Posts tagged: Special Collections

National Library Week: Libraries Transform – the Past

By , April 11, 2016

This week is National Library Week, and the American Library Association has selected “Libraries Transform” as its theme. While the Nashville Public Library has received widespread recognition in recent years, we have a long history of innovation and outreach to our community.




Books in Schools

As early as 1910 the Nashville Public Library was actively involved in getting books into the hands of children in schools. Mayor Hilary Howse praised the efforts of chief librarian Mary Hannah Johnson, and declared the library to be a “university of the people” for the educational opportunities it provided to all citizens, rich and poor, young and old.


Teenagers at the library in 1960s


Young Modern’s Den

Though it is a far cry from today’s technologically sophisticated Studio NPL and Teen Centers, the Young Modern’s Den of the early 1960s offered both educational resources as well as entertainment. Here, one couple learns to dance, while others take a look at the latest newspapers, enjoy a Coke, or look for sources for a school project.


Bookmobile in rural area



The bookmobile operated as a mini branch library on wheels, serving residents of Davidson County from the early 1940s until 2008. Though it’s hard to believe today, much of the county remained rural for most of the 20th century, and the bookmobile offered important services to those in outlying areas.


Stewardess at Airport Reading Room


Airport Reading Room

The first of its kind in the nation, the Airport Reading Room opened in 1962, though it lasted less than a decade. It provided a space for travelers and airline crews to unwind in between flights, like the stewardess shown here.


Books for checkout at a grocery store



Yet another innovation was the development of the “booketeria” concept – a small collection of books available for self-service checkout at local grocery stores. This 1953 scene is inside Logan’s Super Market in Belle Meade. Library Director Robert Alvarez guides a patron on how to check out a book.


Puppeteer Tom Tichenor


Tom Tichenor

Tom Tichenor is the father of the Nashville Public Library’s tradition of puppetry. In 1938, while a student at Hume-Fogg High School, Tichenor performed “Puss in Boots” for the Children’s Department of the Nashville Public Library. In addition to his long association with the library, lasting 50 years, Tichenor wrote plays and books, performed on television, and was part of the Broadway production of Carnival in New York City.

The tradition of puppetry at the Library lives on through the work of Wishing Chair Productions.

Today’s Library

Today the Nashville Public Library has 21 locations and offers access to more than 2 million items, including e-books and downloadable music and movies. The Library continues to lead in innovative services and programs, garnering national recognition for its Civil Rights RoomLimitless Libraries partnerships with schools, Bringing Books to Life preschool literacy program, and other programs and services. In 2010, NPL received the National Medal for Museum and Library Science – the highest honor given to libraries in the nation.

Participate, Visit, and Learn!

Sign up for a library card.

Find a branch near you.

Check out our events calendar.

Explore a timeline of Nashville Public Library’s history.


Nashville Banner, Feb. 26, 1910.

Nashville Room Historic Photographs Collection, images P-2195; P-2205; P-1184; P-2252; P-2738; held by the Special Collections Division.

Making the Ryman: Lula Naff

By , March 14, 2016

Exterior of RymanGuest blogger, Sara, shares one of her favorite Nashvillians with us today.

Lula Naff is the woman behind shifting the Ryman Auditorium from a religious venue to the entertainment destination it is today. In observance of Women’s History Month, I thought what better way to show off Nashville, the Public Library, and women than by reintroducing this famous woman that many may not know about but whose existence helped to shape one of the city’s greatest event venues.

Today the Ryman is known for musical events, the Grand Ole Opry, Country music, and excitement. But, it wouldn’t be known by these and other descriptions if it hadn’t been for Lula Naff. Her remarkable decision making and innovative ability to book diverse events have allowed the Ryman to maintain its historical run as a “must-see, must-do” for both locals and visitors to Nashville who crave a great time. Ms. Naff’s early influence of seeking various forms of entertainment for public and private viewing has become the catalyst for other venues attempting to gain larger audiences in Nashville. Though originally conceived as a building used for worship, debt and poor foot traffic forced Naff to invite wider varieties of performers to bring in more audiences and money.

