Blaine H. Hall
Chair, 50th Anniversary Commemoration Committee
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." (Note: 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.)
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 executive 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 en route. 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.
From its birth, the officers and members of MPLA attempted to establish a logical rationale for a Mountain-Plains region and a regional library association to serve it. Early on, the probing and questioning centered on geography. The committee that wrote the temporary constitution left the geographic jurisdiction of the association in the hands of the Executive Board. In February 1949, President Esterquest suggested to the board that "for the time being" they define the MPLA area as the seven states that participated in the Estes Park meeting, but not to think in terms of hard-and-fast state boundaries and also to provide for easy withdrawal and easy joining of the association.
But was there some geographical logic that made the seven member states a defensible region? And what was a region anyway? A rural sociologist from Montana State College, Carl F. Kraenzel, a speaker at the first conference, addressed some of these issues.
"In this area we speak of the Great Plains region of America; the Northern Great Plains region, including parts of Canada; the Missouri Basin Region . . . The Department of Agriculture for many years has had regional offices for its various research and administrative services. So have many other federal agencies.
"I think of these as functional and non-exploitive forces driving toward an understanding and a building up of the area into some semblance of regional consciousness and regional dynamics. . . . [But I] reject the implications of sectionalism and provincialism that the concept might ordinarily convey."
Geographically, he describes the region as
"a mid-continental region, conditioned by climate and resources. It is sub-humid and thinly populated. It is largely an agricultural region with little industry, financially tributary to Eastern capital. . . . The patterns of community organization suitable to the eastern part of the country fail in many respects to serve us in this region adequately. Thin population plus great distances make the costs of applying county library service, for example, prohibitive [and make] securing sufficient support for any kind of library service . . . difficult indeed."
In a 1956 article in the MPLA Bulletin, Eugene Wilson, director of libraries, University of Colorado, raised again the question of regionality:
"Despite the ease with which [MPLA was established], certain fundamental questions deserve study by MPLA members. These questions include what is a region? Why have a regional organization? What is the nature of the region defined by the MPLA constitution? And what is its future?"
A partial answer to these questions appeared in an editorial in the Quarterly, following the signing by President Eisenhower of the Library Services Act on June 19, 1956, which was designed "to stimulate the states and local communities to increase library services to rural Americans." This new federal program, observed editor Miriam McNally, is "permeating every part of the cooperative library network [through] which our profession serves the people of our seven states." She further noted:
"The tools of this cooperation are ready for this unprecedented opportunity. The Mountain-Plains Library Association, forged out of our own human and library resources to meet our peculiar regional needs, gives strength, cohesiveness and focus to any library project the region encompasses. The Bibliographical Center for Research, Rocky Mountain Region, sponsored by the Association, is a practical demonstration through which all types and sizes of libraries and the people they serve can share in combined library benefits not possible to any one of them alone."
On the tenth anniversary of MPLA's founding, President Lora Crouch reported that the Executive Board had again discussed the validity of the present MPLA area as a "natural region" and wondered if the area covered by BCR would be more logical. Missouri, Arizona and Saskatchewan were suggested as possible members. She also concluded: "We reach our tenth birthday this year. We are growing up and it is time we took a long hard look at what we have done and make some decisions as to what we want to do in the future."
By 1959, the focus of the discussion of MPLA's raison d'etre shifted from geography to the question posed by Pres. Milton Abrams: "Why are we associated?" He wondered "if there is any justification for the association other than to provide a meeting place for the exchange of ideas, and if we do meet for this purpose do we have any problems peculiar to the area? He saw the distances, small pockets of population, lack of taxable wealth, the relative youth of some of the states and a lack of book resources as unifying elements and concluded: "A professional association ought to exist wherever a professional group has a community of problems. We have the people and the problems in the region we call the Mountain and Plains."
This questioning led to a limited-focus annual conference in Denver in 1960. There were no programs and no exhibits. It was time to "get down to work to determine what we are, why we are, and what we might become." "It never was intended by anyone setting up this type of meeting in Denver to overtly kill MPLA," said an editorial in the Quarterly. "Every organization needs to evaluate itself from time to time. It was generally agreed that our time had come." Pres. Abrams and the Executive Board prepared six study questions and appointed committees to generate responses to guide discussion. The first asked the fundamental question, "Does the MPLA now consist of state associations and individual librarians whose interests and problems provide a substantial basis for regional association?"
