Library of Amateur Journalism (LAJ) Collection

The Library of Amateur Journalism Collection came to the Libraries of the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a gift of The Fossils, an organization dedicated to the history of amateur journalism, especially in the United States. Amateur journalism, a movement originated in the 19th century, was fueled by the availability of small hobby printing presses, leisure time (especially on the part of youth), and desire to communicate with like-minded enthusiasts. As described by the American Antiquarian Society, “An amateur journal is a periodical created to afford pleasure to its readers as well as to its editor and its publisher.”

Amateur journal issues sorted by title.
Amateur journal issues sorted by title. From the Library of Amateur Journalism (LAJ) Collection, Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Library of Amateur Journalism Collection is a large and complicated collection, which includes, at its core, the Edwin Hadley Smith Collection, which Smith began to assemble in the latter years of the 19th century. Notable among the materials he collected by Smith were thousands of issues of amateur journals from the 19th century through the middle of the 20th century, which he then had bound into scores of volumes. The collection as assembled by Smith also includes scrapbooks, photographs, and publications referring to the phenomenon of amateur journalism. The LAJ Collection also contains many individual issues of amateur journals, extensive correspondence and more amateur journals from the collection of Willametta and Martin Keffer, along with chronological runs of bundles (issues of amateur journals of more recent vintage, as arranged and distributed by various amateur journalism organizations) and the publications (“official organs”) of those organizations.

Bound volumes from the Edwin Hadley Smith collection within the Library of Amateur Journalism Collection.
Bound volumes from the Edwin Hadley Smith collection within the Library of Amateur Journalism Collection.

History of the Library of Amateur Journalism Collection

Despite its size, or perhaps because of it, the LAJ Collection has had numerous institutional homes and owners, including the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, the Columbia School of Journalism, the organization known as the Fossils (dedicated to the history of amateur journalism), the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, NYU, private hands, and an arrangement engineered between the Fossils and the American Private Press Association. Ken Faig, Jr. explored the long and complicated history of the LAJ in an essay for the Fossils centenary volume: “Passion, controversy and vision: A history of the Library of Amateur Journalism” is also available online at http://www.thefossils.org/laj_hist.pdf. After lengthy discussions begun in 2004, the Library of Amateur Journalism Collection made its way to the the Department of Special Collections as a gift of the Fossils.

Finding Materials in the LAJ Collection

A basic finding aid for the LAJ Collection is available in the Department of Special Collections, and provides a starting point for the researcher: it describes the sub-collections comprising the full collection, the size of each sub-collection, and the way each sub- collection is organized. So, for example, some parts of the collection—notably the bound Edwin Hadley Smith volumes—are arranged chronologically and then by title within each year; other parts are arranged by title of the amateur journal title. Still other portions of the collection remain as bundles arranged by organization and then date, and so on. Correspondence has been separated out, organized, and foldered, according to standard archival practice, which favors rough sorting and basic description. Collection components include

EHS collection (NAPA Library)

  • Edwin Hadley Smith Napa Library in envelopes
  • Bound volumes of amateur papers, America, by year and alphabetically within a year (through 1943)
  • Bound volumes of amateur papers, foreign (through 1940)
  • Bound professional clippings of amateur journalism, foreign
  • Bound professional clippings of amateur journalism, America
  • Bound scrapbooks

Bundles (amateur journal issues arranged by organization and date)

Individual amateur journal issues, sorted alphabetically by title

Printed ephemera related to amateur journalism

“Official organs” of amateur journalism organizations

Materials from various AJ organizations

Correspondence

Photographs and a/v material 1870s-1960s

Convention souvenirs and memorabilia

Willametta and Martin Keffer collection (amateur journal issues filed above)

Highlights and Challenges

At the heart of the Edwin Hadley Smith Collection are bound volumes of AJ issues arranged by year and then alphabetically within a year. Smith had issues of various sizes bound together by year, so that a  browned and crumbling amateur journal issue can follow relatively sturdy issues. We learn from earlier histories of the collection that the contents of these volumes were once represented by entries in a card catalog, but that catalog evidently disappeared long ago. An efficient finding aid for contents of those many volumes will require a database recording for each issue the volume in which it was found, its title, editor/publisher, place of publication, and date. The bindings themselves are problematic, and most individual issues would benefit from page-by-page deacidification to prevent further degradation.

In some of the scrapbooks documenting the organizational culture of various amateur journalism associations, the badges from association conventions are in much better shape than the pages on which they are mounted.

Scrapbook with convention memorabilia, from the Edwin Hadley Smith collection.
Scrapbook with convention memorabilia, from the Edwin Hadley Smith collection.

The collection includes long, if not absolutely complete, runs of the “official organs” issued regularly by the various amateur journalism organizations.

The Keffers, whose collection was added to the LAJ collection after their passing, contains much correspondence among amateur journalism enthusiasts as well as many more individual issues of amateur journals, the latter merged with holdings already arranged by title.

Opportunities to Support the Library of Amateur Journalism Collection

We are grateful to those in the amateur journalism community for their enthusiastic interest in sustaining the collection and enhancing access to it through

  • gifts to fund ongoing processing and description of the LAJ Collection
  • contributions to Lester M. Hawes, Jr. Memorial Endowment Fund for the Library of Amateur Journalism Collection.

To support the Collection, see supportuw.org/giveto/laj. The Fossils provide additional information about Supporting the Library of Amateur Journalism.

Additional Resources

Amateur journalism and its history

Amateur journalism and related organizations

More about the history of the Library Amateur Journalism Collection

  • Kenneth W. Faig, Jr. ”Passion, controversy and vision: A history of the Library of Amateur Journalism” (http://www.thefossils.org/laj_hist.pdf)
  • Tracy Honn, presentation on “Desktop publishing in the 19th century” at the annual meeting of the American Printing History Association (2010)
  • Jessica Isaac, “A grant-in-aid scholar uses the Library of Amateur Journalism of Special Collections,” in the Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries Newsletter, spring 2014, pp. 6-7 ()
  • Robin E. Rider, “The Library of Amateur Journalism Collection: Processing Update,” The Fossil (April 2015), pp. 2-3.

Related collections

  • British Amateur Journalism Collection, assembled by Ralph Arthur Laurance Breed and acquired for the Department of Special Collections by Yvonne Schofer
  • “Amateur newspapers” at the American Antiquarian Society
  • “Amateur press” holdings at the Department of Special Collections, University of Iowa
  • For others, see Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., “The wonderful diversity of institutional collections of amateur journals: What does it betoken for the future?” The Fossil (April 2015), pp. 4-8.