Lula Naff was born in Fall Branch, Tennessee in 1875. She later worked as a stenographer for DeLong Rice Lyceum Bureau of Johnson City. She became widowed and, in 1904, the company moved to Nashville, bringing her and her young daughter along. After the company’s closure in 1914, Naff’s part-time job of booking Ryman Auditorium’s shows became her full-time career. By 1920, she was elevated to manager of the Ryman, becoming the first woman to fully manage the venue. It was because of her innovative ideas in booking such vast events and capturing more audiences that the Ryman was able to maintain its popularity and create an image of diversity. She retired in 1955, having worked over fifty years with the Ryman, and died in 1960 at the age of 85.


During her career, Naff recruited a variety of musical performers, speakers, and actors to the Ryman, including:

Tobacco Road Cast

Cast photograph of Tobacco Road signed to Lula Naff

*The Fisk Jubilee Singers, who began using the Ryman as their regular performance venue in the early 1900s.

* Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy, in 1913, which was the first sold out show at the Ryman.

*Merchant of Venice, featuring Maude Adams as Portia in 1922.

*Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt speaking on behalf of the Girl Scouts Council of America in 1938.

*Tobacco Road in 1938. Naff won a lawsuit against the Nashville Board of Censors who tried to ban the play and arrest main actor John Barton for indecency.

*Grand Ole Opry, which began their live performances in 1943.

Want to learn more about Lula Naff? The Special Collections department at Main library branch has an extensive collection of Lula Naff’s personal memorabilia, dating from the early 1900s to her retirement. Or check out the segment NPT did for Carousel of Time.

- Sara



Josephine Groves Holloway, Girl Scout Hero

By , January 22, 2016

BN 1963-1091-6 Girl Scout Award“If you could see Camp Holloway, tour its area, have its program explained to you…you would never duck for cover when the Girl Scouts literally swarm your community at their cookie sale time. You would rush to participate in this program that is so clearly dedicated to the proposition of moulding young women to habits of honorable and purposeful citizenship.” – Robert Churchwell, Nashville Banner, July 13, 1960

* * *

Girl Scout Cookies have been helping troops across the country raise money since 1917, but not every girl has always been welcome in the organization. In Nashville, it wasn’t until 1942 that Josephine Groves Holloway successfully registered the first African American Girl Scout troop.

Holloway (pictured above) was working at Nashville’s Bethlehem Center when she first became interested in getting the young girls she worked with involved with the Girl Scouts. In 1924 she attended training with founder Juliette Gordon Low at George Peabody College for Teachers and started an unofficial troop. Even though her request to start an official troop was denied, that didn’t stop her from obtaining a copy of the Girl Scout handbook and using it with her girls.

Due to Holloway’s persistence and an increasing pressure from the national office to combat discrimination, the local council granted her request in 1942 and Troop 200 became Nashville’s first African American Girl Scout Troop. The foundation laid by Holloway in the black community contributed to a total of thirteen new troops in the eighteen months that followed, but segregation was still a reality and made activities like camping difficult.

During this time many state parks were closed to African Americans, but in 1951 land was purchased so that young black Girl Scouts in Middle Tennessee would have a place to camp. Named after its Nashville leader, Camp Holloway opened in Millersville, Tennessee in 1955 thanks to money gained from – you guessed it – cookie sales.  Today, Girl Scouts of all races and backgrounds enjoy the historic camp.

Holloway is a graduate of Fisk University and Tennessee A&I. She is also the first black professional Girl Scout employee in Middle Tennessee, holding positions as field advisor, district director, and camp director. She retired in 1963, but continued her community service and organized the first tuition-free volunteer tutoring program at Pearl High School and Head Elementary.  During the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 she was honored with the “Hidden Heroine” award and in 1991 the new Girl Scout headquarters on Granny White Pike opened the Josephine G. Holloway Historical Collection and Gallery.

As you order your Girl Scout Cookies this year, remember the legacy of Josephine Groves Holloway.

BN 1960-1811-9 AA Girl Scout Camp

Camp Holloway, 1960. Nashville Banner Archives.