The committee report recognized 1) a sparse and scattered population, 2) great distances between population centers, 3) a relatively low level of support for libraries, and 4) youthful libraries working pretty much on a minimal program as both the common bonds that held the association together and, at the same time, created the difficulties of functioning as a regional organization. They concluded, however, that the distances, low budgets for out-of-state travel, and sometimes poor travel connections, should not prohibit effective meetings and recommended no change in the geographical makeup of MPLA. They also agreed that the interests of state associations and individual librarians provided a justifiable basis for regional association.
Two former presidents, Jerome Cushman (1951-52) and Frank Lundy (1950-51), addressed the validity and direction of MPLA in pro and con articles in the Spring 1960 Quarterly as a prelude to the discussions to be held at the conference later in the year.
Cushman recalled that
"MPLA began with high hopes. Its aim at bringing librarians with common problems together though separated by thousands of square miles, was bold and imaginative. Did something go wrong? In the light of our re-examination of the total position of MPLA it might be assumed that a great deal is wrong. In fact some of the thinking propounds the question, why MPLA at all? Talk like 'organization for vacation excuse,' 'programming for the district level,' 'no planning and sense of direction' are accusations which have been made since the beginning of the Association.
"In criticizing MPLA sometimes one loses sight of the original purpose for its organization. The wide expanse of territory coupled with a sparsely settled population presented library problems which could be served better on a regional basis. That the crossing of state lines has had little or no success does not obviate the fact that a regional pattern of library development, if effected, makes the most sense. . . . While it is true progress has been compromisingly slow it would come to an immediate and final halt were there no organization even thinking about its problems."
Cushman saw programming, research, and legislation as the proper work of MPLA. The programming, however, "must cease to try to please everybody but must aim at a professional and high level of uniqueness." The research should focus scientifically and accurately on regional resources and problems. And legislation should "bring to fruition the idea and practice of truly regional library service."
Lundy, while insisting that he is not "con" MPLA, having been involved from the original conception and organization, he is "con" "MPLA in the form and substance in which I have come to know it during its first full decade." He reminded his readers that in October 1950 he had circulated a mimeographed statement in which he said:
Our state associations here in the Mountain-Plains area are limited in size and scope, . . . [but] they can be immensely helpful at the state, county, and city levels of government in securing favorable library legislation and in aiding local librarians to do a good job. State organizations in our area, however, frequently do not have the money or the manpower to develop the kind of program that would be most helpful in raising professional standards and improving local job performance and in promoting library projects that are not quite national in scope, but much broader than state boundaries. The activities of the Denver Bibliographical Center and the program of the Northern Great Plains Library Council are examples of what I mean.
He is convinced that a regional association can offer more worthwhile programming than can the smaller state associations. But it is undesirable for a regional association to duplicate what is already being done commendably on the local and state levels "at an even greater expense of time and effort and money. "It is a little silly to drive a thousand miles to a regional conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming," he said, "only to find a good piece of the program given over to a workshop on book mending. This sort of thing is done better in almost every way at the state and local level." He concludes:
"A regional library association, including our own, can survive and do good work if it has regional reasons for being, and pursues its work vigorously within a regional framework. . . . The regional association cannot be just another 'state' association, even though it may hope to be a little bigger and better, but boring its clientele with the same bill of fare. . . . I would also suggest . . . that invitational meetings of officers, committee members, and other professional leaders may be more important to the proper functioning of the regional association than the customary annual camp meetings open to all who can find available transportation. . . . A general conference should grow out of the need by the membership to hear reports and consider recommendations made by the smaller groups assigned to do the spade work. When a full conference develops out of special work done in this manner, it may then not be inappropriate to attach a general session with an outside speaker, and perhaps even a square dance, barbecue supper, and a ballad singer, all three, to end the event upon a relaxed and happy note! We have tended to go at the business the other way around and have in some measure failed to get down to the serious work which confronts us!"
Since the annual meetings were the most visible function of MPLA, their format, purpose, and programming were often the center of the association's search for identity. Originally, the regional conferences were held separately from the state conferences, except for an occasional joint conference with a member state. Between 1961 and 1968, the pattern was changed to biennial meetings, with officers serving two-year terms. In the off year of 1962, the association held a leadership conference at the University of Denver with the program consisting of meetings of the Executive Board, a business meeting, a BCR Trustees meeting, and a couple of program sessions. The rotating annual joint conference with the eleven member states was a later development, although Pres. H. Dean Stallings had suggested this as early as 1953.
