Part III: A Half Century of Service

From its beginning, MPLA has focused its collective efforts and resources on serving the libraries, the member state library associations, and the librarians of this large, sparsely populated region. Its original constitutional objective, "the promotion of library service in the Mountain Plains region," is still encompassed in the current Bylaws Mission statement, adopted in 1995: "The mission of this Association is to further the development of librarians, library employees, and trustees and to promote quality library service in the states of the Mountain Plains Region."

Bibliographical Center for Research

The earliest major effort of MPLA was the sponsorship of the Bibliographical Center for Research (BCR) in Denver. Even though BCR antedated MPLA by thirteen years, the sponsorship of BCR was a natural for a library association organized to promote library services on a regional basis, and especially so since many librarians were actively involved in both organizations. BCR, housed at the Denver Public Library, became a clearinghouse to facilitate interlibrary loans with a centralized collection of country and subject bibliographies and a union card catalog of the libraries in the region, a particularly helpful service for small rural libraries. It also collected some esoteric materials useful for scholarly research.

President Frank Lundy in 1951 appointed an MPLA committee chaired by Frank Eastlick of Denver Public Library with a charge to foster financial support, lend professional aid, and "perhaps" to shape direction and policy for the Center. Frank Anderson, president of MPLA, 1965-66, recalls one kind of "professional aid" given by MPLA: "the [union catalog] cards would pile up and every once in awhile we'd have a File a Mile affair to help the Bib Center catch up with their filing arrearages." The catalog grew to over 3 million cards before it was abandoned.

When MPLA's purpose of existence was questioned, its support and sponsorship of BCR was often the major reason used to justify it and to illustrate the kind of regional activities MPLA should be involved with. The two organizations were so closely associated that for many years each organization had an official representative to the other's executive board. For many years beginning in 1954, the MPLA Quarterly or Newsletter served as the official publication for BCR board minutes, annual reports, "Center News" and Bulletin. BCR was considered the "permanent" home of the MPLA Quarterlyuntil Ford Rockwell became editor in 1960 and moved it, for economy reasons, to Wichita. In 1954 the BCR director even suggested that the Center be sold to MPLA, but that never happened.

A 1966 study of BCR by Russell Swank, dean of the UC, Berkeley library, recommended that MPLA reaffirm its official sponsorship of the Center, exchange board members with it, and contribute to its financial support. He also suggested that MPLA consider using the Center as headquarters of the association and for implementing its cooperative programs. MPLA contributed $1,000 to BCR for the study and over the years made additional financial donations to support other BCR projects.

The MPLA Master Plan of 1974 included recommendations for BCR, such as encouraging OCLC affiliation, studying means of accessing new resources outside the region, and seeking the most effective means for providing bibliographic access to items both within and outside the region. It also echoed Swanks recommendation for sharing an executive secretary and office support, but this was not pursued. But for many years, BCR held its membership and board meetings during MPLA conferences.

However as new electronic technologies appeared, BCR expanded its interests beyond the region and found it "uneconomical to maintain a file of 3 million cards," with a significant backlog of unfiled cards. Ken Dowlin, BCR Trustee Board president, called it "an albatross at the crossroads." The regional union catalog was discarded and national databases and vendors used for interlibrary loans. The close relationship between the two organizations declined. MPLA, however, continues to recognize BCR as a vital regional resource, and BCR still supports MPLA conferences by exhibiting, presenting programs, and sponsoring other programs and activities. They (along with SilverPlatter) generously sponsored the MPLA 50th Anniversary Birthday Party at the joint conference in Salt Lake City in May 1998.

In addition to supporting regional library services, MPLA was early committed to recruiting outstanding young people into the profession and to encouraging practicing librarians to obtain advanced degrees and to participate in a variety of continuing education experiences. The annual conference programs, of course, provided many opportunities for obtaining new skills and information and to address important professional issues. But several innovative programs focused on the specific needs of it members and affiliated state library associations.

Loan Fund

In 1954 while the association was still short on money, the Executive Board established the MPLA Loan Fund administered by a Loan Fund Committee. Designed to help members get a library education, the fund provided for six grants of up to $200 each to help pay for the last semester of library school. The recipient signed a note to repay the loan in 10 equal installments beginning two months after completing library school. Payments had to begin ten months after graduation, and interest at one percent per month was charged on the unpaid balance. By August 1959 nine grants had been made: five had been paid off, one was overdue, and two were not yet due. In 1962, the loans were increased to $400 because of the increase in educational costs.

