Great Library School Instructor; Founder of SCALA
It is very possible that you have gone through your entire time with SLIM and never heard of the name Elsie Pine. It isn’t remarkable that you haven’t? After all, Elsie retired from ESU’s School of Librarianship 70 years ago; she began working at ESU during the Great Depression, and retired at the end of WWII; and she didn’t even have a doctoral degree! Elsie, however, is arguably the most important professor in the school’s history. Without her impact on the program, it is unlikely that you would be here reading this today. She not only served the library school for 25 years, helped get the school accredited by the ALA, and advocated for the necessity of libraries and ESU’s library program, but without her, and her dedication to fraternity and service, we would not have our student organization, ESU SCALA.
Elsie Howard was born on September 7th 1887, in Winfield, Iowa, a town of less than 500 on the eastern edge of the state. Within a few years of her birth, her family moved to Spearville, Kansas, 17 miles from Dodge City. It was here she was raised, in a town of barely 100. She would attend a rural school and assist her mother with household chores in the evenings and summer. In 1912, at the age of 25, she was wed to W.L. Pine, and by all accounts was a happily married housewife. However, her life was turned upside-down when the United States entered World War One in 1917. Her husband enlisted and was sent to Europe to serve on the frontlines.
He never returned. In the summer of 1918, Elsie was told that her husband had died in battle. Suddenly without any means of support, Elsie found employment at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas. It was here that she first became interested in libraries and decided to pursue a career in school librarianship. Although Emporia State’s School of Librarianship had started 18 years earlier, it had ceased operations in 1918 due to the war and the large number of women needed in the industrial workforce. It would not reopen until the Fall of 1920, at which time Elsie had already committed to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She received her degree in three years, and then moved back to Kansas to open a new library at Roosevelt High School in Emporia, Kansas. Soon, an academic position opened at the Kansas Teachers College’s School of Librarianship, and Elsie was selected to join the faculty of the University, even though she had only a bachelor’s degree and was working on a Master’s over the summer at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Elsie found herself particularly busy in her first years after joining the college. She finished her Master’s degree, and received certificates from Harvard and the University of Chicago, all while working for the School of Librarianship and Roosevelt High. She had become a well-liked professor, engaging to her students, and often taught classes outdoors when the weather allowed.
She had an intense love for literature, and began at this time to travel the state of Kansas, giving book reviews and talks at the small, local Carnegie libraries. It was also during this time that Elsie moved to her home at 1215 Walnut Street in Emporia, where she lived for nearly fifty years and entertained top town officials, and librarians and publishers from around the world.
In 1928, Elsie was awarded for her service to library organizations by being elected the 21st President of the Kansas Library Association. That same year, Elsie helped the library program to earn a provisional accreditation from the American Library Association. Four years later, in 1932, this became a full accreditation. Emporia State became one of two teachers’ colleges in the United States to have an accredited library school. In 1931, Elsie was responsible for starting a library club at the college, one that was renamed in her honor in the 1950s, and renamed again in 1988 when the Elsie Pine Library Club received recognition from the ALA and became the Student Chapter of the American Library Association (SCALA).
Throughout the 1930s and most of the 1940s Elsie continued to work as a professor, and adjust the curriculum of the school to meet the needs of a changing profession. In 1943, the Kansas State Board of Education ruled that all school librarians must receive at least eight hour of college instruction in librarianship. This resulted in an influx of school librarians into the library school, and the need to create a school library program to serve these students. The library program rapidly expanded at the end of World War Two, and male students entered the program for the first time after the war. Not unlike today, the library profession faced a period of change, and there were many schools of thought about the future of libraries in an age when people just weren’t reading as much, and the news came in clips on the radio. Elsie was vital in helping the library program and libraries in the state of Kansas to navigate the changing times and demonstrate the value of libraries within their communities.
Elsie retired from the School of Librarianship in 1948, after 25 years of service, but her work with the program and the city of Emporia did not cease at retirement. In fact, she became more active as she was able to spend less time on curriculum, and more time on advocacy and social events. Even after sustaining serious injuries after falling down the stairs in a friend’s home, she managed to return to the school later in 1948, to host a workshop for library assistants in Kansas.
In 1949 she was appointed to the State Library Survey Commission and worked closely with the governor of Kansas for many years to improve library services to communities. Later that year, she received honorary life membership in the Kansas Library Association, along with former dean Willis H. Kerr, for their service to the profession.
1951 was a particularly busy one for Mrs. Pine. Early in the year, Elsie announced the results of a study she had conducted into library access in the state of Kansas. She found that 42% of Kansans had no access to libraries, and responded with a call to the governor for increased funding and support for libraries which, she advocated, were crucial centerpieces of every community. She was successful in her campaign, and the budget for the following year increased support to Kansas libraries. In June, Elsie, together with a former student and the student’s family, embarked on what would be a whirlwind, three-month tour of Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York, and London. Elsie saw this experience as an opportunity to learn more about libraries in other regions of the world, and to reflect on libraries in Kansas, and she returned to the School of Librarianship advocating that this opportunity be offered to more Kansas librarians. 21 years later, in 1972, the first school-sponsored library trips were offered. The two destinations: Washington, D.C., and London, England.
By the late 1950s, Elsie’s advocacy efforts had expanded to global organizations. In 1957, she was selected as a delegate to the UNESCO World Conference in San Francisco. The next year, she hosted a library workshop for library assistants interested in a career in professional librarianship. This workshop consisted of everything from how to dress, how to interview, what it’s like to work as a professional librarian, and how to identify good references, to the basics of cataloging and administration. The workshop attracted individuals from across the United States, and was an inspiration (on a much smaller scale) for the interview and resume workshops held today by SCALA.
Elsie continued to be active with the School and in the Emporia community until the early 1970s, when she moved Coffeyville to be near her sister, Helen. It was here that she lived for the last few years of her life until she passed away on June 24, 1974, at the age of 86. She is buried in Spearville, Kansas near her husband. She never remarried, nor had any kids. She was survived, at the time of her passing, by her sister, a nephew, and a niece; however, I have not been able to successful track down information on any of the three and their current whereabouts.
It is a certainty that SLIM would not look as it does today without the impact of Elsie Pine. She had a profound impact on the curriculum of our courses, the opportunities to travel offered to students, and the ability for students to connect and serve as a member of a student organization. Her 25 years in the department are rivaled by very few. Her motivation to lead, and her passion for community are to be admired. That is why Elsie Pine is a SLIM “name worth knowing.”
Tremendous Thanks to
Emporia Gazette archives collection
Coffeyville Daily Journal
The Sunflower Yearbook
The Library School Review Newsletter
American Library Association
Kansas Library Association
Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences Volume 39 (1985). Edited by Allen Kent