MPLA also held a Leadership Conference on Inter-Library Cooperation for May 23-24, 1973, at the Peaceful Valley Lodge and Guest Ranch in Lyons, Colorado, with 75 librarians and lay people invited. Working papers were commissioned on the topics of "The Cohesive and Divisive Forces in the MPLA Region," Behavioral and Legal Implications for Cooperation," "Networking," "Manpower for Regional Libraries," and "What of the Future?" The authors attended the conference to lead discussion of their topics. The focus of the conference was on library cooperation, but out of it came a call for MPLA to appoint task forces to "continue the study of regional interlibrary needs and the role of MPLA in meeting those needs."
By the MPLA 25th anniversary conference in Cheyenne in November 1974, the task forces had addressed many of the issues from the Peaceful Valley conference, and presented their findings at the conference. Acting on their recommendation, the Executive Board appointed A Master Plan Committee, which presented their findings to the members at a "sometimes heated" conference at Lake Tahoe.
The plan called for 1) establishing the office of Executive Secretary; 2) changing the fiscal structure, including raising dues, having states collect MPLA dues, asking State Library Agencies and state library associations for financial support, increasing subscriptions to the MPLA Quarterly, and exploring various methods of fund raising; 3) establishing relationships with the region and with ALA; 4) providing and coordinating continuing education programs for the members; 5) coordinating resources in the region, such as supporting BCR; 6) and improving communication and publications, primarily through the MPLA Quarterly, whose content should be regional in nature. After much discussion and deliberation, the plan was finally approved by a vote of 97 to 19. Don Trottier moved a substitute motion to disband MPLA and to have each of the eight member states appoint one representative to a Mountain Plains Program Committee, which would then appoint a conference manager. Thus MPLA would become only a loosely structured regional conference-sponsoring organization. The motion was defeated.
A member survey in 1975 found that members wanted conference programs to be "practical, substantive and professional with more scope for informal discussion and interaction rather than inner-directedness about MPLA itself." The largest number, 81%, approved the proposal to alternate Denver conventions with joint MPLA/state association meetings elsewhere. Since 1977, MPLA has held joint conferences with its member state associations and discontinued separate annual conferences.
The question of what MPLA is and should be has risen less frequently in recent years. Most members seem comfortable with the joint conferences with member states, the Newsletter, and other membership benefits. And the sections and committees work together in conference program planning with the member state associations and on other issues of a regional nature that may arise from time to time.
But as recently as September 1997, the Board of Directors again raised the issue of what MPLA should be and do in the context of ways to increase membership, itself an issue raised repeatedly over the years. Past President Judy Zelenski stressed that "if you don't hit the needs of the people out there, you can just forget the slickest brochure, the greatest speakers; you can forget the whole thing. It's the incredible workload, the lack of staff, and the lack of time that keeps people away. It's a whole new world. MPLA really needs to look at the new world we're in." She also discouraged a major membership drive "without knowing what we have to offer and knowing that we offer it to people who want it."
Now as MPLA begins its second fifty years on the eve of a new millennium with new technological marvels that promise to make our present technologies seem primitive and antiquated, Pres. Kathlyn Lundgren's 1974 reminder seems even more timely: "MPLA is changing . . . We are not living in the past, but learning from it. . . . When will this process of change be complete? Probably never. MPLA can no more afford to be static than we as individuals can remain the same."
So after fifty years our organizational search for identity continues as it must. Only by meeting the changing needs of its members as they face the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing profession can MPLA continue to serve the librarians and libraries in this vast mid-continental region of mountains and plans stretching from the Missouri to the Sierras and Canada to Mexico. For MPLA's identity exists primarily in the minds and hearts of its members, in the person-to-person associations we have developed, and in our desire to "act collectively," which according to Henry David Thoreau, "is the spirit of our institutions."
From its beginning, MPLA has focused its collective efforts and resources on serving the libraries, the member state library associations, and the librarians of this large, sparsely populated region. Its original constitutional objective, "the promotion of library service in the Mountain Plains region," is still encompassed in the current Bylaws Mission statement, adopted in 1995: "The mission of this Association is to further the development of librarians, library employees, and trustees and to promote quality library service in the states of the Mountain Plains Region."
