Authors of books often tell how a great teacher, a great book, or a great poem caused them to become interested in the topic of their present volume. Many years ago I fell in love with a table—one that has the title, [Table of Public Libraries Numbering 300 Volumes or Upwards] occupying approximately thirty pages in Part 1 of the U.S. Bureau of Education's Public Libraries in the United States of America, issued in 1876.
At that time I thought the Bureau's table could show me how many libraries of various kinds existed before the date of its publication. I was wrong. It did not list more than a tenth of the libraries—other than ones belonging to individuals who kept them for their own use—that had existed at one time or another before 1876.
My efforts to learn about early American libraries have resulted in a gradually increasing appreciation of the intense desire that many Americans had to establish and make use of collections of books as they sought to understand and obtain enjoyment from the world they knew. As a person who has been concerned with libraries for most of his life, I have come to feel close to those Americans who lived more than a hundred years ago.
Many persons have helped me in my search for information—some of them knowingly and some unwittingly. I want to mention several groups: First, some years ago, those officials at Indiana University in Bloomington who made it possible for me to have time away from teaching and to obtain research funds. More recently, time and funds have been made available at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through the kindness of Edward G. Holley, who was Dean of the School of Information and Library Science while I was there.
I am particularly grateful to all of those graduate assistants at Indiana and North Carolina who cheerfully did a variety of clerical and intellectual work. Since I have retired I have become fully aware of the magnitude of their accomplishments. In the last few years I have been heavily dependent on two