Scholarship Fund

As part of its efforts to recruit outstanding young people into librarianship, MPLA established a Scholarship Fund in the fall of 1962 and asked members to contribute to it. The first $500 scholarship to attend library school at the University of Denver went to Stuart Metz of Salt Lake City. This program lasted until 1978 when the last scholarship of $700, the amount remaining in the member-donated Scholarship Fund, was awarded. By this time, the number of library school graduates had grown in excess of the available jobs.

One-to-One Program

The commitment of MPLA to the continuing education of its members led in 1976 to another in-service educational effort, the One-to-One Continuing Education Program. "The objective of this program was to provide for professional growth of librarians within the mountain-plains states in specific areas of librarianship." The committee selected learning sites within the region where participants in the program could visit for a week for "observation, informal discussion and work experience in an area of expertise demonstrated by the site."

The first five sites were the Minot (North Dakota) Public Library for its Community Information and Referral Service; the Community College of Denver, Red Rocks, for Educational Media for Learning in a Community College; Utah State Library for its Outreach Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; the Central Kansas Library System for its Public Library System Management; and the Sheridan (Wyoming) Public Library for its Story Hours for Children. Recipients received a $200 travel stipend after submitting a report of their experience.

The Board expanded the program in 1980 to include an "Experience Exchange Program." Additional library sites were selected to gave MPLA members the opportunity to arrange with the host libraries for personal visits, without stipend, to view their special operations and activities. By 1991, however, the One-to-One Program faltered for lack of interest from members, and in January 1992 the Board discontinued it. Members were encouraged to participate in the Professional Development Grants Program.

Professional Development Grants

At its January 1978 meeting, the Executive Board approved a new program proposed by the Scholarship Committee. This program offered a Continuing Education Scholarship to librarians who had been MPLA members for three consecutive years. The grants could be used by the recipients for formal class work, attendance at workshops or seminars, or independent study Initially, four grants of up to $500 (now $600) were to be given annually. The following October, the Board changed the name of the scholarships and the committee to Professional Development Grants. This popular and successful program still continues today, twenty years later. And the amount given annually has grown to $7,000. In 1988 the Board authorized an International Professional Development Grant of $1000 to be given at the discretion of the committee. As an incentive to encourage new memberships, mini-grants of $150 were added to the program and offered to those who did not meet the membership requirements for the full grants.

State Library Association Pre-Conference Grants

In support of its affiliate state library associations, the Board in 1981 established a program of $500 grants to state library associations to fund a pre-conference in conjunction with their annual conferences. MPLA members attending the pre-conference were to receive a 15% discount on any registration fees charged for the program. The Continuing Education Committee still administers this program and can grant up to four grants per year. Applications must be authorized by the governing board of the association in whose name the application is submitted.


To assist member libraries in recruiting librarians both from within and outside the region, MPLA has long used various media to advertise library job openings. The first effort was the Joblist published in the MPLA Newsletter. Then in 1981 the telephone Jobline, which is still operating today, was created. In 1985 an 800 toll-free number for MPLA members was added, with nonmembers allowed access through a subscriber fee. The new format also provided short job descriptions over the phone, with mail delivery of full job descriptions if requested. And during the last two years, the MPLA List-Serve has brought the Jobline to the internet.The MPLA Home Page when it becomes operational will likely become its latest manifestation.

Special Projects

In addition to these major, longer-term efforts to serve the professional and educational needs of its members, MPLA has also supported special one-time projects. The Board perceived these projects as worthwhile contributions to the objectives of the association.

White House Conferences

Both in 1978 and 1989, MPLA created an ad hoc WHCLIS Committee to explore how MPLA could best serve as a catalyst to assure that Western state concerns and issues were represented at the White House Conferences on Library and Information Services held in Washington, D.C., the first in November 1979 and the second in July 1991.

Working through the Western Council of State Libraries, the 1978 committee organized a Western States Caucus on August 23-29, 1979, in Boise. Seventeen states sent representatives to express their concerns and priorities for the conference. The group formally established a Western States Caucus to provide a communication network among the delegates, alternates, and delegations of the seventeen states. The caucus provided a forum for issues of common interest to the delegates west of the Mississippi; served as liaison with other delegations and the WHCOLIS headquarters staff; gathered and disseminated information and arranged for logistical matters; and created a mechanism to achieve maximum effectiveness in organization, strategy, and action while in Washington. In 1982, MPLA accepted the responsibility of administering a special purpose fund set up to support the MPLA region's delegate to WHCLIST, the national implementation body created by the conference.

