The Education of Alice M. Jordan: Navigating a Career in Children's Librarianship

Overview

A biography of Alice M. Jordan, who headed children’s work at the Boston Public Library (BPL) from 1902 to 1940, is long overdue. Daughter of a Maine sea captain and a Massachusetts schoolteacher, she was one of the pioneering generation of children’s librarians, women who entered the field when salaries were low, progressive ideals high, academic credentials spotty, and the drive to professionalization was revolutionizing librarianship and education. Modest and unassuming, high-school graduate Jordan worked ...

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The Education of Alice M. Jordan: Navigating a Career in Children's Librarianship

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Overview

A biography of Alice M. Jordan, who headed children’s work at the Boston Public Library (BPL) from 1902 to 1940, is long overdue. Daughter of a Maine sea captain and a Massachusetts schoolteacher, she was one of the pioneering generation of children’s librarians, women who entered the field when salaries were low, progressive ideals high, academic credentials spotty, and the drive to professionalization was revolutionizing librarianship and education. Modest and unassuming, high-school graduate Jordan worked effectively to improve educational opportunities for children and their librarians alike. She taught at the Simmons Library School, helped create the BPL Training School, founded the New England Round Table of Children’s Librarians (NERTCL), and mentored Bertha Mahony Miller, founder of The Horn Book Magazine. She had a national reputation among children’s book editors and librarians for her critical acumen, clear writing, and astute advice. Locally, she networked tirelessly with Boston educators, negotiated the placement of qualified children’s librarians in all BPL branches, and trained a generation of gifted youth workers—all from a desk in the middle of a busy children’s room. She left a legacy of high standards for children’s reading, storytelling, and reference services.
This biography draws on archival materials including Jordan’s correspondence with poet Louise Imogen Guiney and Horn Book editor Miller; BPL memos and reports; and 1979 interviews with Jordan trainees. I have shown her life and achievement in the context of social history, from late nineteenth-century women’s economic opportunities to early twentieth-century developments in librarianship, especially at the BPL. Each chapter has a brief list of milestones in Jordan and U.S. history.

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Editorial Reviews

Anita Silvey
For over a decade, as Horn Book Editor, I sat in an office with two photos proudly displayed in the bookcase. One of the magazine’s founder and mastermind, Bertha Mahoney Miller. The other of the Head of Youth Services at the Boston Public Library, Alice M. Jordan. These two ladies, and ladies they were, looked at me sternly every day. It was as if they were saying, “You better not mess up what took so much of our effort to create.”
Until now, few have known about the contributions of Alice M. Jordan, who came to the BPL in 1900 and helped shape the profession of children’s librarianship. Fortunately, Gale Eaton has given us a fascinating and readable biography of Miss Jordan, filled with information about the development of children’s services in public libraries as well.
If you are in a library system, or a library school student, and you want to understand the founding of the profession and the standards that Alice Jordan worked to establish, you can do no better than to pick up this book. I am so glad that Gale Eaton undertook the research necessary to tell the story of what happened in the Boston Public Library under Miss Jordan – what she overcame and what she accomplished.
Vicky Smith
Eaton’s graceful prose illuminates the life and work of a landmark figure in the history of children’s librarianship. Mining ships’ manifests, labor statistics and scores of public-library trustees’ reports among other documents, Eaton crafts a delicate portrait of an unassuming woman who, though she lacked professional credentials herself, fought doggedly for the professionalization of services to children. Modern readers will find details both quaint (efforts at cooperative cataloging stymied by nonstandard catalog cards, the importance of “picture bulletins” for visual literacy in an era before the modern picture book) and evergreen (interdepartmental opposition to change, the challenges of public-library/school collaboration). Contextualizing Jordan’s struggles and triumphs within her times, Eaton brings both Jordan and early children’s librarianship to life. Readers will come away both inspired by Jordan and grateful that Eaton has introduced her to them.
Anita Silvey
For over a decade, as Horn Book Editor, I sat in an office with two photos proudly displayed in the bookcase. One of the magazine’s founder and mastermind, Bertha Mahoney Miller. The other of the Head of Youth Services at the Boston Public Library, Alice M. Jordan. These two ladies, and ladies they were, looked at me sternly every day. It was as if they were saying, “You better not mess up what took so much of our effort to create.”
Until now, few have known about the contributions of Alice M. Jordan, who came to the BPL in 1900 and helped shape the profession of children’s librarianship. Fortunately, Gale Eaton has given us a fascinating and readable biography of Miss Jordan, filled with information about the development of children’s services in public libraries as well.
If you are in a library system, or a library school student, and you want to understand the founding of the profession and the standards that Alice Jordan worked to establish, you can do no better than to pick up this book. I am so glad that Gale Eaton undertook the research necessary to tell the story of what happened in the Boston Public Library under Miss Jordan – what she overcame and what she accomplished.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442236479
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/10/2014
  • Pages: 254
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Gale Eaton was born in Bangor, Maine, where a great public library headed by Alice Jordan’s cousin Felix Ranlett helped prepare her for Smith College. She went to work in the children’s room of the Boston Public Library, where Alice Jordan’s last generation of trainees maintained noble standards. She completed her MLS at the University of Rhode Island while working full time at the BPL; spent seven years as Supervisor of Children’s Services at the Berkshire Athenaeum; and returned to school, earning her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill. In 1988 she began teaching children’s literature, library services to youth, and research methods at URI’s Graduate School of Library and Information. She was appointed its director in 2006. Her first book for Scarecrow was Well-Dressed Role Models: The Portrayal of Women in Biographies for Children (2006); her previous work on Alice Jordan has been published in Libraries & the Cultural Record (2011), Children & Libraries (2010), and Marilyn Miller’s Pioneers and Leaders in Library Services to Youth (2003), and presented at conferences of the Children’s Literature Association (2011), Maine Library Association (2011), and Association for Library and Information Science Education (2009). Eaton retired in 2012. She now writes and volunteers for the RI Coalition of Library Advocates.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments: Mapping Alice Jordan
Chapter 1: Thomaston and the World, 1870-1881
Chapter 2: The Auburndale Years, 1881-1900
Chapter 3: Moving to Boston, 1900-1901
Chapter 4: The Children’s Room, Initiation, 1902
Chapter 5: The New Custodian Takes Hold, 1902-1906
Chapter 6: Networks and Associations, 1902-1907
Chapter 7: Progress and Outrage, 1907-1917
Chapter 8: Turning Point, 1917-1927
Chapter 9: Elder Stateswoman at the BPL, 1927-1940
Chapter 10: Worlds Beyond, 1940-1960
Epilogue: Following the Map
Appendix A: Alice Jordan’s Educational Tour, 1902
Appendix B: Response to a 1916 Editorial
Bibliography
Index

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