American Libraries before 1876

By Haynes McMullen | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
Libraries of Uncertain Ownership

The main part of the present study is based on the examination of records concerning individual libraries and involves, if possible, (1) what the purpose of each library was, (2) whether some kind of voluntary association, governmental body, or business firm owned the library, and (3) what the subject matter of its collection was. We have already encountered a few kinds of libraries—mainly those in hospitals and asylums—that may have been operated by a voluntary organization or may have been controlled by some government agency. There were still others for which it was not possible to determine exactly what their purpose was or whether they were owned by a voluntary organization or a government body. For some of these, however, the subject matter of the books was clear.

Most of the libraries of uncertain ownership (shown in Table 10.1) were mentioned only in manuscript schedules sent to Washington during the censuses of 1850, 1860, and 1870. Almost always, the location of each library was given by the person taking the census, who placed it in some broad category such as court library or circulating and subscription library, but the library was not named. By comparing the manuscript census schedule with other records of libraries for a particular location, it was possible to determine whether the library in the census record could have been one that was already known. If that library could not have been, it was included in the group of libraries of uncertain ownership.

Of the total of 242 libraries in the uncertain group, 231 were mentioned only on the returns sent to Washington for one or more of the three censuses mentioned above. And of these 231 libraries, 213 were to be found only in returns for the 1870 census. The manuscript census returns for only ten states were examined; if more could have been seen, the numbers probably would have been much larger.1

The tables concerning libraries, which were printed in the volumes for the three censuses, were examined but were not used for this study, mainly because

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