It's an Honor: Fifty Years of Beta Phi Mu

By Chepesiuk, Ron | American Libraries, December 1999 | Go to article overview

It's an Honor: Fifty Years of Beta Phi Mu


Chepesiuk, Ron, American Libraries


FOR HALF A CENTURY, THE LIBRARY HONOR SOCIETY HAS RECOGNIZED STUDENTS WHO SHOW SCHOLARLY AND LEADERSHIP ABILITY

In 1988, soon after graduating from San Jose State University's library school with an MLS, Barbara Jeffus visited her friend and colleague John McGinnis, dean of the library and learning center at Cerritos Community College in Norwalk, California. Jeffus spotted a Beta Phi Mu certificate on her colleague's office wall, but she didn't have a clue what "Beta Phi Mu" stood for. McGinnis explained to her that the organization was the profession's prestigious international library and information studies honor society.

"I would love to have been invited to join Beta Phi Mu, but the library school's chapter was defunct, and I didn't see it as a possibility," Jeffus recalled. "But here I am 10 years later, and how could anything be more fun?"

Jeffus, a school-library consultant with the California Department of Education in Sacramento, was about to be inducted into Beta Phi Mu at an extra-special occasion. The date was June 28, 1998; the place, the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.; the occasion, Beta Phi Mu's 50th anniversary.

In recognition of the historic meeting, the honor society presented two new awards: the $1,000 Blanche E. Woolls Scholarship to a student beginning graduate study who intends to pursue a career in school library media services, and a $1,500 grant to a doctoral student with an approved dissertation topic who has completed all degree-related coursework.

Beta Phi Mu also launched a Distinguished Lecture Series at the conference. Edward G. Holley, who is William Rand Kenan Jr. professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science, presented the first lecture, on the topic "Librarianship and Scholarship through Five Decades: A Personal View."

Holley told the nearly 100 people in attendance that "the library profession and its scholarship have advanced greatly in the five decades since I entered the field in 1949. While a lot of drivel is still published, we can take pride in the substantial contributions ... not only to our profession but also to the larger world of scholarship. True, we have had some failures along with our successes. Yet I have always preferred not to dwell on the failures."

Holley has also seen the growth and development of Beta Phi Mu through five decades, and his lecture--as well as the historic occasion--highlighted the impact the organization has made to advancing library scholarship and service.

"Throughout our history, Beta Phi Mu has worked hard to maintain its standards, and this is why being selected for membership has always had special meaning for librarians who join," explained Beta Phi Mu Executive Director F. William Summers, who is also professor on the library-school faculty at Florida State University.

The birth of Beta Phi Mu

Today, Beta Phi Mu has 25,000 members and 56 state chapters, including two in foreign countries, and it initiates 700 new members each year. The organization holds membership in the select Association of College Honor Societies.

That's not bad for an organization that began in 1948 at a beer party attended solely by the male members of the library-school faculty at the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign. As the group imbibed a few brews, Harold Lancour recalled how he had first raised the idea of an honor society 12 years previously when he taught at Columbia University's library school. The dean, however, had shot the idea down. His reservation? Such an organization would have difficulty establishing itself in the library profession.

"As the night wore on and the keg of beer went down, Lancour's idea for an honor society began to seem more and more plausible to his colleagues than it did to his dean at Columbia University," Beta Phi Mu President Marion T. …

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