For more information:

Trial and Triumph: Essays in Tennessee’s African American History
A History of the Cumberland Valley Girl Scout Movement

Estamos Aqui – We Are Here

By , January 14, 2016

Painting by Jairo PradoThe main library is alive with the bright colors of local artists, but it isn’t your average show. Fourteen Latino American artists from throughout the state of Tennessee have come together to create Estamos Aquí: Voces Contemporáneas/We Are Here: Contemporary Voices. These artists explore identity, family, culture, and social justice in acrylic, clay, print, and other forms. Though the pieces were created by Latino artists, the themes are universal. Take, for example, Ruben Torres, a Mexican born artist that focuses on figurative symbolism. His images evoke emotional responses from all viewers and their simple forms make it easy to put yourself in their place.

Two paintings by Ruben Torres

Many of the artists explore the ways that we construct identity, especially the way that we layer cultures on top of each other as we travel to new places. Did you know about 80 new people move to Nashville EVERY DAY???  (According to CNN) That’s a lot of people bringing a lot of different cultures. And these people are not all immigrants. Sure, the Latin American population in Nashville has grown 10-15% in the last 10 years and the Kurdish population is thriving. But, we are also a popular destination for Midwesterners, Southerners, and Texans. I met someone earlier this week from Portland! All of these individuals bring their own perspective to life in Nashville and it is reflected in this exhibit. Jorge Yances paints layers upon layers of faces, newspapers, and other items in his work, Zolita Mojica combines Nashville skylines with Colombian flowers, and Danielle Sierra puts Elvis and Martin Luther King Jr on the same canvas. The unique intersections of our personal worlds are laid out in the artwork created by these wonderful artists.

Visit the exhibit at the Main Library, 615 Church Street. Exhibit closes April 3. This exhibit was curated by Jairo and Susan Prado and is part of the yearlong Estamos Aquí: 500 Years of Latino American History project.  

- Amber

Holiday cooking, 1925

By , December 14, 2015

woman at kitchen table with appliances




The holiday season brings with it tables full of home-baked goodness. Cookies, cakes, pies, turkey, ham, potatoes, casseroles – the list is nearly infinite. The next time all the cooking seems to be just too much for you – consider our foremothers a century ago. Most women (and at this time, nearly all the family cooking was performed by females) still cooked with wood- or coal-fired stoves. Consider what a revolution it must have been when electrical appliances came on the market!



 Electricity Means No More Kitchen Drudgery!


billboard promoting electric cooking 1925

This billboard from Nashville Railway and Light showcased the benefits of cooking with electricity, proclaiming “No more kitchen drudgery.” Electric ovens and stoves provided even, precise heat, from a  power source that required no venting to the outside and therefore no-mess from loading up the coal scuttle or wood bin. Other electrical appliances also helped in the kitchen: refrigerators, coffee pots, and toasters, to name just a few.

Cooking School Demonstrations

Nashville Electric Service cooking school

In fact, electric kitchen appliances were such a novelty that Nashville Railway & Light offered weekly cooking schools, beginning in 1925. Led by Miss Doreathea Lutzler, the classes were made more attractive by offering prizes, fresh cooked samples, and recipes. Held in “Electric Hall” at the company headquarters on Church Street (located where the present-day Nashville Public Library is), the classes drew large crowds.

CoffeePotOct25SunTo make the transition to electrical appliances more appealing, the company offered numerous trade-in allowances, like the advertisement at right.

What was a “railway” company doing selling kitchen appliances?

Nashville Railway and Light was incorporated in 1903, uniting the work of Cumberland Electric Light and Power Company, and the Nashville Railway Company. This brought electrical power distribution into NR&L’s hands, and as electrification of homes expanded during the early twentieth century, NR&L often had to tout the benefits of electricity over alternative fuel sources, such as gas or kerosene lighting or wood stoves. The company launched major publicity and educational campaigns to grow their business.

Today it is hard to imagine life without electricity and the conveniences it brings, and harder still to imagine a time when consumers had to be cajoled and persuaded to adopt its use.

