Pasadena City College, Home of the PCC Lancers

History of the Library

The Difficult Years, 1930-38

Although the growth of the Library was quite rapid in the last half-decade of the 1920s, putting the Library facilities and staff under a severe strain at times as has been noted above, the granting of additional rooms and personnel led the Librarian to note in the report for 1929-30 that progress had even been made on the perennial cataloging problem, some 2,284 books having been cataloged in that year, although this still did not keep up with the rate of acquisitions.

However, the most serious deficiency still facing the Library at this time was the very low degree of financial support being received for book appropriations. In a letter to the Principal, Mr. John W. Harbeson, dated March 14, 1929, Miss Skinner noted that generally accepted standards for book budgets for colleges and universities called for annual expenditures of from $5.00 to $6.00 per pupil enrollment. Yet in the year 1929-30 the Library expenditures for books, periodicals and binding combined were only $3,670, or about $1.20 per pupil enrollment. This was slightly less than $3,900 expended for Library salaries the same year.

With the onset of the Great Depression, this unsatisfactory situation became infinitely worse and remained so for many years. In 1930-31 the book expenditures totalled only $1,609 and fell further to an average of only $1,250 for each of the next three years, recovering to only $1,850 in 1934-35. The effect on the growth rate of the Library collections was staggering, the acquisition rate falling from over 3,000 volumes in 1929-30 to as low as only 900 in 1933-34. In fact, the net result was that the Library grew hardly at all for these five years because about the same number of books were discarded or lost per year as were purchased.

Accompanying this cut in the book budget was a corresponding reduction in staff, which coupled with a ten percent increase in the student population, put the Library resources under serious strain. Furthermore, volunteer student help became very difficult to obtain, necessitating that the professional staff spend considerable time at such mundane tasks as shelving books, until paid student help was provided in 1932-33.

Photo of library staff. Left to right, Margaret Baker, Julia Warren student assistant, Winifred Skinner, librarian, Helen Taylor. Additional member Eleanor Homer.

Although the reduction in the book budget was tempered somewhat by the fact that book prices slid drastically, making the fewer dollars go much farther, the lack of new equipment such as files, shelving and even work tables became a serious problem as well, requiring the use of much unsuitable and makeshift arrangements and producing a further loss in efficiency.

However, the Librarian found time during 1932-33 to write an essay entitled "The Place of the Library in the Junior College, The Past - The Present - The Future." In the first section, "The Past"' Miss Skinner outlined the effects of the Depression on the Library, particularly the serious deficiencies accruing to the book collections as a result of drastic cuts in the book budget. For example, in each of the years 1930-31 and 1931-32, only $2,000 was allotted for this purpose, whereas the accepted standards for high schools and junior colleges called for a total outlay for two years of $25,300, thus indicating a shortage of $21,300 for these two years alone. These shortages were widely felt not only in curricula already well established, but more often in newly-organized courses, where it even became necessary for instructors to loan personal copies of books to supplement the meager lists of the Library.

In the section devoted to "The Present," Miss Skinner discusses the role of the Library in the junior college project with some notes on the Pasadena Junior College Library. She considers the Library as "the [primary] laboratory for students of literature and for students of the changing world; the secondary laboratory for the sciences, the technological students, the home economics, the art and music, and the commercial students."

"Therefore, as the technician in charge of the Library laboratory, the Librarian is responsible for:

  1. A knowledge of books.
  2. The general book collections, and the book collection in general.
  3. Allocation of book budget to various departments.
  4. The internal organization of the Library.
  5. The rules and regulations. Do they help or hinder the use of books?
  6. Proper records and reports.
  7. Determining the extent of Faculty and student use of the Library.
  8. The efficiency of the teaching function of the Library.
  9. Cooperation with the Faculty in placing the books at their disposal and at the disposal of students.
  10. Conferring with departments and teachers on curriculum needs.
  11. Maintaining friendly attitude and atmosphere for Faculty and students.
  12. Encouragement of students in recreational readings.

The Administration is responsible for:

  1. The personnel of the Library.
  2. The proportional amount of the school budget allocated to the Library.
  3. General organization and policies which affect the Library.

