1937, several librarians shared the responsibility for the elementary collection which was also used by college teacher education students in their class work. 


In 1937, Clara Evelyn Campbell became the first full-time juvenile librarian. She served the library until 1952. Miss Campbell met with elementary classes once each week. She encouraged and assisted children with choosing literature and gave instruction in the use of the library and its resources for students in grades 3-6.  She had a collection of storybook character figures such as Pinocchio which were attractively displayed in the juvenile room.  Campbell wanted the library to be an inviting space for all patrons from youngest through future teachers and faculty. Displays of student art based on their reading engaged all who entered this room. Campbell was active in the American Library Association in the following divisions: Library Work with Children, School Library, Professional Training, and College and Reference. During the 1938 ALA conference in Kansas City she gave a workshop on reviewing books for children with techniques for sharing literature with children. When the new building opened in 1953, Campbell became the librarian for MPLS and served in that position until she retired in 1957.


According to an article in the College Eye (July 1944), a three-hour course was given during the summer and winter terms so the “teachers may learn the proper books to use” with their students. The location of the juvenile collection was moved from Room 4 to Rooms 1-2 in the college Library, which gave more space to this growing collection. By the mid 1940s, a juvenile library of approximately 8,000 volumes had been created. Artwork and displays piqued children’s interests. Materials were circulated to children enrolled in the Campus School, to children of college faculty, and to college students. Subject-themed scrapbooks containing book jackets and reviews were available for browsing. Training in the use of the library began as early as third grade for students enrolled in the Campus School. In eighth grade, to demonstrate their ability to use encyclopedias, the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, and subject matter indexes, students prepared bibliographies on a subject of their choice. High school students at the Campus School could use either the juvenile library or the college collection.


(Adapted from A History of the Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Northern Iowa by Lucille Lettow )

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