Learn more about:

  • how electricity revolutionized women’s lives and housework in the early twentieth century
  • how electrification of streetcar lines transformed Nashville’s landscape
  • how the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and hydroelectric power impacted farming and rural development during the New Deal era

All of these themes and more can be found in the papers of the Nashville Electric Service Public Relations Records in the holdings of the Special Collections Division

You might also enjoy these books:

A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food by Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt

Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano

Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History by John Egerton

New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Foodways

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

By , December 6, 2015

Black Panthers Vanguard of the RevolutionThe Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution 
by Stanley Nelson

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is a film about the history of the Black Panther Party containing rare archival footage and interviews with the people who were a part of it, including members Kathleen Cleaver, Emory Douglas, Ericka Huggins, and Jamal Joseph. It bills itself as the first feature length documentary to explore the party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. Filmmaker Stanley Nelson notes:

“The parallels between pivotal moments within the movement and events occurring in our communities today are undeniable. To better understand the Black Panther Party is to be able to better reflect on our own racial climate and collective responsibility to ensure basic rights are fulfilled, not diminished, and that voices of justice and dissent are celebrated, not silenced.”

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution will air on PBS in February, but you can catch a FREE special screening with Stanley Nelson in attendance as part of our Conversations@NPL series this Friday, December 11 at 6:00pm. You may recognize the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker from some of his previous projects like The Murder of Emmett Till, Freedom Riders, and Freedom Summer – the film that framed the discussion for July’s Conversations@NPL event with civil rights activists Bernard Lafayette and C.T. Vivian. Following the screening, Mr. Nelson will answer questions with WSMV’s Demetria Kalodimos.

Click here for more information about The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

Hoopla Film Fest: Native American Films and Filmmakers

By , November 27, 2015

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, here are six films by and about Native Americans that you can stream on Hoopla for free with your library card:


Narrated by Benjamin Bratt (Qechua), We Shall Remain tells the history of the United States from the Native American perspective. With contributions from Chris Eyre (Cheyanne/Arapaho), Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo), and other Native cast and crew members (including language and cultural consultants), this five-part PBS documentary series starts with the first Thanksgiving and explores the alliance between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag all the way through the modern day American Indian Movement.

2. REEL INJUN (2009)

Written and directed by Neil Diamond (Cree), Reel Injun examines the depictions of Native Americans throughout the history of Hollywood. Talking heads include individuals such as filmmaker Chris Eyre, actor Adam Beach (Saulteaux), and actors / activists Russell Means (Oglala Lakota) and Sacheen Littlefeather. Through discussions of stereotypes and the homogenization of cultures, Reel Injun demonstrates the importance of Native filmmakers telling their own stories.

3. A GOOD DAY TO DIE (2010)

Using oral histories and archival footage, A Good Day to Die recounts the life of American Indian Movement (AIM) co-founder Dennis Banks (Ojibwa). The documentary is co-produced and directed by Lynn Salt (Choctaw) and features the voices of activists like Clyde Bellecourt (Ojibwa), Lehman Brightman (Lakota-Creek), and of course, Dennis Banks himself.

4. EMPIRE OF DIRT (2014)

This woman-centric film chronicles the lives of three generations of First Nations women struggling to deal with their past and reclaim the future. Written by Shannon Masters (Cree/Saskatchewan), Empire of Dirt won the 2014 Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Screenplay. Film producer Jennifer Podemski (Saulteaux/Israeli) – who you may know from Degrassi: The Next Generation – also appears in the film and received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.


Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls takes place in 1976 on a Red Crow Mi’gMaq reservation during a time when First Nations children were forced to attend residential schools. Starring Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs (Mohawk), the film is a fictionalized account of a teenager’s experience with death, drugs, and the erasure of her people’s traditions and culture. Rhymes for Young Ghouls earned Barnaby (Mi’kmaq) Best Director at the 2014 American Indian Film Festival.

6. ROAD TO PALOMA (2014)

You may recognize Jason Momoa (Native Hawaiian) as Khal Drogo on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but did you know that in addition to acting he directed, wrote, and produced 2014’s Road to Paloma? Meant to raise awareness about the real life issue of uninvestigated and unprosecuted rapes of Native American women on reservations by non-Native people, the film is about a biker on the run from the FBI after avenging his mother’s death.

