"In this library, you'll be lauded, applauded and if you like, hugged," announced Forrest Brisbane Spaulding at the Kendall Young Library Friends of the Library annual meeting on Wednesday evening.
The portrayal of Spaulding in "The Not So Quiet Librarian" was presented by actor Tom Milligan, of The Old Creamery Theatre of Amana.
The play, written by Cynthia Mercati, tells the story of Spaulding, a native of New Hampshire who came to Iowa in the 1920's to serve as the head librarian at the Des Moines Public Library. The play was developed from newspaper articles about Spaulding.
-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Teresa Wood
Actor Tom Milligan portrayed Forrest Brisbane Spaulding, who served as the head librarian at the Des Moines Public Library. “The Not So Quiet Librarian” was performed Wednesday at the Kendall Young Library Friends of the Library annual meeting.
Even though Spaulding's name is not readily recognized, he was an American patriot who safeguarded the freedoms of US citizens by writing the Library Bill of Rights.
Spaulding was a scrawny and lonely, only child whose parents taught him about the love of books when he was young. But in addition to his love of libraries, books and intellectual freedom, Spaulding was a colorful character as portrayed by Milligan. He was a chain-smoker who loved to follow fire engines. He enjoyed train travel and was a accomplished wordsmith who loved a well-turned pun.
"Where dreams begin," was a firm, imbedded belief about books that Spaulding held when he came to Iowa to serve as the chief librarian for the Des Moines Public Library in 1917.
Spaulding served in Des Moines for two years before moving to the country of Peru. There he served as a correspondent for the Associated Press newspaper syndicate and worked to improve the country's libraries and museums from 1919 to 1927.
It was while living in Peru that Spaulding was first confronted by intellectual censorship. This experience helped him develop a gratitude for and an appreciation of America's freedoms.
Returning to America in 1927, Spaulding settled back into his work at the Des Moines library, which was then located along the Des Moines River.
But America had changed in his absence.
Spaulding found the country's economy was faltering. By 1929, America was thrown into the beginning of the Great Depression.
One day, people were living the American Dream, said Spaulding. But the next day, those dreams were shattered. Families could not come to the aid of one another because they too were rocked by the economic devastation.
So to combat the forlorn, downhearted souls, Spaulding established Waterfront University in the reading room of the Des Moines Public Library.
From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., the reading room became a classroom where Spaulding presented a list of books which comprised a course of study.
"Battling with books," Spaulding opened up a world of possibilities to people faced with despair. From that tutorial, Spaulding's students developed a thirst for knowledge and sought additional training to begin new lives.
"I love the difference that Waterfront University made," said Spaulding.
Spaulding believed that books contained a wealth of information which could change lives.
That was one of the reasons why he formed the Polk County Jail Library.
The prison library was designed to "awaken dead souls and help them find a new dignity," he said.
But the winds of war were building in Europe as depotism grew.
"Bad people were running things," said Spaulding.
Back in Des Moines, Spaulding allowed the book, "Mein Kampf," written by an obscure veteran of the Austrian Army by the name of Adolph Hitler, to be included in the stacks at the library.
While Spaulding was criticized for his actions, he stood firm.
"Our fear should be not that we know about Hitler, but that we didn't know about him," said Spaulding.
Thus began his battle against "the darkness of censorship."
But despite pressure, Spaulding was committed that books would be available to the public it serves and he pledged that books would not be burned or banned in Iowa.
The experience inspired Spaulding to author the Library Bills of Rights in 1938. The code established basic library policy which is still followed today by libraries across the nation.
The Library Bill of Rights has only six policy statements but it guaranteed the protection of people's rights to access information and the freedom to use the public library. It has been amended only six times since 1939 when it was first adopted by the American Library Association.
When the Patriot Act of 2001 sought the records of library patrons, the American Library Association countered with the Library Bills of Rights which safeguarded privacy rights.
"It was the shot heard around the world," said Spaulding. "We fought the good fight against intolerance."
According to Kendall Young library director Angie Martin-Schwarze, the Library Bill of Rights has stood the test of time and continues to protect the rights of libraries and their patrons today.
Throughout his life, Spaulding was awarded many national titles and honors, said Milligan.
Among his many honors, Spaulding was a finalist candidate for the position of Librarian for the U.S. Library of Congress. In 1948, he was honored by the Association of Christians and Jews with a citation as Man of the Year along side former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the independence movement for the Indian nation.
Spaulding served at the Des Moines Public Library until 1952. He returned to New Hampshire and he died in 1965.
Milligan, who works at the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana as a director, actor and set designer, has performed "The Not So Silent Librarian" throughout the nation. He also has performed portrayals of Iowa artist Grant Wood and Iowa native Henry Wallace. Wallace served as President Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture from 1932-1940 and as Roosevelt's vice president from 1940-1944. Wallace also founded Pioneer Seeds and Wallace Farmer.