The American Public Library Handbook

The American Public Library Handbook

The American Public Library Handbook

The American Public Library Handbook


The American Public Library Handbook is the first reference work to focus on all aspects of the American public library experience, providing a topical perspective through comprehensive essays and biographical information on important public librarians.

Based upon the author's own notes and extensive experience, as well as library periodicals, library reference books, monographs, textbooks, Internet sources, and correspondence with individual libraries, this book comprises nearly 1,000 entries addressing all aspects of public library service. Each topical essay considers terminology of the area covered, its historical context, and current concerns and issues. Biographies highlight the philosophical perspective of the individuals covered, while entries on specific libraries present timely data and interesting facts about each facility. This unique handbook also offers up-to-date statistics, historical highlights, and information about programs and events of individual libraries.


Purpose of This Book

Patrick Wilson has said that “the point of making reference works is to replace a large body of literature by a very much smaller body, containing only what is worth repeating” (Public Knowledge, Private Ignorance, 1977, 27). I thought of this handbook in those terms; however, I did not think of “replacing” the extensive literature on American public libraries. I intended, rather, to assemble and organize key facts and thoughts from that literature in order to form a précis of the subject. I have looked at the subject, the American public library, from four perspectives: topical, biographical, institutional, and bibliographical. The topical perspective offers essays on 65 subjects that, taken together, enclose the history, philosophy, and problems of public libraries as well as their daily operations. The biographical perspective summarizes the contributions to public librarianship of 75 individuals. In the institutional perspective, there are current factual snapshots, and in some cases historical outlines, of 1,200 libraries; these vignettes may serve to illustrate the present situation. The bibliographical perspective gives citations and references in the topical essays. The references include important writings on the topic of the entry, even if they are not specifically cited in the entry. In a sense the whole book is a bibliographic essay, a guide to the public library literature.

In pursuing these aims, I soon observed that librarians have been inconsistent in their professional terminology, often with results that impeded their work. I thought it would be useful to bring up definitional problems as appropriate and endeavor to clarify them. The “Prologue on Terminology” explicates this approach.

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