Mary Edna Anders' early history of SELA credits the idea of a regional meeting to discussions by a group of southern librarians enroute to the American Library Association Conferencein Colorado Springs in June, 1920. Five months later the first regional meeting took place at Signal Mountain, Tennessee, on November 12-13, 1920, with an attendance of approximately one hundred librarians from seven states. Known as the Southeastern Librarians'Conference, this initial meeting dealt with general problems rather than those of administration and technique.
The success of this meeting led its leaders, while at ALA in Detroit, to schedule a second for November of 1922, again at Signal Mountain. Nine states were represented this time with twice as many attendees.
They tackled two pressing problems--library service for Blacks and training facilities for black librarians. Plans were formulated for an association "to discuss primarily the problems of the Southeast and to promote library development in this region." A constitution providing for an informal organization based upon state memberships (automatically making members of the state organizations members of SELA) was adopted. Mary Utopia Rothrock of Lawson McGhee Library in Knoxville and Charlotte Templeton of Greenville (S.C.) Public Library were elected the first president and secretary-treasurer, respectively.
By the 1924 Asheville conference nine states--Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia --had ratified the constitution. At this conference the first section programs were held. Although their names and composition may have changed through the years, five of the present Sections were organized as early as 1922: Public Library, School and Children's, Reference and Adult Services, Resources and Technical Services, and College and University Sections.
The fourth conference, again at Signal Mountain in April 1926, was the only regular conference held in the Spring. Specific ten year goals for improvement of library service were approved, one being negotiation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools regarding standards for school libraries and for institutions offering courses in school librarianship.
At the final conference of the decade at Biloxi in 1928, substantial progress was reported in the areas of standards, state library agencies, and service to minorities. In 1929 the Policy Committee prepared a special report citing critical needs for the Southeast to be submitted to national foundations at their January 1930 meetings.
Despite the financial difficulties of the Depression era, this decade brought unprecedented progress in library development to the South. Many goals identified in 1929 were achieved through substantial grants from three educational foundations: (1) the Julius Rosenwald Fund provided support for school and college libraries for Blacks, sponsored extensive demonstration programs of public library service and, through grants to several southern states, laid the foundation for library extension work in the South; (2) the General Education Board made funds available to establish the position of school library supervisor in eight of the nine southeastern states, to support research programs in the region and to sponsor cooperative enterprises among southern university libraries; and (3) the Carnegie Corporation funded a survey of library training facilities in the South and gave direct assistance to upgrade book collections in many college and university libraries in the region.
The 1930 Tampa conference featured reports on the completed survey of library training programs, the need for certification of librarians, continued support for county library development, and better library legislation. The seventh biennial conference in 1932 again returned to Signal Mountain, the last meeting at its birthplace.
The first Joint Conference of Southeastern and Southwestern Library Associations was held at Memphis in 1934, where the relationship of the library to social development and the evolving concept of governmental support for library service were stressed. The attendees were challenged to begin to plan constructively for development in all professional areas from the elementary school to the largest research library by Dr. Louis Round Wilson, Dean of the Graduate Library School, University of Chicago. Two years later at the 1936 Asheville conference, cooperative measures as a means of strengthening research facilities were discussed. Henry Odom's Southern Regions was analyzed for possible application to library development at these sessions.
By the 1938 Atlanta conference librarians recognized the potential of government support for libraries, and they were not only willing to accept it, but also eager to seek it. Discussions dealt with both federal and state aid. Three significant publications owing their existence in part to SELA appeared. The earliest was County Library Service in the South, a survey of the Rosenwald demonstrations prepared by Dr. Louis Round Wilson and E. A. Wright in 1935. In 1936 came Tommie Dora Barker's report on her activities from 1930-35 as ALA's only regional field agent, entitled Libraries of the South. The first attempt to describe research collections in libraries of a large region was made through SELA's College and Reference Section to a corresponding committee in ALA. Edited by Robert B. Downs of the University of North Carolina, Resources of Southern Libraries was published by ALA in 1938.
