Under Harris's successor, Elmer Ellsworth Brown, a major reorganization of the library was begun. As Commissioner of Education from 1906 to 1911, Brown made a number of innovations-- new publications, education specialists, expansion of the bureau- -in line with the progressive reform movement that swept America in the early twentieth century. Brown's effort to reorganize the library according to the most modern professional library views was an integral part of his overall progressive reform agenda.
Presnell's retirement in 1907 gave Brown the opportunity to hire a professional librarian schooled in the most recent library procedures. In September 1907, Brown appointed William Dawson Johnston as the new librarian. Johnston was a native of Vermont. After graduating from Brown in 1893, he studied at the University of Chicago and later Harvard where he received a masters degree in 1898. Johnston was an instructor in history a the University of Michigan from 1894 to 1897 and at Brown from 1899-1900. Then he became an assistant librarian at the Library of Congress, which under the direction of Librarian Herbert Putnam was pioneering new library procedures. Johnston worked principally in the fields of classification and subject cataloging. At that time, the Library of Congress was developing its Library of Congress classification system which would ultimately replace the Dewey decimal system in most large libraries. Johnston also edited the first volume of a History of the Library of Congress.
Johnston was imbued with the library philosophy of the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, who believed that the Library of Congress should be the leader of a coordinated network of federal libraries. The Library of Congress would serve as a general library, while the other federal libraries would only house materials in their specialized fields.
Thus, Johnston looked upon the Bureau of Education Library as part of a national library network, rather than as an autonomous entity. His aim was to "make the library an integral part of the national library, meaning by the national library that group of libraries maintained by the National Government, of which the Library of Congress is the center." Johnston believed that the purpose of the Bureau library was to house education works, while other federal libraries would contain works on other subjects. In Johnston's view, the existing Bureau library held too many non-education works, which impeded its focus on education, and which could be made better use of in other federal libraries. Johnston narrowed the scope of the library's collection to material strictly on education (with a few general reference works necessary for staff use), transferring to the Library of Congress and the Public Library of the District of Columbia a total of 58,604 pieces--one of the largest transfers in the history of American libraries up to that time. The library, which now had about 62,000 volumes, was completely reorganized and the Library of Congress classification was adopted. The Bureau of Education library was one of the first libraries to employ the Library of Congress classification system.
The library under Johnston also began to develop bibliographies on education, indexing periodical articles, books, conference proceedings, government publications, pamphlets and other printed material received by the library. The scope and size of the Bureau`s collection was large enough so that the bibliographies covered almost all significant education works published in the United States along with a representative sampling from foreign countries. From 1907 to 1911, the bibliography, which was issued in the Bureau's bulletins, was simply called the Bibliography of Education. In 1912, the name was changed to the Monthly Record of Current Educational Publications, which (with slight variations of title) continued to be issued in bulletins until 1932 when Depression-induced government economy measures caused its termination. For a long time, the Bureau of Education produced the only extensive American bibliography on education. In 1929, however, H.W. Wilson Company began to publish Education Index, lessening the need for the Office of Education (the name reverted to Office in 1929) to produce its own product.
The idea that the library served the general public, not just the Bureau of Education staff, continued to be reiterated after Johnston's reorganization. For example, in 1924, the Bureau's librarian, John D. Wolcott, stated that "The largest and most complete library of strictly educational literature in America is maintained by the Bureau of Education at Washington. The library is administered as a central reference and lending collection for the teachers and educators of the United States, subject first to the needs of the specialists of the Bureau of Education." In 1929, Commissioner of Education William John Cooper, in an address to the American Library Association, reiterated the idea of the national significance of the library, calling it "one of the world's great libraries in a narrow field- -that of education and administration of schools and colleges." The library served as "a great depository of original reports, catalogs, and textbooks without access to which the history of American education cannot be written." Cooper asked other librarians to help "develop in Washington one of the world's great collections of books--the only library of the history of the American school."
In 1933, the library of the Federal Board for Vocational Education was merged with the U.S. Office of Education Library. The Federal Board for Vocational Education had been created in 1917 and became part of the Office of Education in 1933.
In May 1937, the library moved to the first floor of the new Department of the Interior Building in an area designed for a modern library. This was the first time that the library would have excellent quarters. The new library had large decks equipped with permanent steel stacks with adjustable shelves, which provided ample space for the Office of Education's large collection. An electric elevator operated in the stack area.
In the Department of the Interior Building, the Office of Education Library shared space with the Department of the Interior Library, but it remained a separate entity: the collections were separated and there were different staffs. Sabra Vought, who had been head librarian of the Office of Education library since 1930, also became head of the entire Department of the Interior library complex.
In its modern quarters, the Office of Education library seemed to be on the upswing. During World War II, it provided extensive information on various war-related topics.
Commissioner of Education John Studebaker envisioned a drastic expansion of the Office of Education for the postwar era with the library being an integral part of that expansion. In a 1946 reorganization plan, the projected Office of Education library would have a staff of 40 persons--21 professional, 19 clerical-- compared to its existing staff of 11. Such a vision, however, did not materialize, and, on the contrary, the Office of Education library would soon be abolished as an independent entity.
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Last Modified: April 3, 2006 (jer)