Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Conneautville, Crawford County
Effie Louise Power—born in 1873 in Conneautville, Crawford County—was a graduate of the Carnegie Library School in Pittsburgh and helped to professionalize the field of children’s librarianship. She held key leadership roles in the public library systems of Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and St. Louis, Missouri. Additionally, she authored an early textbook on children’s librarianship and published four anthologies of stories for children. Although Power traveled frequently to work, lecture, and attend conferences, she lived in her hometown of Conneautville for twenty years after her retirement. She died in 1969 in Conneautville.
Effie Louise Power was born on February 12, 1873 to Frances Billings and William Ellis Power in Conneautville, Pennsylvania. Her family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1881, and she graduated from Cleveland’s Central High School in 1892. In 1895, her family returned to Pennsylvania, but Power remained in Cleveland to work with the growing Cleveland Public Library system. By 1903, Power had become Supervisor of Children’s Work. The reason for her initial interest in libraries is presently unknown, but for many educated women in the 1890s, librarianship was a more attractive option than the other professions accessible to them.
When Power started her career, few formal education programs existed for children’s librarians, who were mostly women. Power and her peers built their profession from the inside out, simultaneously developing both library programs for children and training programs for other librarians. Cleveland Public Library became one of two notable urban library systems that cultivated children’s services; the second was the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, where Power would work next.
Power relocated to Pennsylvania in 1904 to enroll in the Training School for Children’s Librarians of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which had opened in 1901 and was one of the earliest library training programs in the United States. By 1909, Power was the First Assistant in the Children’s Department at the Carnegie Library. Around this time, she also began to publish professional articles and books and deliver conference presentations about the relationship between the public library system and the public school system. One early effort was A Children's Library (1904), a substantial list of recommended books that she compiled in collaboration with May Humphrey Prentice of the Cleveland Normal School. Power viewed libraries as partner institutions, able to support students both inside and outside of the library’s physical structure. Passionate about folklore and oral tradition, Power also delivered lectures on storytelling at the University of Pittsburgh.
Power’s work drew national recognition, earning her a position as Supervisor of Children’s Work at the St. Louis Public Library in Missouri in 1911. Her experience with large, multibranch library systems in Cleveland and Pittsburgh qualified her to develop similar children’s offerings in St. Louis. She launched story hours at multiple library branches and book circulation events at local playgrounds. In 1913, she authored her first major article in the St. Louis Public Library annual report. Titled “How the Children of a Great City Get Their Books,” this report became a widely distributed instructional pamphlet.
Power returned to Pennsylvania in 1914 as the head of Children’s Services at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where she continued to write. She also became increasingly involved with the American Library Association (ALA). Her roles in ALA reflected trends in the professionalization of children’s librarianship. She took special interest in setting standards for both the quality of children’s literature and the education of children’s librarians. In 1915, she chaired the Elementary School Committee and produced a report on the administration of elementary school libraries. A few years later, she served on the Book Evaluation Committee. By 1925, she was the first chair of the ALA’s new Committee on Professional Training. In subsequent years, Power delivered a flurry of reports, presentations, and keynote addresses at ALA conferences, faithfully advocating for high-quality children’s literature and improved librarian training programs.
Meanwhile, Power’s own career continued to flourish. After receiving several prestigious job offers, she decided in 1920 to return to Cleveland as the head of the Children’s Department at Cleveland Public Library, a position she held from 1920 to 1937. During this time, she built a reputation as an anthologist and a professional authority on best practices in children’s librarianship. For six months in 1929, she collaborated with W. W. Chambers of the University of Chicago and worked at ALA’s headquarters to publish perhaps her most influential text: Library Service for Children. Between 1935 and 1937, she drew on her storytelling experience to publish four anthologies of folk tales: Blue Caravan Tales (1935), Stories to Shorten the Road (1936), From Umar’s Pack (1937), and Bag O’Tales: A Source Book for Storytellers (1937). These stories often featured strong female protagonists, although they drew almost exclusively from Western European lore. As was all too common at the time, however, she only mentioned Native American stories in supplementary lists, and omitted Jewish, African, African-American, and Asian stories altogether. Nonetheless, librarians and educators across the country widely used her anthologies. Later on, she met and befriended Langston Hughes while he was a high school student using the Cleveland Public Library, and helped him to edit and publish a children’s poetry collection called The Dream Keeper and Other Poems.
Power tried to retire at three different times. After leaving Cleveland Public Library in 1937, she was recruited to teach at Columbia University’s School of Library Service for two years. Then, in 1939, Power relocated to Pompano Beach, Florida, but quickly found herself on the board of the Pompano Beach Public Library. There, she led efforts to restore a library destroyed by hurricanes and stepped in for several years to fill a vacant children’s librarian position. In 1948, she finally retired to her hometown. Throughout her career, the Conneautville Courier had faithfully reported on her achievements, thus despite her far-ranging librarianship, it is clear she was a Pennsylvania personality throughout her long life. She died in Conneautville on October 8, 1969.
Power’s impact on the world of children’s library services stemmed from her commitment to several core values. First, she held children in high regard. Power long argued that children themselves initiated the development of children’s library programs by situating themselves in libraries, reading constantly, and asking questions until librarians simply had to pay attention to them. Secondly, Power remained committed to the quality of books and literary programming available to children, advocating relentlessly for high standards in publication and librarian education. The efforts of Power and her contemporaries ushered in a new era for children’s literature and libraries.
And May H. Prentice. A Children's Library. Cleveland: Cleveland Normal Training School, 1904.
List of Stories and Programs for Story Hours. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1915.
Library Service for Children. Chicago: American Library Association, 1930.
And Corydon Bell. Bag o' Tales: a Source Book for Story-Tellers. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1934.
Bell Caravan Tales. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1935.
And Dorothy Bayley. Stories to Shorten the Road. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1936.
And Dorothy Bayley. From Umar's Pack. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1937.
Work with Children in Public Libraries. Chicago: American Library Association, 1943.
“A Conneautville Girl Gains High Recognition.” The Conneautville Courier, 6 Nov. 1935, p. 1. Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/.
Bader, Barbara. “Cleveland and Pittsburgh Create a Profession.” The Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2012, pp. 27-34.
Butler, Helen L. “Review: Library Service for Children by Effie L. Power.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, vol. 1, no. 2, 1931, pp. 223-225. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40038544.
Jenkins, Christine A. “The History of Youth Services Librarianship: A Review of the Research Literature.” Libraries & Culture, vol. 35, no. 1, 2000, pp. 103-140. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25548802.
Kimball, Melanie A., Christine A. Jenkins, and Betsy Hearne. “Effie Louise Power: Librarian, Educator, Author.” Library Trends, vol. 52, no. 4, 2004, pp. 924-950.
“Lectures for Librarians: Among Experts is Former Pupil of Local Training School – Gift From Carnegie.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 31 Oct. 1906, p. 2.
“Librarian’s Assistant Will Go to St. Louis.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 Mar. 1911, p. 16.
“Library Methods to be Taught in France.” Miltonian, 31 May 1923, p. 5.