Tyler, Alice S.

Black and white portrait of Alice S. Tyler, Secretary of the Iowa Library (1900-1913). Source: State Historical Society, Iowa City.


Tyler, Alice Sarah (April 27, 1859–April 18, 1944)

In July 1900, State Librarian Johnson Brigham offered the position of the first Secretary of the Iowa Library Commission to Alice Sarah Tyler.1  Alice S. Tyler, forty-one at the time of her appointment, had worked in the Decatur Public Library in Illinois from 1887 to 1893.  In 1895 she became a graduate of the first library school class of the Armour Institute (which later moved to the University of Illinois) under Katherine Sharp.  From 1895 to 1900 she worked as a cataloging librarian at the Cleveland Public Library, where she first implemented some modern methods (the “new classification,” which presumably was the Dewey Decimal system, and the use of the typewriter) which was a characteristic of all her future endeavors.  According to Brigham, Tyler described herself as “only a cataloger, with a limited background as a small town librarian, — and I simply can’t make a speech.”  Despite her self-perceived limitations, Tyler served as secretary with the full confidence and approval of the members of the Iowa Library Commission from 1900 to 1913.


As secretary, Tyler guided the Iowa Library Commission through a period of unprecedented growth in Iowa libraries.  However, while Iowa communities wanted the expensive library buildings and opportunities provided by the Carnegie funds, Tyler was much more guarded in her endorsement of the Carnegie library grant program.  Her views are evident in the publications Tyler produced for the state of Iowa, which included the Iowa Library Quarterly (ILQ), a publication intended primarily for the state’s librarians, and the Reports of the Iowa Library Commission (RILC) which were submitted biennially to Iowa’s governors.  Additionally, at the October Iowa Library Association meetings, she presented an annual report entitled “Library Extension in Iowa,” in which she chronicled the growth and accomplishments of the year.


In all of her writings, Tyler carefully negotiated the discrepancies between the desires of Iowa’s communities and her own understanding of the potential problems incurred by Carnegie-funded libraries.  She saw a number of disadvantages inherent in the funding.  Tyler believed that leadership in the Iowa communities might be more interested in the physical appearance of the library buildings rather than library services for the community.  She also believed that a local donor, rather than a distant and unrelated philanthropist, would exercise better controls on building design, consequently erecting a better building.  It was likewise evident that Tyler believe that the financial requirement for the maintenance of the library building, especially for the smaller communities that were not county seats, would negatively impact the ability of the community to enlarge the library collections.  However, during Tyler’s tenure, 84 libraries Carnegie-funded libraries were erected in Iowa.2


In June 1913 Tyler submitted her resignation to the Iowa Library Commission, indicating that she had been “offered a position which presents an attractive field, at a considerable advance in salary.”3  She left for the directorship of the Library School of Western Reserve University, and in 1925, she was made Dean of the school and a professor of library science, and she remained active in the field until her retirement in 1929.4


                                                                                                                                                             SL Stuart

1 Excerpt taken from Shana L. Stuart, “‘My Duty and My Pleasure’: Alice S. Tyler’s Reluctant Oversight of Carnegie Library Philanthropy in Iowa,” Information and Culture vol. 48 n. 1 (2013), 92-93.
2 During her tenure, Oelwein (1903), Manson (1905), and Guthrie Center (1905) also received notification of their Carnegie funding, although each town ultimately declined the grants.
3 Stuart, 105.
4 Scott, Cora Richardson, “Alice Sarah Tyler,” in Pioneering Leaders in Librarianship. Ed. Emily M. Danton (Chicago: American Library Association, 1953), 192-194.


1902, June 13, Maquoketa, A.S. Tyler to Mrs. A.B. Bowen, Iowa Library Commission Building Advice

1902 July 8, Maquoketa, A.S. Tyler to Mrs. A.B. Bowen, Iowa Library Commission Architect Details

1913, June 12, Hawarden, ILC, Tax Recommendation Letter

1913, July 1, Cresco, A.S. Tyler to J.H. Howe, Desk Plan Delivery Letter