Country School Legacy

In July 1979, the Board approved the request of Andrew Gulliford, a Colorado 4th grade teacher and oral historian, for MPLA to act as sponsor for a grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities divisions of Public Programs and the Library Program. The project involved a study of one-room schoolhouses in the mountain plains states. He asked for help in identifying two librarians and one humanist in each member state to work on the project and for the association to act as fiscal agent. The NEH approved the proposal and granted $274,375 for the project, which ran in two phases, research and fact finding and public presentations in libraries throughout the region from June 15, 1980 to December 15, 1981. The project sought information on all aspects of country schools and rural education both past and present with particular emphasis on (1) country schools as historic sites, (2) country schools as community centers, (3) country schools and the Americanization of ethnic groups, (4) reading, writing, 'rithmetic and recitation, and (5) teachers: their roles, rules and restrictions. Only 1,111 rural schools still remained in operation of the 200,000 that existed at the turn of the century. The completed project resulted in a 30-minute film, a booklet, and a traveling exhibit for each of the MPLA states. Over a hundred libraries in the region hosted the presentations and exhibit. In 1982, the American Association for State and Local History awarded to MPLA their Award of Merit for "Country School Legacy: Humanities on the Frontier." The award recognized "a performance deemed excellent compared nationally with similar activities."


The longest continuous service to its members has been its official publication. From its inception, MPLA sought to communicate with its members and to provide a means through which members could receive news, information, reports of activities and programs of the association, and access to innovative ideas, practices, and philosophies of librarianship. The first newsletters or bulletins were written and mimeographed by the presidents or hard-working editors, who not only gathered or wrote the articles, but often ran them off and mailed them. But the hope was always to create a continuing publication with its "great potential [to] provide for stimulus and growth of the Association."

Finally, in May 1956, The Mountain-Plains Library Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1, was published with Miriam E. McNally of BCR as editor. Its stated focus was "articles of general library interest, with special emphasis on the MPLA region." But it was envisioned to include articles on regional problems and suggested solutions, extracts from state bulletins, papers or talks from the convention, a section or articles devoted to education for librarianship, a department devoted to news of the Bibliographical Center, proceedings or summaries of the annual convention, and other features suggested by an editorial committee. This first issue came forth with a high expectation that subscriptions and advertising would make the journal self-sustaining.

Its longest-serving editor was Ford Rockwell, librarian at Wichita Public Library. He became editor in 1960 and moved the journal, for economy reasons, to his library for almost eleven years. John Christ, library director of the University of Nebraska, Omaha, became editor in 1973. He changed the format to 8 ½ x 11 and along with the usual professional and association-related articles published short stories, poems, crossword puzzles, and cartoons in an attempt to create reader interest and enhance readability. But by 1975, the Quarterly was costing a minimum of $1500 per issue, an unsustainable drain on association resources. The Board discontinued the journal in favor of a bi-monthly newsletter, which they felt would be "less formal and hopefully more lively." Yet, even with the less costly newsletter format, the dream of a self-sustaining publication paid for by subscriptions and advertising is still as elusive as ever. New computer technologies and graphic design and publishing software in the hands of a creative editor, however, continues the MPLA Newsletter as the lively communication tool hoped for almost a quarter of a century ago.

These major MPLA programs and activities have served the members well, making significant contributions to their professionalism and personal satisfaction as librarians. But we must not forget that none of these contributions would have been possible without the unselfish and dedicated service of hundreds of the members themselves who have given their time, expertise, knowledge and commitment to the work of the association and to the improvement of librarianship and library services in our eleven-state region. It is the members who deserve the credit for MPLA's fifty years of outstanding service.

MPLA now begins its second half-century of serving the librarians, libraries, and library users in a region now more urbanized, less agrarian, and certainly more sophisticated and aware of the information resources needed to succeed in the human enterprise. Its challenge today is much as it was in the past: to meet the needs of its members as they strive to serve the information requirements of a growing number of library users in a more rapidly changing world. The relevance and success of MPLA's past services herald a bright and promising future of continued relevance and importance to the personal and professional lives of present and future generations of librarians. In the words of former president Vern West (1976-77): "We will walk together into the future, strong in our beliefs, courage at our hearts, joyful that we ARE the future."

Become an MPLA member!

Expand your horizons and join our community.