Tag Archives: Edward Swanson

Margaret Mann Citation Honors Librarian Edward Swanson

Some weeks ago, when Edward Swanson died  prematurely, my first thought was to reflect on his contributions to the Quatrefoil Library and to our collective understanding of GLBT literature and writers. That tribute recalled a minor snippet of Edward’s contribution to the library profession he loved throughout his life.  (The rumor persists that he actually joined the Minnesota Library Association when he was still in high school!)

Recemt;u we have learned that the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), a division of the American Library Association, will honor Edward for his lifetime of professionalism by awarding him posthumously with the distinguished Margaret Mann Citation.  The Citation is conferred by the Cataloging and Classification Section of ALCTS. Too many acronyms, but the message is that Edward will receive a major award from the professional association he served so well.

In truth, the fine points of cataloging and classification have always intrigued me for their complexity.  I have long admired the commitment of librarians who choose cataloging and classification as their career path.  They exemplify uncanny understanding of and unswerving commitment to the vagaries of the inscrutable and unpredictable human being on a personal information quest.

The Margaret Mann Citation and Edward’s commitment to organizing information with the user in mind leads me now to learn more about the passion of these outstanding professionals.  This leads me to reflect on the ways that, in the rush to spew forth ever more information, the technology  revolution has seemed to render irrelevant that zeal for organization, access and the proclivities of the individual on an information quest.

My growing concern is that it is at our peril that we construct Digital Towers of Babel  destined to overwhelm and thus confound the hapless user. Useful as they may be, tags, full-text search engines and their endless progeny have yet to master human interaction with knowledge –  the skills, tools, and discernment of a librarian toiling behind the scenes to catalog and classify information and ideas for a community of users whose interests and search habits know no bounds.

As so I go back to contemplating the life and legacy of Margaret Mann.  Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1873 Mann was an independent learner – and. it would seem, an all round independent person.  After two years of study in the Department of Library Economy at the Armour Institute near Chicago, Mead stayed on to work at Armour, following the Institute as it was transferred to the University of Illinois at Springfield.

At the end of the 19th Century, Margaret was swept into the fray when, at the end of libraries experienced rapid change, moving from institutions that focused on organization and preservation to public resources that opened their doors and collections to the world at large. (Think Andrew Carnegie or Gratia Countryman!)

As libraries reached out, Margaret Mann moved up; in spite of her limited credentials she was recognized as an administrator and as a teacher who shared freely her knowledge, experience and perceptive interpretation of cataloging and classification.  To her rules were not ends in themselves, but well-wrought aids to assure standards and clear definitions, building blocks of today’s interoperability, shared resources, skills and communication in a digital environment.

At her core, Margaret Mann was driven by a motivation to share recorded and human information.  In fact, Mann spent most of her professional life, from 1926 until 1948, as a Professor of Library Science at the University of Michigan.  Under her tutelage, hundreds of graduates of the School of Library Studies experienced her vision and learned from her the elegant intricacies of describing and organizing information to assure retrievability. (That’s 21st talk for cataloging and classification).

During her time at Michigan Margaret Mann wrote prolifically on a broad range of topics including what was then known as “special librarianship” and today is called by whatever title works for HR professionals stymied by what to call an employee who locates, retrieves, evaluates, filters, tailors and otherwise makes timely and reliable information useful for management.

Mann also wrote about her personal interests including government publications, subject analysis and children’s literature.  Her magnum opus, was a textbook familiar to – though not necessarily beloved by – every graduate of a program in library or information science program.  Mann’s  Introduction to Cataloging and Classification, first published in 1930,  is a classic that remains today a major guide to the principles and philosophy of cataloging and classification.

Though she retired from teaching in 1938 Mann’s spirit lives on, best expressed in her own words.   Public service, Mann writes, is the goal towards which  “one turns his attention not to gratifying his own hunger for literature, but to the far broader task of studying, recording, and interpreting books so that they may reach the thousands of readers who are in search of reading matter of various kinds and for various persons.”

Mann’s mention of the book dates the quote.  Still her philosophy – and the contributions of those honored with the Margaret Mann Citation — meet the test of time.  Though information and telecommunications technology have reconfigured the format of recorded knowledge and redefined “ the task of studying, recording, and interpreting books” the challenge endures, to “reach the thousands of readers who are in search of reading matter of various kinds and for various persons.”

