Library Schools

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New York State Library School bookplate. Courtesy of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via Illinois Digital Heritage Hub.

As the stewardship of libraries grew from an elite pastime into a profession for men and women of more diverse backgrounds, librarians quickly developed educational standards for professionalization. These standards were taught through training programs at a growing number of library schools. The first library school was Columbia University's School of Library Science which was founded in 1887 by Melvil Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System. The program left Columbia two years later with Dewey to spend the next thirty-seven years in Albany as the New York State Library School.

Like libraries themselves, library schools were often directed by men but operationally run by women faculty members who taught the majority of classes. Many programs were run not out of colleges, but out of working libraries staffed by women. This model allowed librarians to share their professional experience through courses on core services like cataloging, collection development, reference, and children's librarianship, as well as a growing number of new fields.

At the turn of the twentieth century, library education was seen as a good career path for primarily white, middle- and working-class women who could either not afford or did not want to go to college. It also attracted women as a second career when teaching was not a good fit. Some women continued their education after college with library school because it offered them a more focused and usable curriculum. Among the career paths available to women at this time, librarianship appealed to many because the training was relatively short, the career path offered public service and, as the nation expanded westward, potential opportunities for adventure.