The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Currier (Lura Gibbons) Papers
Collection Number: M267
Volume: 5.4 cu. ft.
Lura Gibbons Currier, known as "the librarian who will do anything to get people into the library," was a pioneer in the formation of Mississippi's public library system. She was born in Erie, Kansas on September 28, 1912, the daughter of Vaughn and Frances Gibbons. Her father was a builder of roads and bridges, causing the Gibbons' to move thirty-nine times by the time Lura reached the age of sixteen. In 1938, the family moved to Texas. It was there that Lura fell in love with a Navy man, Alfred R. Currier, and married him in October of 1945. The couple then moved to Washington State. However, Mr. Currier was an alcoholic, and the marriage dissolved after eighteen months. Lura Currier had no children and never remarried. She kept her married name throughout her life.
Currier loved learning and pursued an extensive education. She received a Bachelor of the Arts degree in English from Mississippi Southern College in 1937 and a Bachelor of Library Science degree from Texas Women's University in 1940. She also studied for a time at Tulane University and, by correspondence, at the University of Chicago. Although her formal training in library science ended at that point, she harbored a desire to obtain a masters degree for many years.
Currier's intense devotion to library work prevented her from finding the time to return to formal studies. The year 1940 was the beginning of her non-stop term of service to librarianship in the United States. She first worked as a teacher in Jackson, Harrison, and Quitman counties in Mississippi. She was then hired as a librarian at the La Retama Public Library in Corpus Christi, Texas. In 1943, she moved to the Tom Green County Library in San Angelo, Texas and remained there until 1945. From Texas she relocated to Everett, Washington and served as public relations librarian for the Snohomish County library for four years. Mount Vernon, Washington became Currier's new home in 1949. She worked in the library there until 1950.
Currier's early career achievements were recognized when, in 1948, she received the prestigious John Cotton Dana Award for excellence in public relations activities for a public library. Her greatest accomplishments, however, came later during her work with the Mississippi Library Commission. She served as field representative (1950-55), executive secretary (1955-57), and director (1957-67) in her years with the Commission and helped to develop the public library system in Mississippi. Currier organized thirteen multi-county systems serving more than 750,000 people. Under her leadership, public libraries appeared in seventy towns where there were none previously, thirty-eight towns completely renovated their libraries, and sixty incorporated communities received bookmobile service.
Funding for these projects was a major concern. Currier worked with state and federal legislatures to gain acceptance for the concepts of library science and to increase the provisions of the Library Services and Construction Act. She described herself as a "masterful lobbyist." Her public relations skills are apparent in the numerous speeches she gave in support of librarianship.
Currier also belonged to various professional organizations such as the Adult Education Association, the Texas Library Association, and the American Library Association. She served them in many different capacities, becoming, in 1958, president of the Public Library Section of the American Library Association. This honor, typically given to a librarian in one of the principal cities of the United States, was bestowed on Currier because of her work to establish new libraries and improve existing ones.
Currier resigned from the directorship of the Mississippi Library Commission in 1967. She did not, however, end her career in the library field. She returned to the Northwest and worked as a visiting professor and a library development consultant in the state of Washington. In 1971, she became the director of the Pacific Northwest Bibliographic Center. This cooperative non-profit organization, which assisted librarians in matters of bibliographic research, was Currier's last formal place of employment. She retired on October first of 1977, later returned to Pascagoula, Mississippi, and was a member of the Pascagoula City Library Board until her death in 1983.
The Lura Gibbons Currier Papers are comprised of correspondence, newspaper articles, journal articles, reports, speeches, notes, photographs, and memorabilia gathered by Currier throughout her professional library career. The collection spans the years from 1937 to 1983 with the majority of the materials dealing with Currier's occupational experiences. These materials were written, sent, and collected by Currier and reflect not only her philosophy of library service, but also her personal interests.
The Papers are arranged into two subgroups: professional materials and personal materials. Subgroup I is divided into series according to the institutions which employed Currier, the professional organizations she belonged to, and her other career-related pursuits. The series of Subgroup I are as follows: The Harvard School (Celo, North Carolina), 1947; Snohomish County Library (Washington State), 1948-49; Mt. Vernon Public Library (Washington State), 1948-53; Mississippi Library Commission, 1949-69; Washington State Library Consultant, 1968-72; University of Washington, 1967-72; Pacific Northwest Bibliographic Center (PNBC)(Seattle, Washington), 1969-79; and Post-PNBC work, 1979-83. The subgroup continues with series of professional associations: American Library Association; Mississippi Library Association; Alaska Library Association; Canada Library Association; Oklahoma Library Association; Associations and Conferences (of a general nature); Speeches; Press Releases; Publications; Career Related Materials; and Library Information.
The first eight series correspond to the types of employment Currier held. The materials relating to the Harvard School, Snohomish County Library, and Mt. Vernon Public Library are groupings of only one or two folders and consist primarily of correspondence. Currier worked with the Mississippi Library Commission (MLC) for nearly eighteen years, and the papers related to that institution are much more extensive. This series contains correspondence and newspaper articles discussing the establishment of new libraries in Mississippi, regional library planning, and funding for public libraries. There is also information on Currier's application for the position of director, information on her resignation from that position, and materials which outline the standards and practices of the MLC.
The information pertaining to Currier's employment as Washington State Library Consultant and as visiting professor at the University of Washington is limited. The folders contain correspondence and brief reports on such topics as potential consolidations of small libraries and the content of the courses Currier taught, as well as an evaluation of Currier's performance as an instructor.