Federal aid continued to receive attention at the 1940 Savannah meeting. Both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Works Progress Administration had proved the benefits to be derived through federal programs. By this time the association needed some reorganization and necessary committees were appointed. However, it was necessary to suspend conferences during World War II and changes could not be effected immediately. Some programs were continued and a survey of the size and effectiveness of southern libraries, jointly sponsored by SELA and TVA Library Council, was undertaken. Information from questionnaires sent to libraries and library agencies, compiled by Dr. Louis Round Wilson and Marion Milczewski, was published in 1949 as Libraries in the Southeast.
Reorganization again received attention at the 1946 Asheville conference, and two major committees were appointed. The Publications Committee was to investigate the publishing of studies affecting regional librarianship and the feasibility of issuing a quarterly journal; the Activities Committee was to revise the constitution. Their reports were approved at the Louisville (1948) Conference and provided for annual meetings, a headquarters office, a full-time executive secretary, and a quarterly journal.
Tennessee was the birthplace of SELA, but Georgia made it a legal corporation on March 13, 1950, to allow the association to enter into legal contracts. Dorothy M. Crosland, librarian at Georgia Institute of Technology, became the first Acting Executive Secretary and the headquarters office was established at Georgia Tech, where it remained for twenty years.
In Atlanta in October 1950, the new constitution was ready and the Liaison Committee had a contract with TVA ready for signatures. The constitution would be final when ratified by five states; Georgia and South Carolina approved it at the Conference, and were quickly followed by Virginia and Mississippi. Kentucky's ratification made the adoption final on November 4, 1950.
The first issue of The Southeastern Librarian was published in the spring of 1951. First issued semi-annually, it has been a quarterly since 1953. The first three issues were edited by W. Stanley Hoole of the University of Alabama.
President Louis Shores appointed the first Southern Books Competition Committee in 1952. With awards made through a jury system, this remains a major project of SELA. The same year saw a regional survey of cataloging practices in small public libraries, the results of which were reported by Clyde E. Pettus at the 1952 Atlanta conference. This meeting concluded the first biennium as an incorporated organization with a headquarters, a paid secretary, a journal, income from paid membership dues, and a completed contract. The Korean War ended all non-essential TVA contracts, and the contract with SELA was canceled on June 1, 1951.
In 1956 President Nancy Jane Day persuaded the Southern States Work Conference, sponsored by fourteen departments of education and their state educational associations, to take school libraries as one of its study projects. This significantly enhanced the visibility of school libraries.
At the 1956 Roanoke conference, the Trustees and Friends of the Library, an expansion of the Trustees group formed in 1946, met officially as a section of the Association. Upon the recommendation of the Activities Committee a workshop for new officers and committee chairmen was called for February 1958, the beginning of a practice still in operation.
"Regionalism," the theme of the Louisville Conference in 1958, was explored in an effort to strengthen the relationship between the nine state associations and the regional association.
Advances in this decade were directly attributable to major federal legislation, the impact of which was discussed at board meetings, workshops and conferences throughout the 1960's.
The Southern Conference of State Directors of Public and School Library Programs (August 1960) was an attempt to promote better working relationships between these two agencies. Chaired by Lucille Nix, trends affecting the two fields and their areas of shared responsibility were emphasized.
The Asheville Conference (1960) was preceded by two workshops on facilities: the Public Library Building Institute was held at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, and the College Library Buildings Institute was held at Western Carolina College. This Conference featured at the Book Dinner Jonathan Daniels' October Recollections of Thomas Wolfe. Recognized as a minor classic, it was subsequently published in a limited edition by two SELA members, Emma Bostick and Fant Thornley.
Before the 1962 conference three noteworthy workshops were held: Recruiting for Librarianship in the Southeast, planned by I. T. Littleton of North Carolina State; Library Education, emphasizing conformity in undergraduate education, directed by Dorothy Ryan of the University of Tennessee; and Library Service to Business and Industry, a preconference of the Memphis meeting. At the 1962 conference the Reference Services Section reported on the just-completed survey of interlibrary loan services in all types of libraries.
