University of Wisconsin–Madison

iSchool Library Vintage Poster Collection

iSchool student Abigail Guidry recently organized a collection of library and literacy promotional posters housed at the library for decades. Most of the posters are about children’s literacy, promotion of individual books, and library advocacy. They are various sizes and range in origin from the 1910s to 2010s with the bulk of the collection originating from 1950-1980. Abigail shared her experiences sorting and cataloging the collection. Her efforts will help the collection be more accessible and visible in the years to come!

Will the new home have books posterThe first step was to look at everything and get a sense of what we had in the collection. In doing that, I quickly realized that we did not have enough room to be able to organize the posters in a meaningful way. Because of this, we decided to leave them organized how they were, which is roughly by type.

The metadata I initially collected is basic: title, artist, year, description, publisher, occasion (where I note what the poster was used for, e.g., “Book Week” or “READ”). I also used a notes field to place links to digital versions of the posters I found on the Library of Congress website.

I learned a lot working on this project: the history of library promotion, attitudes about childhood literacy, and, more generally, about working on archival and poster projects. The project has been a lesson in the importance of documentation and standardization of language and workflow. I was working alone, and it could be up to a week between sessions. In that time, it was easy to forget decisions and processes, even those I felt were well-established.Three Cheers for Books poster

A favorite fun fact I discovered while working with the collection is that the first Children’s Book Week poster was designed by Jessie Willcox Smith who would have been most recognized by mothers and other women as the illustrator for Good Housekeeping Magazine.

We have decisions to make about the future of the collection. Initially, we wanted to digitize the posters and only keep those digital surrogates in order to save space. We do not have a place to safely store them all in the iSchool Library. In order to digitize, we have wait for space in the UW Digitized Collections timeline. They have a lot of projects, and it could be a while before they can take this one. Copyright is another area of concern; we will need permission to digitize many of the posters that are still under copyright and the copyright status of many is unclear.

Bring home the world posterWhile I wish we could digitize and make them accessible quickly, it is not immediately feasible. There are over 900 posters, and many of them are oversized. In the interim, I would like to create a finding aid to post on the iSchool Library’s website so that people can at least find out that the collection exists. Right now, most of the people who know about the collection have heard about it through word of mouth.

The iSchool wants to share the collection with more people. Throughout the summer, keep an eye on our social media pages where we will share images of the posters. It’s a collection worthy of notice!