Bibliographical Center for Research
The earliest major effort of MPLA was the sponsorship of the Bibliographical Center for Research (BCR) in Denver. Even though BCR antedated MPLA by thirteen years, the sponsorship of BCR was a natural for a library association organized to promote library services on a regional basis, and especially so since many librarians were actively involved in both organizations. BCR, housed at the Denver Public Library, became a clearinghouse to facilitate interlibrary loans with a centralized collection of country and subject bibliographies and a union card catalog of the libraries in the region, a particularly helpful service for small rural libraries. It also collected some esoteric materials useful for scholarly research.
President Frank Lundy in 1951 appointed an MPLA committee chaired by Frank Eastlick of Denver Public Library with a charge to foster financial support, lend professional aid, and "perhaps" to shape direction and policy for the Center. Frank Anderson, president of MPLA, 1965-66, recalls one kind of "professional aid" given by MPLA: "the [union catalog] cards would pile up and every once in awhile we'd have a File a Mile affair to help the Bib Center catch up with their filing arrearages." The catalog grew to over 3 million cards before it was abandoned.
When MPLA's purpose of existence was questioned, its support and sponsorship of BCR was often the major reason used to justify it and to illustrate the kind of regional activities MPLA should be involved with. The two organizations were so closely associated that for many years each organization had an official representative to the other's executive board. For many years beginning in 1954, the MPLA Quarterly or Newsletter served as the official publication for BCR board minutes, annual reports, "Center News" and Bulletin. BCR was considered the "permanent" home of the MPLA Quarterly until Ford Rockwell became editor in 1960 and moved it, for economy reasons, to Wichita. In 1954 the BCR director even suggested that the Center be sold to MPLA, but that never happened.
A 1966 study of BCR by Russell Swank, dean of the UC, Berkeley library, recommended that MPLA reaffirm its official sponsorship of the Center, exchange board members with it, and contribute to its financial support. He also suggested that MPLA consider using the Center as headquarters of the association and for implementing its cooperative programs. MPLA contributed $1,000 to BCR for the study and over the years made additional financial donations to support other BCR projects.
The MPLA Master Plan of 1974 included recommendations for BCR, such as encouraging OCLC affiliation, studying means of accessing new resources outside the region, and seeking the most effective means for providing bibliographic access to items both within and outside the region. It also echoed Swanks recommendation for sharing an executive secretary and office support, but this was not pursued. But for many years, BCR held its membership and board meetings during MPLA conferences.
However as new electronic technologies appeared, BCR expanded its interests beyond the region and found it "uneconomical to maintain a file of 3 million cards," with a significant backlog of unfiled cards. Ken Dowlin, BCR Trustee Board president, called it "an albatross at the crossroads." The regional union catalog was discarded and national databases and vendors used for interlibrary loans. The close relationship between the two organizations declined. MPLA, however, continues to recognize BCR as a vital regional resource, and BCR still supports MPLA conferences by exhibiting, presenting programs, and sponsoring other programs and activities. They (along with SilverPlatter) generously sponsored the MPLA 50th Anniversary Birthday Party at the joint conference in Salt Lake City in May 1998.
In addition to supporting regional library services, MPLA was early committed to recruiting outstanding young people into the profession and to encouraging practicing librarians to obtain advanced degrees and to participate in a variety of continuing education experiences. The annual conference programs, of course, provided many opportunities for obtaining new skills and information and to address important professional issues. But several innovative programs focused on the specific needs of it members and affiliated state library associations.
In 1954 while the association was still short on money, the Executive Board established the MPLA Loan Fund administered by a Loan Fund Committee. Designed to help members get a library education, the fund provided for six grants of up to $200 each to help pay for the last semester of library school. The recipient signed a note to repay the loan in 10 equal installments beginning two months after completing library school. Payments had to begin ten months after graduation, and interest at one percent per month was charged on the unpaid balance. By August 1959 nine grants had been made: five had been paid off, one was overdue, and two were not yet due. In 1962, the loans were increased to $400 because of the increase in educational costs.