Armistice Day

By , November 9, 2015

Soldiers marching in paradeEver wonder why Veterans Day is always November 11? It seems a little odd when most of our other national holidays are the second Monday or the last Thursday of the month. The truth is, November 11 is an important day in world history. In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (or, November 11), a temporary cease fire went into effect between Germany and the Allies, effectively ending World War I. Although it would take seven more months for the Treaty of Versailles to be signed, November 11 is often thought of as the end of the Great War.

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in 1919, starting the trend of national celebration of peace and World War I veterans. Eventually, the title was changed to Veterans Day to acknowledge all of the servicemen and women that have sacrificed for our country. The Veterans History Project Collection at NPL preserves the history of these individuals through letters, photographs, oral histories, and other materials. Over 400 veterans have contributed to this collection bringing us personal stories from military service in World War I to the present.

For example, Alice Mikel Duffield was a captain the Army Nurse Corps during World War I. She worked at Camp Pike in Arkansas where she was assigned to treat African American soldiers during an influenza outbreak. In her oral history, she remembers the impact of the armistice at home :

And I thought the war was over! It was – or at least I thought it was. And then I told the chief nurse that I – that the Armistice was over, been signed, I wanted to go home. And she said, “The war is not over, Miss Mikel! Do you think we can – This place is filled with men that are sick and wounded. We can’t just walk off and leave them here. They’ve got to be taken care of.”

But Duffield’s plans to marry the next day resulted in her immediate discharge since women could not be married and in the Army Nurse Corps at the time. She continued to dedicate her life to the military as a civilian, working in veteran hospitals for several years.

Another solider, George O’Bryan Trabue, was in Europe less than six months before the armistice. His father recalled the reaction in Nashville upon hearing the news:

Letter describing Nashville celebration

“I immediately assembled about 30 girls from our office and store. We took all of the dinner bells, cow bells, horns, flags, etc. we could find around the store and commenced marching”

He goes on to say: “We were the first to make any demonstration on the street but before it was two hours old all principle streets were filled with marchers.”

In another letter, Private Ralph Jones remarks on Trabue’s limited time in the field.

Letter from Ralph Jones

“Buddie it sure is tough to train all those months and then not get to show how much good it done you. If I were in your place I would feel like giving up.”


Veterans Day is a time to thank everyone who has served our country. One of the best ways to do this is to remember their stories.  To hear the memories of veterans for the past 100 years visit the Veterans History Project Collection online or at the library. And remember to thank a veteran!

What is ephemera?

By , October 12, 2015

What is “ephemera”? And how do you pronounce it, anyway? Ephemera (pronounced: “i-FEM-ur-uh”), refers to anything short-lived. Today we may be more familiar with the adjective, “ephemeral,” used to describe fresh-cut flowers, a misty morning, or the rapidly changing colors of a fading sunset. But the noun, used in a library or archives setting, more often refers to two-dimensional objects, usually made out of paper, designed for limited use, often for just one day. It can include items such as tickets, advertising broadsides, performance programs, handbills, and a variety of other items.

In the Special Collections Division at the Nashville Public Library, we use the term a little more broadly, encompassing those materials described above, but also including items that may be more enduring or substantive, such as essays, booklets, promotional literature, catalogs or other materials. In this instance, think of ephemera as a broad “miscellaneous” category. Typically, it is individual items that have come to us in isolation, without any accompanying materials and often no information about the item’s background. It might be a pamphlet someone found at a garage sale; a ticket stub between ancient floorboards; or any number of other items found under various circumstances.

For ease of access, we have grouped these random items into general subject categories, such as Businesses, Schools, Communities (including neighborhoods), Biography, Parks, and innumerable other headings. Let’s take a look at a few examples, to get a better sense of the variety of materials that come under this broad heading of “ephemera.”

Eddie Jones for Mayor, 1987


Eddie Jones for Mayor brochure, 1987

This brochure, from Eddie Jones’ 1987 campaign for mayor outlines his experience and qualifications for the job, his vision for the city, and encourages supporters to get involved in his campaign. He lost the election to Bill Boner. (Source: Biography Ephemera Subject Files).