This was Edward Swanson’s  contribution to the profession of librarianship which was, in truth, his life’s work.  This, then, is the reason that his professional colleagues honor Edward, his professional forebearer, and a noble profession with the 2011 Margaret Meat Citation.

Thoughts while thinking about Edward Swanson

The library world lost a friend when Edward Swanson died earlier this month. Everyone who knew Edward seems to have experienced a different facet of a complex man. Each of us has a personal memory. My most poignant memory is of Edward, the consummate believer in the power and purpose of libraries and librarians, who worked without stint to create Quatrefoil, a unique library by and about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender writers and readers. My keen memory is rooted, no doubt, in the controversy generated by the mere suggestion that Quatrefoil be welcomed into membership in the library network I was managing in the mid-1980’s. It’s painful, but instructive, to recall those times – inspiring to honor the memory of the vision Quatrefoil represents. In honor of Edward Swanson, some thoughts on Quatrefoil, an organization that embodies the spirit, the professional skills and the beliefs that permeated Edward’s very existence.

Begun in the 1980’s as a dream of a few committed individuals, the Quatrefoil Library is today a stable, yet nimble, institution in a world that has changed dramatically. The mission is “to collect, maintain, document and circulate gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer materials and information in a safe and accessible space, in order to promote understanding, an appreciation of diversity and history, and the value of communities.” The lofty vision shapes a community that lives by the stated mission.

In 2009 Adam Keim wrote a remarkable history of Quatrefoil Library, published by the Friends of the Bill of Rights Foundation. A revelatory feature of this momentous story is that the entire book, History of the Quatrefoil Library, is available online for anyone to read, download and print! This is SO Quatrefoil! It’s a captivating story of an organization, the people involved, and societal change.

In his introduction to the book Keim, who did not experience the pains of an earlier time, observes that “the Quatrefoil Library has opened my eyes to these things. Before now, I took all these events and people for granted. I gaze over the shelves of books in the Quatrefoil Library and I feel overwhelmed. There is so much history buried in there and it is all important, especially for the younger generations of gay people to realize why they have the freedom they have. And what a monumental feat the Quatrefoil is doing by collecting and preserving all of this. They do it for people such as me, who didn’t even know who the founders of the gay liberation movement were until now.”

Though today’s Quatrefoil Library is accessible through a range of social media the basic principles of the collection, its organization and structure, will forever reflect the underlying principles and labors of Edward Swanson and other visionaries.

My favorite reflection on libraries and their role is an essay by Archibald MacLeish entitled “The Premise of Meaning.” In words that echo an earlier time, MacLeish affirms that “a library, considered not as a collection of objects that happen to be books that have been chosen to constitute a library, is an extraordinary thing. It is not all what it is commonly supposed to be, even by men who describe themselves as intellectuals – perhaps I should say particularly by men who describe themselves as intellectuals. It is not a sort of scholarly filling station where students of all ages can repair to get themselves supplied with a tankful of titles…On the contrary it is an achievement in and of itself – one of the greatest of human achievements because it combines and justifies so many others. That its card catalogues and bibliographical machinery are useful no one doubts…That its housing and safekeeping arrangements are vital, essential, necessary goes without saying. But what is more important in a library than anything else – that everything else – is the fact that it exists. For the existence of a library, the fact of its existence, is, in itself and of itself, an assertion – a proposition nailed like Luther’s to the door of time. By standing where it does….at the e center of our intellectual lives – with its books in a certain order on its shelves and its cards in a certain structure in their cases, the true library asserts that there is indeed a ‘mystery of things.’ Or, more precisely, it asserts that the reason why the ‘things’ compose a mystery is that they seem to mean, that they fall, when gathered together, into a kind of relationship, of wholeness, as though all these different and dissimilar reports, these bits and pieces of experience, manuscripts in bottles, messages from long before, from deep within, from miles beyond, belonged together and might, if understood together, spell out the meaning which the mystery implies.” (quoted in Reading Rooms, edited by Susan Allen Toth and John Coughlan, pp 482-83,

Quatrefoil asserts just that premise of meaning. And that’s why thinking of Edward Swanson and his life makes me reflect on history, commitment, and the premise of meaning.