As part of its efforts to recruit outstanding young people into librarianship, MPLA established a Scholarship Fund in the fall of 1962 and asked members to contribute to it. The first $500 scholarship to attend library school at the University of Denver went to Stuart Metz of Salt Lake City. This program lasted until 1978 when the last scholarship of $700, the amount remaining in the member-donated Scholarship Fund, was awarded. By this time, the number of library school graduates had grown in excess of the available jobs.
The commitment of MPLA to the continuing education of its members led in 1976 to another in-service educational effort, the One-to-One Continuing Education Program. "The objective of this program was to provide for professional growth of librarians within the mountain-plains states in specific areas of librarianship." The committee selected learning sites within the region where participants in the program could visit for a week for "observation, informal discussion and work experience in an area of expertise demonstrated by the site."
The first five sites were the Minot (North Dakota) Public Library for its Community Information and Referral Service; the Community College of Denver, Red Rocks, for Educational Media for Learning in a Community College; Utah State Library for its Outreach Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; the Central Kansas Library System for its Public Library System Management; and the Sheridan (Wyoming) Public Library for its Story Hours for Children. Recipients received a $200 travel stipend after submitting a report of their experience.
The Board expanded the program in 1980 to include an "Experience Exchange Program." Additional library sites were selected to gave MPLA members the opportunity to arrange with the host libraries for personal visits, without stipend, to view their special operations and activities. By 1991, however, the One-to-One Program faltered for lack of interest from members, and in January 1992 the Board discontinued it. Members were encouraged to participate in the Professional Development Grants Program.
Professional Development Grants
At its January 1978 meeting, the Executive Board approved a new program proposed by the Scholarship Committee. This program offered a Continuing Education Scholarship to librarians who had been MPLA members for three consecutive years. The grants could be used by the recipients for formal class work, attendance at workshops or seminars, or independent study Initially, four grants of up to $500 (now $600) were to be given annually. The following October, the Board changed the name of the scholarships and the committee to Professional Development Grants. This popular and successful program still continues today, twenty years later. And the amount given annually has grown to $7,000. In 1988 the Board authorized an International Professional Development Grant of $1000 to be given at the discretion of the committee. As an incentive to encourage new memberships, mini-grants of $150 were added to the program and offered to those who did not meet the membership requirements for the full grants.
State Library Association Pre-Conference Grants
In support of its affiliate state library associations, the Board in 1981 established a program of $500 grants to state library associations to fund a pre-conference in conjunction with their annual conferences. MPLA members attending the pre-conference were to receive a 15% discount on any registration fees charged for the program. The Continuing Education Committee still administers this program and can grant up to four grants per year. Applications must be authorized by the governing board of the association in whose name the application is submitted.
To assist member libraries in recruiting librarians both from within and outside the region, MPLA has long used various media to advertise library job openings. The first effort was the Joblist published in the MPLA Newsletter. Then in 1981 the telephone Jobline, which is still operating today, was created. In 1985 an 800 toll-free number for MPLA members was added, with nonmembers allowed access through a subscriber fee. The new format also provided short job descriptions over the phone, with mail delivery of full job descriptions if requested. And during the last two years, the MPLA List-Serve has brought the Jobline to the internet.The MPLA Home Page when it becomes operational will likely become its latest manifestation.
In addition to these major, longer-term efforts to serve the professional and educational needs of its members, MPLA has also supported special one-time projects. The Board perceived these projects as worthwhile contributions to the objectives of the association.
White House Conferences
Both in 1978 and 1989, MPLA created an ad hoc WHCLIS Committee to explore how MPLA could best serve as a catalyst to assure that Western state concerns and issues were represented at the White House Conferences on Library and Information Services held in Washington, D.C., the first in November 1979 and the second in July 1991.
Working through the Western Council of State Libraries, the 1978 committee organized a Western States Caucus on August 23-29, 1979, in Boise. Seventeen states sent representatives to express their concerns and priorities for the conference. The group formally established a Western States Caucus to provide a communication network among the delegates, alternates, and delegations of the seventeen states. The caucus provided a forum for issues of common interest to the delegates west of the Mississippi; served as liaison with other delegations and the WHCOLIS headquarters staff; gathered and disseminated information and arranged for logistical matters; and created a mechanism to achieve maximum effectiveness in organization, strategy, and action while in Washington. In 1982, MPLA accepted the responsibility of administering a special purpose fund set up to support the MPLA region's delegate to WHCLIST, the national implementation body created by the conference.