The Faculty is responsible for:

  1. Acquaintance with the Library facilities of their specific field.
  2. * A knowledge of the fundamental or basic books of that field.
  3. **Knowledge of new books being published in that field.
  4. ***Frequent Visits to the Library
    1. To examine new books added to the Library and to be reminded of old ones
    2. To confer with Library staff on impending library assignments so that demandsmay be anticipated.
  5. Making library assignments definite and possible of achievement
    1. Is the material available so that the student will not be discouraged?
    2. Is there sufficient material so that all students may be satisfied in the allotted time?
  6. Support of the Library in student contacts.
  7. Encouragement of students to do required reading.

* The following lists, available in Pasadena Junior College Library, are library tools which may prove suggestive or helpful:

Shaw - List of Books for College Libraries.

Hester - Books for Junior College Libraries.

Hilton - Junior College Book List.

** Besides the usual publishers? lists, the Librarian checks the Publishers? Weekly for the benefit of the Faculty.

*** New books are exhibited on the display case in Pasadena Junior College Library.

In "The Future," the third section of her essay, Miss Skinner outlines her concept of library needs for the immediate future. The reader will find it illuminating to compare the following analysis with what actually materialized, sixteen years later, after Miss Skinner's retirement:

  1. An adequate book budget.
  2. An adequate staff to administer the books.
  3. A new library building to contain
    1. Seating capacity of at least 800 to be divided among the following rooms:
      1. General reading room.
      2. Reserve book room.
      3. Periodical room.
      4. Reference room.
      5. (Our present capacity is 190).
    2. Stack capacity for 100,000 volumes. (Present capacity is 27,178 books or 1,453 more than we now have, June 30, 1932).
    3. At least 6 seminar rooms.
    4. Cataloging room with adequate space for 6 typewriters, shelving, etc. (Our present room is overcrowded with 3).
    5. Workroom with proper equipment.
    6. Faculty rooms, where the Faculty can read or study in quietness and comfort.
    7. Staff rooms.
    8. Librarian's office. Private!
    9. Storage space.
    10. Lecture room to seat 300. (For Library lessons, for library lectures and others, for exhibit purposes, faculty meetings, etc.)"

When Miss Skinner wrote the foregoing essay, the fortunes of the Pasadena Junior College Library were at such a low ebb that it didn't seem possible that they could sink any lower. Just then, disaster struck! - in the form of the Long Beach earthquake of March, 1933. For its trials of the next four years this library would surely win the prize as the Hades of librarianship, insofar as physical facilities were concerned.

The immediate consequences of the earthquake to the Junior College plant were drastic to say the least. Examination of the structures housing most classrooms, administrative offices, and the Library revealed conditions so unsafe as to force closing of these buildings for school purposes until such time that the walls could be strengthened. During 1933-34 classes were held in tents. The Library remained where it was in the condemned building, but with "the interior walls lined with wire net supported at three foot intervals by rough pine two by four members, giving the Library the aesthetic appearance of a farmyard."

When it was ultimately decided that the buildings were to be completely reconstructed, necessitating removal of the Library to another place for the interim, the Librarian seized this opportunity to call in the Faculty to aid in the assessing of the entire book collection and culling out the "deadwood."

The following criteria were employed in this elimination process:

  1. Is the book still authoritative?
  2. Can any part of it be used?
  3. Has it any value as historic material in its field?
  4. In case of duplication do we need so many copies?
  5. Is there any possibility of ever using the book again even if it is not used at present?

If there was any hesitation on the part of the Librarian or faculty consultants in answering "no" to any of the above questions the book was retained. This process resulted in elimination of about 1,400 volumes, leaving a collection of about 26,000.

When the building housing the Library was officially ordered vacated by July 1, 1934, the Library was hard put to find a new home. Finally, however, the Dean of Men, who was in charge of buildings, suggested that the Library could abide temporarily on the stage of the old auditorium whilst the demolition and reconstruction of the rest of the building was accomplished. This proved to be the best suggestion offered and "accordingly during the second week of August [1934] the librarians were called back from their vacations for a week to supervise (without compensation) the moving and arrangement of the Library."