Community Bridge and Liberation Message, 1972


Cover of Community Bridge magazine 1972

This is the cover from a local publication serving Nashville’s African-American community in the early 1970s. It includes articles about a national meeting of black social workers held in Nashville; the inequitable attention given public works projects in the Music Row area, while neighborhoods in North Nashville needed maintenance and upgrades; and other subjects. Advertisements for black-owned businesses and events of interest to the community are also included. (Source: Black History Ephemera Subject Files).










Nashville Conservatory of Music Recital, 1905


Nashville Conservatory of Music recital program, 1905


As a student at the Nashville Conservatory of Music, Ellen Lovell gave a piano recital on Jan. 27, 1905. This program shows her portrait on the cover, as well as a full listing of the performances and performers at the recital. (Source: Schools Ephemera Subject Files)






Although the majority of materials in the Special Collections Division’s Ephemera holdings date from the 20th century, it’s not uncommon to find items from the 19th century as well.


Fearless Railway Threshing Machines, ca. 1878


Ad for horse powered saw 1878

This illustration is from a catalog brochure for products of the Fearless Railway Threshing Machine Company, dated around 1878. George Stockell was a Nashville dealer who served as an agent of the company, which was headquartered in New York state. Most of the company’s products used literal horse-power, with one or more horses walking on a treadmill-like device to drive gears, belts, and machinery – which included devices like a thresher or a saw. This particular contraption was listed with a retail price of just over $200 – but did not include shipping charges from New York to Nashville. (Source: Businesses Ephemera Subject Files).

The Ephemera Subject Files in the Special Collections Division at the Nashville Public Library contain literally hundreds of documents related to a tremendous variety of subjects relating to Nashville’s history. Search the catalog for “Ephemera Subject Files” to learn more.

- Linda B.


Crowdsourcing History

By , September 14, 2015

Military PassWorking in Special Collections, I often marvel at how amazing it is that we have letters from Civil War soldiers, store ledgers from the 1900s, and interviews with people that lived through the Depression. These objects gives us a glimpse into our past and helps us see through to our future. Our collections are vital resources to researchers and community members alike. However, even in just the last 10 years, the way we access information has changed drastically. The number of individuals wanting to interact with our collections online has grown exponentially. Check out the success of Freegal, Hoopla, and Overdrive, for example!

Special Collections departments across the country are finding creative ways to make their resource available online, too. NPL has a fantastic digital collection that includes portions of our Veterans History Project Collection, Civil Rights Collection, Banner Archive, and many more (not to mention all of the resources the Metro Archives has made available). One of the challenges to making our collections available online, however, is the inherent uniqueness of them. Digital circulating collections can be made available through many different services that specialize in that one area and have a dedicated staff.

But we work with one-of-a-kind materials, which means that anything digital is most likely scanned, cataloged, and processed in house by your friendly neighborhood librarian. It may not seem like much work but getting an item from the shelf to the screen can take several hours, especially if it has a large amount of text that needs to be searched.

Outline Building FootprintsSome libraries are working with the public to divide and conquer! Take, for example, New York Public Library’s Building Inspector. Any member of the public can access the site and help the NYPL librarians outline, label, and classify buildings on historic maps. This makes the maps searchable and is helping them build a “NYC Space/Time Directory,” or as they are calling it, “a digital time-travel service.” Not only is this helpful to the library, but it’s kind of addicting!

There are tons of these projects out there. Ancient Lives lets you look at ancient Egyptian papyrus and try to interpret it. The Smithsonian has a project where volunteers have transcribed over 145,000 pages! The National Archives has a whole slew of projects for Citizen Archivist from tagging to subtitling to transcribing. Thousands of people are contributing to these types of projects and helping to make historical documents more accessible. There are even websites like Metadata Games and Helping History designed to connect you with a project you will enjoy.

So, does it sounds like fun?? Go ahead and try one! Not only will you help a librarian but you might just learn something :)

- Amber

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