At the 1964 conference in Norfolk, the Sections were for the first time responsible for planning the general sessions.
Following the passage of the Higher Education Act, the officers represented the Association at many workshops concerning the Title II programs and its allocations.
A workshop on Interlibrary Cooperation in 1967 to assist in implementation of Title III of the Library Services and Construction Act was led by Cora Paul Bomar, Lucile Nix and Mary Edna Anders. It was during this year that John Hall Jacobs died, the only president to die in office. Vice-President Bomar had been acting in his behalf and automatically assumed the presidency. A special election was held to fill the vacancy for Vice-President/President-Elect.
The first workshop on Library Automation was held in Gatlinburg in 1968. The conference that Fall in Miami drew 980 registrants and 137 exhibits; the membership reached 3,085, the largest number on record.
The '70's were years of change for SELA. At the Atlanta Conference (1970) two new Sections were approved: Special Libraries and Library Education; and a completely rewritten constitution provided for an elected secretary in addition to the paid executive secretary.
A second comprehensive survey of libraries in the South was initiated in March 1971 when a committee was appointed to plan for systematically updating and supplementing the original survey done twenty-five years earlier. Funding for the project came from the state associations, the nine state library agencies and SELA. TVA agreed to furnish computer and statistical services, and Dr. Mary Edna Anders of Georgia Tech's Industrial Development Division was appointed director. The results, compiled by Dr. Anders, were published in 1976 by the University of Alabama Press, Libraries and Library Services in the Southeast, 1972-1974.
The second joint conference with the Southwestern Library Association took place in New Orleans in 1972. Upon the resignation of Dorothy Ryan, incoming Vice-President Cecil Beach became the President, and the Executive Board appointed a replacement Vice-President/President-Elect.
West Virginia became the tenth state affiliate at the 1974 Richmond conference. During this administration--in 1975--two goals were attained: publication of the survey and the arrival of the first SOLINET terminal at Emory on January 2.
To implement the recommendations of the survey, the Board asked Dr. Anders to serve as part-time interim Executive Director of SELA. During her six-month tenure, much of the detailed planning for the office, including funding, was accomplished. In August, 1976, TVA granted $100,000 to assist in the support of the office as a demonstration project in regional development during the next four years.
The Association's first permanent award was established in January 1976 through a bequest of $10,000 from the estate of Mary Utopia Rothrock to provide a biennial award to a Southeastern librarian "for exceptional contribution to library development" in the region. This award was made for the first time to Mary Edna Anders at the 1976 conference in Knoxville, Miss Rothrock's home town.
On January 3, 1977, Johnnie Givens, former librarian at Austin Peay State University, became the first full-time Executive Director. Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a Solar Technology Transfer Program were secured.
Two publications, prepared simultaneously in 1977 by separate committees, were issued by the Association in 1978. The Southeastern Bibliographic Instruction Directory: Academic Libraries was compiled by James E. Ward and the Library Orientation Committee. Special Collections in Libraries of the Southeast, with an introduction by Frances Neel Cheney and a comprehensive index by G. Sheppeard Hicks, was compiled by a special committee and edited by J. B. Howell.
Of the Association's three prestigious awards, two were presented for the first time at the third Joint Conference with Southwestern in New Orleans in 1978. In recognition of an outstanding children's program, the first activity award went to the Greenville (SC) County Library, and Eudora Welty, Pulitzer Prize winning Mississippian, received the first Outstanding Author Award. Co-recipients of the Rothrock Award were John Gribbin and Kenneth E. Toombs, founders of SOLINET.
In the Fall of 1978 a newly organized Junior Members Round Table (JMRT) began to function informally, an earlier Round Table formed as "Junior Librarians" in 1934 having been disbanded in the '50's. A constitutional revision to permit Round Tables was necessary for them to be accepted formally as the first in the Association.