The Library occupied these quarters for two years, managing to maintain service under the most difficult conditions. The only space available for the staff workroom and office was the women?s dressing room below the stage, which the librarians had to share with more than fifty other women--teachers, office and cafeteria personnel.

Soon after the opening of the school year 1935-36, the demolition of the condemned building housing the Library began. The auditorium-Library was merely boxed in with thin boards while the walls on three sides were demolished by a large stone battering ram and the debris scooped up by a large steam shovel into trucks to be hauled away. This work took about three months during which the librarians tried to carry on as usual.

Naturally, the level of library use fell off drastically during this period, since customers would surely take their business elsewhere whenever possible. But even those persistent and patient souls who were still using the Library must finally have been driven out when swarms of flying ants descended in the first hot days of June, 1935.

Immediately after the close of the school year 1935-36, the Library was again moved to a new temporary home, this time into the temporarily enclosed open-air section of the Women's Gymnasium. This location actually proved to be a considerable improvement over the old stage, since there was now adequate light, some heating, good ventilation and sufficient space for proper aisles and arranging of the books in classified order.

During the last week in May, 1937 the Library was moved again, this time into its quarters in the new building, although the building itself was not yet fully completed.

Miss Skinner's Office
Library's new location in "C" Building

However, this time was chosen for the transfer in order to make use of N.Y.A. workers and thus save on moving expenses. The work began on a Friday at 2:00 P.M. and continued until dark, no lights having yet been installed. By working all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday (which was a school holiday--Labor Day) all the books had been placed in the new stack room, except the reference books and bound periodicals which had to remain in the Gymnasium until completion of the reference room.

Looking toward the Circulation Desk in the new location

Another view of the Circulation Desk

Miss Skinner's office from another angle

Reading Room in the new Library in "C" Building

Another rewarding experience for the Library in 1936-37 was its investigation by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Pasadena Junior College Library was selected for a detailed examination of its collection and facilities following an analytical survey by means of a questionnaire made three years earlier by the Corporation.

The detailed investigation of 1936-37 consisted of two parts:

  1. comparison of the Library collection with a check list of 5,000 books;
  2. a personal investigation of the Library by Dr. William M. Randall, professor of Library Science at the University of Chicago and editor of "Library Quarterly."

This investigation ultimately led to a grant of $3,000 to the Library by the Carnegie Corporation, which was a great boon in view of the greatly reduced book budget from 1930 onward, and also the abnormal amount of wear and tear resulting from the three forced moves in four years. (At one point Miss Skinner wondered how many moves were equivalent to fire!) Even if the Carnegie grant had not materialized, the investigation proved quite useful to the Librarian in illuminating strengths and weaknesses of the collections.

Although these new physical facilities immediately alleviated much of the misery of the preceding years and allowed something like normal library operations to take place, certain other problems arose almost at once. The staff of professional librarians had gradually been reduced over the preceding five years from four to three. With the former facilities severely limiting library service it was possible to get by with this reduced staff, especially when additional paid clerical help provided by W.P.A. and N.Y.A. became available. However, the new library facilities [at the insistence of the Principal] were set up on two floors instead of one as formerly, virtually demanding another trained librarian to maintain the status quo, let alone allow for growth. To make matters worse, an extended day program was adopted by the Board of Education to go into effect in the autumn of 1937. This extension of the school day from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. was supposed to provide educational opportunities for students equal to those of the traditional day school including library service.

The personnel shortage that developed out of these new factors was tempered by obtaining more W.P.A. and N.Y.A. help. But, unfortunately, the new physical facilities themselves proved inadequate upon opening as a result of rapidly rising enrollment, reaching 5,000 in the autumn of 1937. The reading room, reference room and staff workrooms were particularly deficient. The stack space was temporarily adequate, but the collections began to grow rapidly again after remaining nearly static for six years, reaching 30,000 volumes at the end of 1937-38 as a result, in part, of expenditure of $2,000 of the Carnegie grant.