American Libraries before 1876

By Haynes McMullen | Go to book overview
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College and university fund raisers believe that it is difficult to raise substantial sums for libraries. The reason, says an acquaintance who has talked with numerous potential donors, is that people have a generic image of a library, which is basically the small, local public library; and consequently they do not understand that a library can need millions of dollars. They do not see the libraries of reality that exist with numerous variations in colleges and universities and in communities all across the country. If contemporaries today tend to subsume libraries in one particular type, how much more likely is it that we do the same for libraries in the past! To be sure, individuals are likely to differ in the image they hold of the library in the past. One person might think that what we today term the public library has always existed; another might believe that elite institutions serving only the wealthy were the predominant library form. Yet another, knowing of Andrew Carnegie, might think that basically there were no libraries until this century. The image would almost certainly not encompass the reality of the past, any more than it does the widespread variation of today's libraries.

Haynes McMullen's American Libraries before 1876 makes clear the complex reality of the country's library past. His statistical data—and analyses of it—show that Americans sought in a wide variety of ways to have access to reading material through sharing it. Indeed, he covers eighty to eighty-five different kinds of libraries, all of which are also included in a glossary of terms. Here, as an example, is one entry: [Circulating library. Originally, any library from which books could be taken home. The term was used to designate two main types: a Commercial circulating library, operated for profit, and a Social library, operated for the benefit of its users. In recent years, historians have usually limited the term to mean what is called in this study a Commercial circulating library.] Unfortunately, [usually] is not the same as [always,] and it would be well if historians of the book in America always used McMullen's


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