Speaking of History:The Words of South Carolina Librarians

Listen to Catherine Heniford Lewis

Catherine Heniford Lewis talks about the the Library of Congress and McCarthy

RVW: These are McCarthy days...is the Institute coming under any pressure from those kinds of things?

CL: I didn't feel the effect of McCarthy until I got into the State Department and then we did full force. I went to work for the State Department as a review specialist??book review specialist...

RVW: This was 1951?

CL: That's right. In the Information Agency division. I was in the section that dealt with the libraries overseas. There began to be a lot of trouble about McCarthy, so when Eisenhower came in he reorganized the agency and made it an independent agency, to sort of separate the Department of State from criticism. We were given a separate administrator and I did a lot of work as a result of the McCarthy business. It became necessary for us to set up a union catalog of 190 odd, maybe even 200, libraries overseas. McCarthy's lists would arrive; he would want to know how many books we had by a given author or a given list of authors located in all the libraries overseas. You had to list by library and title and number of copies...so we had to set up a union catalog. Physically, it was housed at the Library of Congress because we didn't have room, but we all worked on it. I wish you could have seen the bibliographies that came in from overseas. The emphasis in those libraries was certainly not in pure librarianship, I have to say that their cataloging was haphazard at best. They came in every format that you could possibly imagine. Some of them were boxes of cards, some of them were hand?written lists. It was just an incredible mess and of course we had to untangle all that and get the titles sorted out and identified and all that sort of thing. Then when a list would come from McCarthy we would have to report. Almost in my dreams I could recite the 196 libraries because I sat there so often reading those lists. That was a difficult and bitter time.

RVW: Was the union catalog created strictly in response to the kinds of things McCarthy wanted?

CL: That's right. It would not have been done otherwise, I'm certain of that. It was only under pressure from his demands that we did it...it was an extraordinarily costly thing in terms of hours spent overseas, hours spent in this country. You resented it so deeply because they were hours that could have been spent productively in other ways and everything was sort of sidetracked into this McCarthy nightmare. And of course the lists had nothing to do with communists. The lists he sent to us were of the most respectable names in almost any field you want to mention. There would be clergymen on the list, there would be journalists, whose names were in the news all the time, on a given list. There would be lists of actors, or people associated with the theater. There would be lists of American writers. These people were not communists. The sad thing about all this??and this is one reason why I dropped my membership in the ALA and never rejoined??ALA did not support us at any point. They were highly critical of the librarians who were in the agency and they never bothered, as far as I could tell, to consider what we were going through and what we were trying to do to protect the people who were on those lists. The climate in the country was such at that point that if any name was known to be associated with the McCarthy list, it was assumed in the public press that that person was communist. So when these names of??as far as I'm concerned??innocent people came to us and we had to report to McCarthy on the titles of their books which were in our libraries overseas, we didn't feel like we could disclose those names because they would be tarred with the red brush if we did. So we made a conscious decision in the agency that we would protect those names??that we would take the criticism.

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