Rather than approve a deficit budget, the Executive Board discontinued the position of Executive Director on July 1, 1979. In the best fiscal interests of the Association it was decided to staff the headquarters office again with a part-time Executive Secretary with the addition of a full-time Office Manager. Ann W. Morton returned to the part-time post in September, 1979.
The Southeastern Librarian and editor Leland Park received special recognition at ALA in June, 1979 when it was awarded the H. W. Wilson Award for the most outstanding library periodical of the preceding year.
In observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Southern Books Competition, the Association published a list of the award winners from 1952-1977 with an introduction by John David Marshall of Middle Tennessee State University.
The headquarters itself contributed to the changes of the '70's. It was moved three times in ten years: from Georgia Tech to the home of the Executive Secretary in 1970, to an office suite in Tucker in 1974, and finally to a more appropriate suite in a new office complex in northeast Tucker in 1979.
The new decade opened with another period of economic decline which created operational challenges for SELA.
The Birmingham conference in 1980 observed the sixtieth anniversary of the Association with the publication of The Southeastern Library Association, Its History and Its Honorary Members, 1920-1980 edited by Ellis Tucker. The 1980-82 biennium saw the addition of three new Round Tables: Library Instruction, Online Search Librarians, and Government Documents. Several workshops were conducted during the biennium, including: "Library Marketing," sponsored by the Public Relations Committee; "From Tape to Product: Some Practical Considerations" sponsored by the Resources and Technical Services Section; "Crisis in the Southeast" (focusing on children's services) sponsored by the School and Children's Librarians' Section.
At the 1982 conference held in Louisville, a re-issued, fully revised and expanded Handbook was distributed, the first to be available to the entire membership, with procedures, histories of committees, a membership directory and advertisements. Louisiana became the eleventh constituent member.
In the spring of 1987, President Charles Beard recommended, upon examination of SELA's organizational structure, that the Legislative/Library Cooperation Committee be split, as it once had been, into two separate committees, because of the need for increased emphasis regionally in these two areas, relating to southeastern libraries today.
President Beard also announced his receipt of a request to form a Special Interest Group on Library Services to the Aging. This became a sub-committee to the Reference and Adult Services Section.
The SELA Library Education Section at the 1986 Biennial Conference in Atlanta, October 1986, introduced a resolution in support of the Division of Library and Information Management of Emory University. The Section resolved that the closing of one of the leading library and information management education programs in the nation would be a severe loss to the nation, especially the Southeast, and therefore urged that the Central Administration at Emory University recognize that to suspend the Division, as considered by the University, is to diminish the University's educational mission. The resolution was approved by SELA's Library Education Section.
In spite of financial pressures of the recession years, the threat of ALA regional conferences which will inevitably conflict with state and/or regional conferences and a membership loss common to all associations, the Southeastern Library Association continues to plan for the future and to build upon its illustrious heritage.
Southeastern Library Association members started off the decade focused on preparations for the 1991 White House Conference on Library and Information Science. Local and regional meetings were held to gather opinions and pinpoint directions for this second national gathering of librarians and advocates. An ad hoc task force chaired by Charles Beard met from August 16th-18th, 1990 as a preliminary consensus building step.
Each biennial conference offered programs on the changing role of the profession, technological updates and practical advice from the front lines. The Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN was the site of the 1990 SELA conference. The 1992 conference was held in New Orleans, Louisiana followed by Charlotte, North Carolina in 1994 and Lexington, Kentucky in 1996. Arkansas Library Association hosted a joint conference in Little Rock in1997. The Georgia Council of Media Organizations (GaCOMO) invited attendees to Jekyll Island in 2000.
The Winning Ticket: Southern Libraries was the theme for the 1996 joint conference held in Lexington, Kentucky. Over 1,000 individuals attended including 967 paid registrants and 80 vendors. A highlight was a presentation by National Public Radio (NPR) commentator and Louisville native, Bob Edwards. Reflecting on the keynote speech, conference chair Judith Gibbons noted: "His ruminations ranged from commenting on library architecture and design to lamenting the loss of librarians to administrative and fundraising duties."
