Kansas Humanities recently awarded Pittsburg State’s Leonard H. Axe Library with a grant to fund their upcoming spring symposium. The Axe Library will use this $3,175 grant to support their symposium titled “The Little Blue Books at 100: Haldeman-Julius’s Revolutionary Publishing Venture.”
The symposium will take place March 29-30, featuring various speakers and essays to present on the Little Blue Books. The two-day event is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Little Blue Books by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, which was ran based out of Girard, Kansas.
“(It’s a) relief because it would’ve been difficult but not impossible to pull this symposium off without that funding,” said Steve Cox, university archivist and curator of Special Collections.
Cox said the grant, specifically, will go toward providing supplies, aiding in marketing efforts, but mainly travel funds for speakers.
“Well, it helps us to afford to bring in several people that probably could not have come otherwise,’ he said. “A lot of the funding will be travel funds for a couple of our speakers.”
Murl Reiger, Kansas Humanities director of grants, said Haldeman-Julius’ work provided influential work for researchers, which lead Kansas Humanities to awarding Axe Library the grant.
“… So the grant helps support scholars who have done … research leading public discussions,” Reiger said. “So they are there to help facilitate in the exchange of ideas between scholars … and general public who have an interest in the significant story of Southeast Kansas but also a significant story in American publishing.”
Speakers will travel from all over the United States as well as internationally. Cox said the symposium’s keynote speaker is from Utah and that two others will come from Australia and France.
“Well, it’s the hundredth anniversary of the Little Blue Books that were published in Girard from 1919 until 1951 basically, and they really were the forerunner of the paperback publishing,” Cox said. “Emanuel Haldeman-Julius created a publishing empire built from the socialist newspaper ‘Appeal to Reason’ when he took that over around 1919 and immediately began publishing these little booklets. His goal was to bring education to the masses. He eventually got the prices down on them to five cents a piece, and his goal was to bring quality literature to everybody. They were so inexpensively priced that everybody could afford them. …”
Topics of the Little Blue Books varied widely and were often controversial, such as providing sex education and more.
“… He published over 2,000 different titles and subjects during the course of their run and it’s estimated that he printed and sold over 500 million of them between 1919 and 1951,” Cox said. “So we’re honoring the fact that this is the hundredth anniversary of the first on that came off the press.”
Cox said he feels that it is important to honor this history because it greatly impacted the publishing business for paperback books that continues today.
“It seems like in the last 20 or 30 years, people have been forgetting about the legacy that he left behind,” Cox said. “… At the height of their run, he was printing 80,000 of them a day. So, the intent and what we hope to do is kind of bring awareness to this legacy because if you read today about the history of books, the history of printing, and the history of publishing, he’s kind of left out. But I think up until about 30 or 40 years ago people still remembered this, but they’re kind of forgetting it.”
Rieger said Kansas Humanities was glad to support Axe Library in the efforts of holding the Little Blue Books symposium to bring to light its historical impact, which he called “absolutely fascinating.”
“I think it’s fantastic that the Axe Library is spearheading this effort,” Rieger said. “Emanuel Haldeman-Julius’ story was a significant story for its period, but, you know, not everybody knows that story today. So the Axe Library felt this was a need to start the discussion again about this story. So, we’re very pleased that they’re doing it in Southeast Kansas, we’re pleased that they’re bringing scholars from all over, and we’re pleased that they’ve involved other community organizations in the area…”
Attendance is free and open to the public, though Cox said they ask attendants to register online beforehand. A registration link is available on the Axe Library’s website. There is a free banquet Friday night at Girard High School for the first 50 who register, sponsored by the Girard Chamber of Commerce.
Friday’s events will take place in the Pitt State Overman Student Center and Saturday’s events will most likely take place in the Axe Library, with a tour of Girard that afternoon.
“At Humanities Kansas, we love projects that facilitate a change of ideas,” Reiger said. “Part of our effort is to lead a movement of ideas across the state, just like these Little Blue books did in the early 20th century …”