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The History of the Engineering Libraries Division, Part 1 - 1893 to 1960

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Engineering Librarians: Impacting the Past, Present, and Future

Tagged Division

Engineering Libraries

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Paper Authors

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Michael J White Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario Orcid 16x16

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In 2017 the Engineering Libraries Division (ELD) of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) will mark its fiftieth anniversary. This important milestone is an appropriate time to reflect on the role and impact of librarians within ASEE and in engineering education more broadly. ELD has been an active and successful ASEE division since the 1960s; however, this is only half the story. The participation of librarians in ASEE dates back more than a century to the early years of its predecessor society, the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education (SPEE). This paper explores the history of librarians and libraries in ASEE/SPEE from the founding of the Society in the early 1890s through its modernization in the 1940s and rapid growth in the 1950s. The examination and analysis of these historical trends gives context and meaning to later developments. The Society’s official proceedings and publications, meeting minutes and membership records are a rich source of information for this study. The author considers some of the reasons librarians may have been attracted to ASEE/SPEE and why they were welcomed as peers by other members, namely faculty and deans of engineering schools. One possible explanation is that the role of libraries and information resources in engineering education was of great interest to ASEE/SPEE members. Engineering educators of the time were keen to promote good research and reading habits in their students. Numerous articles on these topics appear throughout this period in the ASEE/SPEE conference proceedings and official journals. Both librarianship and engineering were experiencing a process of professionalization during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The American Library Association was established in 1876 followed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1880 and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1884. The substantial and rapid increase in technical information in the mid-twentieth century may have been another factor that brought librarians and engineering educators together. During World War II and the post-war years, numerous librarians participated in government-sponsored research projects and war-related work, acquiring expertise in the production, acquisition, organization and retrieval of technical literature. The emergence of an engineering librarian interest group within SPEE/ASEE in the 1940s, and similar groups in the American Library Association and Special Libraries Association, highlights the growing importance of this field of librarian specialization. By the early 1950s, the foundations of ELD were in place: nearly fifty librarians were ASEE members, several ASEE sections had Engineering Library Committees, and in 1951 ASEE established the Engineering Schools Library Committee.

White, M. J. (2016, June), The History of the Engineering Libraries Division, Part 1 - 1893 to 1960 Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26170

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