Currier's final position was Director of the Pacific Northwest Bibliographic Center (PNBC). Much of the correspondence sent and received during that ten year period (1969-79) is available in series 7. These letters discuss the holdings of member libraries, interlibrary loan activity, and statistics on requests. Also worth noting is a group of calendars, spanning the years 1970 to 1975 and 1979, which serve as travelogues. The calendars are a record of the meetings Currier attended and the trips she took. The folders of the series on the PNBC also contain reports on the institution (for example: Sharing Resources in the Pacific Northwest, 1970).
The series on Currier's post-PNBC career describes the work she did following her retirement from the PNBC in 1979. The folder contains letters to Currier requesting her services as a guest speaker and as an adviser on library matters. There is also a letter to Ted Koppel (ABC news anchor) concerning a speech he was to give at the annual conference of the Mississippi Economic Council in Jackson, Mississippi in 1983.
The remaining eleven series relate to Currier's library service outside of her occupational responsibilities. Currier belonged to many professional associations over the years. These included sections of the American Library Association as well as various state organizations such as the Mississippi Library Association. The series relating to these groups contain information on the committees Currier belonged to within the associations (for example: the ALA Library Extension Service Committee and the Public Libraries Division), and on her attendance and the speeches she gave at the conferences of these groups. In addition to the correspondence, the series also contain programs and name tags from the conferences and the bulletins of the associations.
The collected writings and speeches of Currier make up the next large series in the collection. There are near forty identified speeches, handwritten or typed, on paper and index cards. Ten folders of undated and untitled speeches have also been preserved. The speech topics include economic growth in the New South and its relation to libraries, the importance of librarians joining together to promote expansion of library services, and the benefits of a well-operated public library system. Following these speeches is a sub-series of speech notes. In many cases it was impossible to determine to which speech the notes pertained. The notes, therefore, are arranged simply by size, from index cards to regular sized paper.
Series 16 is a grouping of press releases (1949-50). Most of these were issued while Currier was employed at Mt. Vernon and were essential to her achievement of the John Cotton Dana Award for excellence in public relations activities. Some of the topics include a Christmas wish list for the public library, bookmobile service, and special library exhibits. The press releases are arranged in order from dated to undated material.
The published materials (1948-75) which follow the press releases are arranged in the same manner. These works consist of articles by Currier on the subject of public librarianship and published copies of her speeches. Many of these are found in library journals such as the Wilson Library Bulletin or Mississippi Library News.
The final series (18) on ancillary professional activities is entitled "Career Related Materials." It contains correspondence pertaining to positions of employment offered to Currier and employment recommendations she wrote for others. There is also a folder of notes concerning a work on Essae Martha Culver (Louisiana State Librarian, 1925-62) and a folder of unidentified audograms (five inch plastic recording discs). These miscellaneous items are followed by the final series in Subgroup I, a large collection of library information. There are newspaper articles on Mississippi libraries as well as librarianship around the country. Also included are pamphlets, fliers, operational manuals, and short and long reports on various topics. These items form a mini-collection on a broad range of issues relating to librarianship. They cover such topics as library development in Mississippi, American standard specifications for libraries, staff development, and planning-programming-budgeting systems. While they are valuable in understanding the kinds of problems Currier encountered in her work, they also provide a good insight into the subject of library service during this period.
For a glimpse into Currier's life outside oflibrary service one must consult Subgroup II -- personal materials. The first series contains correspondence between Currier, her family, and friends from 1952 to 1974. Notable are the annual Gibbons/ Currier Christmas letters (three of which are available). They provde details of family activities for the year. The second series of correspondence relates to Currier's alumni status with Mississippi Southern College.
The third series is related to information on Mississippi (1953-83). Often the information originates from outside sources, such as Washington newspapers, which indicate Currier's continued interest in the state even when she was not a resident. The subjects covered include: Mississippi's Head Start Program, the Merit Program, the Council on Human Relations, and local celebrity Fishbait Miller.
Collected materials on civil rights and race relations make up the fourth series of this subgroup. The folders contain articles, fliers, and reports which span the years of 1952 to 1972. There is also a folder of correspondence pertaining to the problems libraries encountered in complying with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The next series contains anecdotal material Currier collected for use in her speeches or simply out of personal interest. These include items such as editorial cartoons on the Watergate affair, "Letters From the Pastor" on subjects of morality which she clipped from church bulletins, and numerous collections of pithy one-liners such as "a bureaucrat is a man who thinks small and has a big staff," and "money's not all that's needed, but it is way ahead of whatever is in second place." Following these items is a series of fourteen photographs. Currier is featured in most of them, engaged in some sort of library service such as moving books, examining library materials, or meeting with other library workers.
The final two folders of Subgroup II contain the most personal items of the collection. There is a copy of the student newspaper of Mississippi Southern College, the Student Printz, of which Currier was the editor, dated the year that she graduated (1937).There is also Currier's calling card, an item of V-mail she received in 1944, and a few certificates of merit which she received -- one of which is from a course on Defensive Driving! The final items relate to Currier's mother-in-law, whom she remained close to throughout her life.
This collection would be of value to someone researching library development in the period from the mid 1940s through the 1970s. By reviewing the contents of the collection a good sense of the problems encountered and achievements made during this period can be gained. This collection also offers excellent biographical information on a pioneer in Mississippi librarianship. Lura Currier was a dynamic speaker and a prolific writer. She devoted her time and efforts toward improving library service and these papers bear witness to that fact.