American Libraries before 1876

By Haynes McMullen | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
Introduction
Americans created and used tens of thousands of libraries before 1876, the year that has often been considered the beginning of the modern library movement in the United States.1 Why did they establish so many? The desire for libraries increased over the years, but, clearly, it was stronger at some times than others, and stronger in some parts of the country than others. And the interest in various kinds of libraries waxed and waned. How were changes in the prevalence of libraries related to changes in other aspects of American life during those years?At the present time there is an increasing interest in the history of books and reading in America. Scholars who have written about the place of printed materials in American life have sometimes mentioned libraries, often in a fairly general way, as agencies that have been involved in the process by which ideas have moved from the minds of authors into the minds of readers.2The history of American libraries has not been neglected by other scholars; several thousand books and articles on the subject have appeared.3 However, none of these authors has attempted to examine, in detail, exactly where various kinds of libraries came into existence in the different parts of the country over any extended period of time.4 This book is primarily a description (or perhaps a narration) of the actions which people took in relation to libraries as they created thein and supported them, and as, sometimes, they neglected them, causing them to die or disappear from the records.To some extent, this book might be considered to be interpretive because it contains speculations about relationships between people's activities concerning libraries on the one hand and, on the other hand, changes that were constantly taking place in other aspects of American life. More specifically, it is about:
1. The times and places people were establishing various kinds of libraries. The founding of a library almost always occurred when a well-defined group of people wanted to derive some kind of benefit for themselves or for others and had the means to do it.

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