At the 1996 conference board meeting, long-time SELA employee, Claudia Medori announced her forthcoming resignation. Her associate, Jo Ann Treadwell assisted the Association through the management transition. A subsequent contract was signed with SOLINET with services provided through 1998.
In the Summer/Fall/Winter 1996 issue of The Southeastern Librarian, numerous tributes were offered upon Claudia Medori's retirement. Charles Beard, SELA President, 1986-1988 said, "Claudia was a joy to work with because of her seemingly effortless organizational ability and her 'people skills'"
Jim Ward, SELA President, 1990-1992, reflected, "One could always rely on her to be dependable, efficient, prompt, thorough, accurate, conscientious, encouraging, understanding, cooperative and many other adjectives - always in a very pleasant way."
Throughout the 1990's, members worked on a variety of projects for the betterment of the association and the profession. A new membership directory was created. The traveling SELA exhibit was refreshed. The team of Gordon Baker and Bob Fox took over association management in 1999.
In summing up the decade, Gail Lazenby SELA President 1992 - 1994 reflected, "It is a well-known fact among those of us who have worked with, loved and struggled with SELA through many lean years that the reason that it has survived has a great deal with the members wanting it to survive."
The year 2000 dawned with the threat of Y2K and the potential for a cataclysmic chain of events caused by an inability of computers to recognize the new century. This threat wrecked havoc with society but fizzled when technology made the transition from 1999 to 2000.
The real jolt came on 9/11/2001 with terrorist activities in the United States. The ramifications changed the fabric of society and many libraries were faced with new intellectual freedom challenges caused by The US Patriot Act and other restrictive legislation. Globalization, burgeoning technology, financial instability and environmental concerns were hallmarks of the decade. The explosion of the Internet and the introduction of Library 2.0 profoundly changed the working of libraries and the ways of the world.
SELA adapted to change. A focus on communications was a hallmark of the decade. Much of the committee work formerly done via correspondence and conference calls was transferred to electronic discussions. Emphasis was also placed on the expansion of the SELA web site. During the decade, the site was hosted by SEFLIN followed by The University of Central Florida Library and by Austin Peay University.
The Southeastern Librarian made great strides under the four year leadership of editor, Frank Allen. A peer-review process was introduced. Issues became available electronically on the SELA website and H. W. Wilson contracted with the organization to offer online access to the journal. Cost saving and ground breaking work continued with the guidance of Perry Bratcher for the ensuing six years of the decade. SELn transitioned to a twice yearly enewsletter and a biannual traditional journal. Another move came when the 55 plus boxes housing the SELA archives were transferred from Emory University to Valdosta State University's Archives and Special Collections in 2006.
In 2001, Vice President/President Elect Ann Hamilton was approached by Georgia businessman Bud Frankenthaler with the idea of offering a library scholarship through SELA. As a result, President Barry Baker introduced plans for a new Ginny Frankenthaler Memorial Scholarship in library science to be offered in 2002. According to the guidelines, "The purpose of the scholarship is to recruit beginning professional librarians who possess potential for leadership and commitment to service in libraries in the Southeastern United States." The scholarship provides financial assistance toward completion of the graduate degree in library science from an institution accredited by the American Library Association.
A pressing concern during the decade was the decline in formal participation by state library associations. Reduced revenue also forced the association to reexamine its business model. Association members did a tremendous amount of soul searching and work on the long term direction of the organization. "What can we do better?" became a common refrain. Members strove to think strategically and concentrate on the future of SELA. A new committee structure was introduced in January, 2007 including a new Membership & Mentoring Committee.
In 2008, the SELA President's Award officially became the Charles E. Beard Award. Named after the late distinguished Georgian, Charles Beard was a former SELA President who died in 2004. Beard was a strong advocate for libraries and a mentor for library workers on the local, state, regional and national levels.