MPLA - The Founding

Blaine H. Hall
Chair, 50th Anniversary Commemoration Committee

The following article was originally published in the MPLA Newsletter as the first of three articles on the founding and history of MPLA, in celebration of MPLA's 50th Anniversary in 1998.

From Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Utah, and Wyoming they came--217 librarian delegates--to the 1948 Mountain-Plains Library Conference. Invitations had been mailed to all librarians within a 600-mail radius of Denver. The purpose? To discuss creating a regional library organization.

The idea for organizing such an association grew out of the cooperative efforts already begun in the region by the Bibliographical Center for Research. BCR, the dream of Dr. Malcolm Glenn Wyer, then the director of the Denver Public Library, had been created in 1935 with a $30,000 Carnegie grant. The center, created as a clearinghouse to locate books for member libraries and to facilitate their interlibrary loan, also brought together librarians from the region, working cooperatively to meet recognized needs for library services in their states and communities. Some of these librarians, representing Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming, met in Denver in May 1947 and appointed a Conference Planning Committee chaired by Mr. Ralph Esterquest, assistant director of the University of Denver Library.

On Sunday, August 29, 1948, Mr. Esterquest gaveled the first general session to order at 3:00 p.m. in the West Room of the Manor House of the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado. The delegates unanimously elected him as presiding officer. After reviewing the developments that led to calling this conference, he introduced the other members of the Planning Committee: Miss Dorothy Comin, Abilene, Kansas, Mr. Frank Lundy, Lincoln, Nebraska, Miss Mary E. Marks, Laramie, Wyoming, Mrs. Ruth V. Tyler, Midvale, Utah, and Miss Laura Makepeace, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Following three papers on the subject, "Why have library associations?" presenting state, regional, and national points of view, Mrs. Tyler moved that "this conference resolve itself into a regional association and that the chairman appoint a Committee on Constitution and By-Laws and such other committees as he might see fit."

Following the second, discussion began.

Immediately, someone questioned whether or not the group had authority to take such action. Mrs. Tyler pointed out that this was not an organization of state associations but a group of American Library Association members and said that "such a regional set-up would provide machinery to implement plans for ALA regional meetings. Members would have the privilege of attending a regional meeting of their choice. The matter had been brought to the attention of the Utah Library Association Executive Board and had been approved." 1

Others wondered whether a regional organization might swallow state groups, whether those attending were committing themselves as individuals or as representatives of state library associations, or whether membership in ALA would be a prerequisite for librarians in attendance at the regional conference.

Mr. Esterquest observed "that a regional association stands on its own and does not Necessarily have to make any affiliations with the American Library Association or with state associations. He also suggested that the group was perhaps "giving too much thought to state lines and state associations and should concentrate any emphasis on organizing a regional association on the basis of common problems facing librarians."

Gordon Bennett prophetically observed that "state associations must get behind the regional association if it is to succeed." Mr. Lundy believed that the whole proposition needed more thought from the group and moved that action on the Tyler motion be postponed until Tuesday. At the question, his motion lost.

The Tyler motion was voted and carried. The Mountain-Plains Library Association was born! And the meeting adjourned at 6:00 p.m. The delivery took three hours.

By dinner time, the Planning Committee had appointed Constitution and By-Laws and Nominating committees with a charge to complete their work by the Tuesday general session.

At the third general session, Tuesday afternoon, the Constitution and By-Laws Committee introduced their "Temporary Constitution" for discussion and adoption. Its five brief sections established the fledgling organization's 1) name (Mountain-Plains Library Association), 2) object (the promotion of library service in the Mountain-Plains region), 3) officers (president, vice-president/president-elect, secretary, treasurer), and 4) governing body (an executive board consisting of association officers and a representative of each state to be appointed by the MPLA president).

Some delegates had questions about membership requirements (for now it was on an individual basis), the selection of state representatives (should they be elected or appointed and by whom), additional officers (a second vice-president had been proposed), and even a different name (the Trans-Mississippi Association). Since this was only a temporary document, all questions or suggestions for changes or additions were held off to allow a committee appointed to draw up a permanent constitution and the executive board to address these and other questions and concerns.

With constitutional authority now in place, the Nominating Committee announced its slate of candidates for officers: Ralph T. Esterquest and Frank A. Lundy for president; Ruth V. Tyler and William Baehr, Kansas State College, for vice-president; Miss Hail Fischer, University of Wyoming, secretary; and Mrs. Charles Hall, trustee from Hutchinson, Kansas, treasurer. Frank Lundy declined the nomination and moved that Ralph Esterquest be unanimously acclaimed president. In the voting, Ruth V. Tyler was elected vice-president/president-elect.

To show their support of the new association, the presidents and vice-presidents of the Colorado, Kansas, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska library association, who were in attendance, reported that their groups were favorable to affiliating with the new regional association. The Colorado Library Association, supported by a generous donation of $100 by Gladys Osmer, a former member of the University of Denver Library staff, who was at the conference, agreed to publish the proceedings of this historical conference in the next issue of the Colorado Library Association Bulletin.

