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University of Missouri

The Library Book

Steve Weinberg discusses writing a book to commemorate the MU Libraries centennial.

Ellis Library

Ellis Library, MU’s first library building, celebrates 100 years in 2015. To commemorate the centennial, Steve Weinberg wrote a book that looks at the history of MU Libraries. Courtesy University Archives c0-3–8_b04_FF3_p03 

Steve Weinberg, BJ ’70, MA ’75, has written eight books, including A Journalism of Humanity: The Centennial History of the Missouri School of Journalism. After graduating from and teaching at the J-School, he found it too difficult to turn down the school’s request to document its 100-year past.

Other schools and colleges came knocking, but Weinberg said no. He wasn’t interested in writing another commissioned book. Plus, he was busy researching and writing a biography of cartoonist Garry Trudeau.

But then MU Libraries Director Jim Cogswell reached out to Weinberg. The MU Libraries are celebrating their centennial in 2015–16. Weinberg had spent quite some time at the library, studying in the stacks as a student, using the government documents as an author and scanning microforms as a professor. He agreed to write the book, A Place of Visions: 100 years of the University of Missouri Libraries (University of Missouri Press, 2016), and he sat down with MIZZOU to talk about it.

How did you approach the libraries book?
Instead of doing only a straight chronological history of the MU Libraries, I suggested another part that would focus on Missouri authors and books about Missouri — sort of the most complete annotated bibliography of Missouri literature. The narrative history of the libraries is fewer pages than the bibliography. There’s a paragraph or two about each author or book I chose, and I tied that annotated bibliography to the MU Libraries every time I could. A lot of successful authors have MU connections, so I interviewed some of them about how they used the library here as a student or faculty member.

What was your process for researching the history of the library?
Almost everything I needed was either inside Ellis Library or in the University Archives. I looked through old issues of MIZZOU and the Savitar and, to some extent, looked for clips in the Maneater and the Columbia Missourian and the Columbia Daily Tribune. I also read some books about the history of libraries and librarianship.

How did you choose what authors and books to include in the bibliography?
It was sort of haphazard. I favored breadth over depth. My criteria were if they lived for a significant time in Missouri or if they were born in Missouri. I also included authors if they wrote significant books set in Missouri or about Missouri. I looked at all of the authors the University of Missouri Press has ever published. That gave me a useful starting point.

I’m not including most self-published authors. I’m also not listing textbooks. Nonfiction predominates. There’ll be a lot more people in my annotated bibliography who wrote history books about Missouri or books about Missouri issues rather than fiction, though I included fiction. William Least-Heat Moon, BA ’61, MA ’62, PhD ’73, BJ ’78, is obviously in the book. Mark Twain is obviously in the book. But everyone will find some nice surprises.

What’s been the most surprising thing you learned?
I don’t even know where to start. In 1962, there was a novel published called the Moon Flower Vine. It’s a novel set in Missouri by an author named Jetta Carleton. She’d never written a novel before; she wasn’t well known at all. The book became a runaway best-seller and was reprinted several times after 1962. One of the reasons it came back into fashion is the already-famous writer Jane Smiley did a book about her favorite books [Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel, Knopf, 2005], and the Moon Flower Vine was one she listed.

In terms of the MU Libraries, I didn’t really know much about the fire in 1892. I knew that it destroyed Academic Hall, but I didn’t understand that the entire library that had been built up until then had been destroyed. The library, such as it was, was in a wing of Academic Hall. All the books burned.

Who has had the most influence in making the MU Libraries what they are today?
The director who had by far the most impact was Ralph Parker. He is known throughout the library literature as the father of library automation. Parker was a librarian from the 1940s to the ’60s. Part of what he did long before computers was he figured out how to use any advances in electronic technology to make libraries more efficient. There have been doctoral dissertations written about Ralph Parker and library automation.

A Place of Visions: 100 years of the University of Missouri Libraries will be available in April 2016 at The Mizzou Store.