Moore and Stephenson (no dates), Atlanta, Georgia. American Library Association Twenty-first annual conference, Atlanta, Georgia, May 8-13, 1899.

In May 1899 over 200 librarians from across the United States assembled in Atlanta for the annual meeting of the American Library Association (ALA). The six day program was packed with sessions devoted to reports from officers and committees and sessions about library collections, services, and buildings. Fortunately for the attendees, social activities relieved the serious proceedings. One afternoon the attendees travelled to Stone Mountain for an outdoor barbecue and the next afternoon the sessions and a reception were held at a private gentlemen’s club, the Piedmont Driving Club House “with lunch and coon-dance at sundown”.  It was during one of these social events that a group photograph was taken.

The balding, bearded man in the middle of the front row who appears to be lost in thought during a springtime social event is Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), best known as the creator of a classification and subject indexing system, still in use, for organizing books in libraries, known as the “Dewey Decimal Classification”. Dewey’s passion was education and efficiency, the former leading him to participate in the establishment of the American Library Association and the latter to a less-successful drive to reform spelling and the metric system. Dewey, despite his appearance in this photograph, was a charismatic leader and behind-the-scenes bully who significantly shaped the association’s early development and served as its President and Secretary.