Broad Black Brimmer

I have decided to add my final, comprehensive entry on Ralph Munn here. It was previously available only to the rest of my class.
Ralph Munn
Posted by Leslie Rout at Sunday, February 10, 2013 11:10:26 PM EST

I have spent most of my time researching Ralph Munn and making entrie in my online journal. Ralph Munn was born in Aurora, Illinois in 1894. After serving in World War 1 he worked in several libraries, including the public library of Flint, Michigan. In 1928, he became the director of the Carnegie Library.

While he worked there, he established himself as a man of contradictions and a man ahead of his time. Munn was a strong believer in literacy and that everyone should have access to information. He was a great supporter of the bookmobile program which brought books to people who had no regular access to the library. His belief that the library should be “educational, informational and cultural” led him to seek out the highest caliber material for the Carnegie Library to keep people as best informed as possible and therein lies his first point of controversey. He has become a lightning rod for the issue of librarians and neutrality because he shunned popular fiction and did not want it in the Carnegie Libraries collections. While, he sought high end works, he almost certainly violated some of the ethical rules of librarians by actively ignoring works he deemed unworthy.

Munn is often referred to as the Father of the Australian and New Zealand Library systems. What he really did was help bring the American system to them by advocating free, public libraries that were staffed by professionals with varied skill sets.

The last point is what makes Munn so relevant: He recognized that libraries were expanding things that needed to do more to keep people informed than supply books. He saw that information was available to people in more forms than books and that libraries needed to accomodate that and needed people who were multifaceted and could keep up. He wrote about all this in the 1950’s well before the internet and recognized that the library needed to keep records in several mediums besides books.

Despite all his accomplishments, he advised against recruiting men to the library. While library work is traditionally pink collar, he had gone very far in the field. Munn thought men would not serve the libraries interests and would only be there to receive paychecks. It is an odd position for a man who must have realized the lack of glamour and big money involved

Munn died in 1975 many years after retiring from the Carnegie Library. He is survived by the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Contest.

So what can be made of Ralph Munn? A man who didn’t believe that men should be hired into the library system? He is controversial for good reasons, but he is one of the great 100 for his legacy. His questionable neutrality is part of the ongoing argument about what a librarian should and should not allow, but more so relevant is his belief that the library is a multimedia center that needs multitalented individuals to keep the publics access to information as excellent as possible. He foresaw this feature that some do not recognize even today and deserves respect for that.


Amey, Larry (2001). “When Libraries Made History”. The Australian Library Journal: 229–234.

Carnovsky, Leon (1937). “Why Graduate Study in Librarianship?”. The Library Quarterly 7 (2): 246–261.

Doms, Keith (1993). “Munn, Ralph”. In Wedgeworth, Robert. World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services (Third ed.). ALA Editions. pp. 595–6. ISBN 978-0-8389-0609-5.

Munn, Ralph (1936). Conditions and Trends in Education for Librarianship.

Munn, Ralph (1954). The Librarian: 6–12.

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