To fund the new organization, a motion called for the immediate institution of $1.00 annual dues, but died for lack of a second. Considering the overwhelming support for creating MPLA, the reluctance of the delegates to set dues probably shows their desire to have a formal proposal from the excecutive board on the matter. However, another motion calling for each delegate to be assessed $1.00 to build up a fund in the treasury for immediate expenses was passed, with the added proviso that those making the contribution would be considered charter members. (In February 1949, the treasury contained $205.)

The Conference Planning Committee had appointed librarians from several interest groups to prepare sessions for the conference. These programs were well received and most of them elected chairs for the next year to perpetuate their groups. These sections included Large and Medium Public Libraries; Small Public Libraries; County Libraries; School, Children's and Young People's Libraries; Catalog; Music and Art Libraries; and Business and Technology Libraries. Only the College and University libraries failed to organize at this first meeting. Not all these groups survived very long and the public library sections later combined, but from the beginning they set the pattern for subordinate units that still forms the structure of MPLA.

Another special feature of this first conference was the two hours set aside on Tuesday morning for the state associations to hold their annual meetings. The planners of the conference envisioned the state associations, most of which were small with limited resources, holding their annual meetings with the regional association. Such an arrangement, they thought, would enable them to provide their members with stronger conference programs than they could afford on their own. In his letter inviting the state associations to held their meetings at this conference, Esterquest assured them that they would "have an important voice in planning the general program, naming general session speakers, and combining with the other states in the section meetings." However, only Colorado, Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming accepted the invitation.

Still, the idea of enhancing conference programs through cooperative efforts between the states and MPLA has borne fruit. The states meet separately, but the now traditional joint conferences with the member states on a rotating basis, has proven to be mutually beneficial to MPLA and the state associations.

One of the important benefits of MPLA membership has always been the opportunity members have had to travel to various places in the region, not only to conduct business and to be instructed and informed, but to have fun. The program for the Estes Park meeting provided for a balanced experience between business and recreation. In fact, a prime consideration in selecting Estes Park was its location at a resort in the Colorado Rockies, only four miles from Rocky Mountain National Park. Monday afternoon featured hikes to Glacier Basin and Fern Lake, naturalist-conducted nature walks around Bear Lake, an auto caravan trip along the Rail Ridge Road, and chartered bus trips to scenic attractions. Swimming, horseback riding, and other sports were also available at the hotel. In the evenings, after hours of meetings, these librarians watched colored films on Rocky Mountain National Park, listened to Chief Eagle Plume perform songs and costumed dances and talk about Indian Lore and the Indian's contributions to civilization at an outdoor barbecue dinner, and square danced in the casino.

The Stanley Hotel sat on a prominence, with its windows looking out on a wide panorama of mountain peaks. And while it was considered a high-priced hostelry for the times, its rooms were "luxuriously comfortable." One librarian observed later, however, that "hotel rates were out of reason and I rather doubt if the prestige of the Estes Park Stanley Hotel was really worth the rates charged." A room for three persons was $11 per person, including three meals. A room with running water, but without a bath, cost $6-$8. A double room with bath, without meals, cost $12-$20 per day. But these rates only applied if you bought the three-day package. Otherwise, you paid their higher tourist season prices. Breakfasts were $1, lunches $2, and dinners $3.50 for those not paying for them with their room.

But those who attended were enthusiastic about their conference experience. Alice Williams, Chief Librarian of the Fort Logan VA Hospital, wrote:

As to the good features of the Estes Park meeting--they outnumbered the bad features at least three to one. There was excellent planning of a balance between recreation and business; also there were so many different types of recreation planned that were suited to every one whether they had special skills or no skills at all. The section meetings were well planned and brought information of interest to that particular group and gave groups a chance to be together in work. . . . It was so good to be able to talk with librarians from other areas and to see how they planned regional meetings and what they learned from this planning.

Virginia Hanson, director of the Cache County Public Library in Logan, Utah, enjoyed not only the conference but the trip home as well:

The Estes Park gathering was most satisfactory. It was really wonderful to be on the spot all the time; with no cabs to hail, no traffic to struggle through, no shopping and sightseeing tours to leave one frustrated and breathless; and time to become acquainted with the interesting new people from Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

On the way home Mrs. Seal [her traveling companion] insisted on popping out of the DeSoto at frequent intervals with her camera. It seemed as if she photographed every speck of flora, fauna, and geological remains enroute. Even an occasional biped, indigenous to the locale, claimed her attention. . . . Those of us who had been at Estes Park were invited to Mrs. Seal's home. . . Her pictures of the scenery in Colorado were super-special, and we exclaimed anew at what we had seen on our trip. It was fun to talk about the whole mountain-Plains Conference again.

Fifty years have passed since this historic meeting. And most of the librarians who attended are no longer with us. But we today still have similar experiences and feelings from our membership in MPLA.Truly, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to those pioneering librarians who gave us MPLA, the successful, respected, and well-loved regional association that enriches us today both as librarians and as human beings.

1. For 1949, ALA had decided to hold seven regional meetings instead of one central conference. The Pacific Northwest Library Association was acting as the planning group for that regional conference, but there was no such group available for planning the Trans-Mississippi regional conference that included Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri. Thus the reference to ALA's regional meetings.

On to Part 2 of MPLA's History Series