Country School Legacy
In July 1979, the Board approved the request of Andrew Gulliford, a Colorado 4th grade teacher and oral historian, for MPLA to act as sponsor for a grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities divisions of Public Programs and the Library Program. The project involved a study of one-room schoolhouses in the mountain plains states. He asked for help in identifying two librarians and one humanist in each member state to work on the project and for the association to act as fiscal agent. The NEH approved the proposal and granted $274,375 for the project, which ran in two phases, research and fact finding and public presentations in libraries throughout the region from June 15, 1980 to December 15, 1981. The project sought information on all aspects of country schools and rural education both past and present with particular emphasis on (1) country schools as historic sites, (2) country schools as community centers, (3) country schools and the Americanization of ethnic groups, (4) reading, writing, 'rithmetic and recitation, and (5) teachers: their roles, rules and restrictions. Only 1,111 rural schools still remained in operation of the 200,000 that existed at the turn of the century. The completed project resulted in a 30-minute film, a booklet, and a traveling exhibit for each of the MPLA states. Over a hundred libraries in the region hosted the presentations and exhibit. In 1982, the American Association for State and Local History awarded to MPLA their Award of Merit for "Country School Legacy: Humanities on the Frontier." The award recognized "a performance deemed excellent compared nationally with similar activities."
The longest continuous service to its members has been its official publication. From its inception, MPLA sought to communicate with its members and to provide a means through which members could receive news, information, reports of activities and programs of the association, and access to innovative ideas, practices, and philosophies of librarianship. The first newsletters or bulletins were written and mimeographed by the presidents or hard-working editors, who not only gathered or wrote the articles, but often ran them off and mailed them. But the hope was always to create a continuing publication with its "great potential [to] provide for stimulus and growth of the Association."
Finally, in May 1956, The Mountain-Plains Library Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1, was published with Miriam E. McNally of BCR as editor. Its stated focus was "articles of general library interest, with special emphasis on the MPLA region." But it was envisioned to include articles on regional problems and suggested solutions, extracts from state bulletins, papers or talks from the convention, a section or articles devoted to education for librarianship, a department devoted to news of the Bibliographical Center, proceedings or summaries of the annual convention, and other features suggested by an editorial committee. This first issue came forth with a high expectation that subscriptions and advertising would make the journal self-sustaining.
Its longest-serving editor was Ford Rockwell, librarian at Wichita Public Library. He became editor in 1960 and moved the journal, for economy reasons, to his library for almost eleven years. John Christ, library director of the University of Nebraska, Omaha, became editor in 1973. He changed the format to 8 ½ x 11 and along with the usual professional and association-related articles published short stories, poems, crossword puzzles, and cartoons in an attempt to create reader interest and enhance readability. But by 1975, the Quarterly was costing a minimum of $1500 per issue, an unsustainable drain on association resources. The Board discontinued the journal in favor of a bi-monthly newsletter, which they felt would be "less formal and hopefully more lively." Yet, even with the less costly newsletter format, the dream of a self-sustaining publication paid for by subscriptions and advertising is still as elusive as ever. New computer technologies and graphic design and publishing software in the hands of a creative editor, however, continues the MPLA Newsletter as the lively communication tool hoped for almost a quarter of a century ago.
These major MPLA programs and activities have served the members well, making significant contributions to their professionalism and personal satisfaction as librarians. But we must not forget that none of these contributions would have been possible without the unselfish and dedicated service of hundreds of the members themselves who have given their time, expertise, knowledge and commitment to the work of the association and to the improvement of librarianship and library services in our eleven-state region. It is the members who deserve the credit for MPLA's fifty years of outstanding service.
MPLA now begins its second half-century of serving the librarians, libraries, and library users in a region now more urbanized, less agrarian, and certainly more sophisticated and aware of the information resources needed to succeed in the human enterprise. Its challenge today is much as it was in the past: to meet the needs of its members as they strive to serve the information requirements of a growing number of library users in a more rapidly changing world. The relevance and success of MPLA's past services herald a bright and promising future of continued relevance and importance to the personal and professional lives of present and future generations of librarians. In the words of former president Vern West (1976-77): "We will walk together into the future, strong in our beliefs, courage at our hearts, joyful that we ARE the future."
Continue the MPLA Story: MPLA: Expanding Horizons 1998-2008