Marvin Herman Scilken
(December 7, 1926 – February 2, 1926) was an American librarian
and a leader in the field of library science during the 20th century. He was a fierce advocate of libraries and continually fought to improve services for library patrons. Scilken served five consecutive terms on the American Library Association (ALA)
Council, was a prolific writer of letters to the editor
, founded his own practical library journal the U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*D Librarian
, and achieved early fame for stopping the price fixing
of library books.
Early Life and Career
Marvin Scilken was born and raised in the Bronx, New York
. His parents were Russian immigrants Joseph Scilken and Esther Scilken and he had one sister Marjorie. Scilken attended his local high school, Bronx High School of Science
, and then continued his education at the University of Colorado-Boulder
where he earned Bachelor degrees in Economics
When he graduated in 1948, he had not yet considered pursuing a career in library science. Instead he worked multiple jobs which took him across the globe including to Morocco where he worked on an air base. When he returned to the United States in 1960, he applied for and received a scholarship from the state of New York. The scholarship was intended for those interested in library science and so he entered and graduated from the Masters in Library Science program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
Scilken’s career in library science began quickly. In 1964, only a few years after his graduation, he received a directorship at Orange Public Library in New Jersey where he remained until his retirement in 1993.
Contributions to Library Science
Advocacy through Newspapers
Scilken’s passion for reading the New York Times
led him to use newspapers
as one of his largest platforms for library advocacy. As he travelled across the country and took road trips with his wife, Polly, and two sons, Jonathan and David, he was always sure to pick up the local newspaper. Scilken would write a letter to the editor for every newspaper he came across. The content of the letters would range from his criticism of the local library, to suggestions for library improvements, and to reminding the local residents that their library is an invaluable resource. His writing was pithy and he always wrote with good humor. Scilken’s letters were featured in large nationwide publications including Texas Highways
, American Airlines
, and Newsweek
. Although he wrote letters to papers across the country, many he wrote to his hometown paper the New York Times
The U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*D Librarian
Scilken’s advocacy through writing would later inspire him to create his own publication the U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*D Librarian, the how I run my library good letter
. The publication featured a collection of articles, cartoons, letters, and advice all dealing with the world of libraries
. The topics often avoided the theoretical and instead focused on the practical. Advice was given on how to better improve library services including an assortment of topics from more traditional cataloguing techniques to more practical cleaning techniques..
The quarterly publication was started in 1971 and quickly became a family affair. His wife, Polly, assisted with the editing and publishing and her brother came up with the title and design. Her brother had been working as a designer at Harper and Row a publishing house that had printed Leo Rosten’s novel The Education of H*Y*M*A*N* K*A*P*L*A*N*.
1966 Senate Hearing on the Price Fixing of Library Books
Besides his writings, he is perhaps best remembered for his appearance before the U.S. Senate’s
Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly. After only a few years of working in a library, Scilken became increasingly frustrated with the actions of publication houses. He had discovered that publishers were charging libraries full price for books and resources while offering discounts to booksellers. The full price libraries were being forced to pay was in fact subsidizing
the discounts booksellers were able to receive. When Scilken questioned the publishers regarding their practice the publishers stated that there was more risk involved for the booksellers. Unable to negotiate with the publishers, Scilken wrote a letter to New Jersey Senator Clifford Case
speaking of the egregious practices of the publishers. Moved by the letter, Senator Case passed the letter on to Senator Philip Hart
who was involved with the senate subcommittee. It was decided that a hearing needed to be held to resolve the issue. In the spring of 1966, publishers, Scilken, business men, and other librarians appeared before the subcommittee to give their testimony. In the end, a 177 page report was issued which stated that publishers had broken the anti-trust
laws and were price fixing books.
After the publication, many libraries sued to regain the lost money. It is believed that over 1,000 lawsuits were filed and that over $10 million dollars was returned to libraries.
Scilken passed away February 2, 1999, from a heart-attack while attending an ALA Midwinter conference.