American Libraries before 1876

By Haynes McMullen | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
Private Libraries, School Libraries, and
Sunday School Libraries

Chapter 1 gave reasons for omitting three kinds of libraries from the main part of this study. All three existed in large numbers in America before 1876, but not enough information is available about individual libraries to permit comparison with the kinds mentioned in chapters 1 through 11. However, an idea as to the prevalence of these three types can be obtained by examining actual counts and estimates reported in surveys compiled before 1876. In chapter 12, each of the three kinds will be considered separately, and then they will be considered as a group.


PRIVATE LIBRARIES

Of course, private libraries in the hands of persons who influenced the direction of American thought and life were of some significance for the history of culture in this country. And the presence of many thousands of small libraries, owned and used by Americans of lesser stature, may be of more significance than we realize.

Before 1876, the compilers of lists of libraries varied in their attitudes toward private collections. Usually these persons omitted them, but they sometimes included them—often with reluctance. Charles C. Jewett, who was responsible for the earliest extensive list that attempted to include various kinds of libraries, wrote: [My investigations have not been limited to the public libraries, though I have not felt at liberty to make detailed statements respecting private collections. In one sense they are public libraries. Almost without exception, access to them is freely allowed to all persons who wish to use them for research.] In later remarks he makes clear that he has in mind larger collections formed by [scholars.]1

The compilers of the 1850 census gathered information about some of the private collections that numbered more than one thousand volumes apiece, but

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