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Libraries & Culture 37.2 (2002) 138-174

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The Literature of American Library History, 1999-2000

Edward A. Goedeken

Libraries, where one takes on the smell of books, stale and attractive. Service with no motive, simple as the U.S. Mail. Fountains and palms, armchairs for smokers. Incredible library where ideas run for safety, place of rebirth of forgotten anthems, modern cathedral for lovers.

Karl Shapiro, The Bourgeois Poet


This latest edition of the Libraries & Culture biennial bibliographic review essay encompasses a pair of years that straddle two millennia. When one considers this long-standing assignment from that viewpoint, it can seem awesome indeed. But this being my fourth outing on this particular adventure, I no longer quake quite as much from the prospect of surveying the panorama of the most recent library history literature. I do, however, take to heart the advice recently given by the historian Piers Brendan: "Historians should be euhemerists. Their task is to expose the reality within the myth, to reveal the flesh and blood behind the godhead." 1 Assessing the scholarship that surrounds libraries and librarianship may not rise to the level of evaluating the godhead, but the seriousness of the enterprise is not lost upon me. As library historians, we have a long way to go before we can equal Lytton Strachey's confidence that his knowledge of nineteenth-century Britain was already so extensive that "the History of the Victorian Age will never be written: we know too much about it." 2 We don't have that problem; there is too much unknown about our American library past. Nevertheless, despite the large lacunae in our historical knowledge, let us see what we have done this time around to fill in the gaps. [End Page 138]

Sources and Historiography

Since it goes without saying that history is biography, we are indeed fortunate to witness the appearance of Oxford University Press's magnificent American National Biography(ANB), which thoroughly updates and expands on our beloved Dictionary of American Biography (DAB). 3 Nearly one hundred librarians are featured in the ANB, which reflects the efforts of numerous library historians to bring to the fore dozens of prominent librarians not found in the earlier volumes of the DAB. We have offerings, for example, by Wiegand on Dewey, Richardson on Pierce Butler, Dain on Edwin Hatfield Anderson, Becker Johnson on Sarah Bogle, Tucker on Arthur Bostwick, and many others. All the librarians of Congress except John Meehan are represented, although the editors put MacLeish in the literature section of the subject index. Unfortunately, there are some important names that were neglected as well, including Justin Winsor, Louis Round Wilson, William Warner Bishop, and Mary Utopia Rothrock, to name just a few. Still, the new ANB indicates the growing importance of librarians in the nation's story, and I believe that if we can be responsive to the next call from the editors of a major reference tool for essays on our forgotten colleagues, we can continue to raise our profile in the consciousness of mainstream historians.

Another recent general source for historical scholarship is the Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, which in two large volumes covers an expansive area both geographically and chro-nologically. 4 Although library history is not specifically dealt with, there is a section on U.S. historiography from the colonial era to the present that is quite informative. Also useful, especially for finding essential basic sources (although with a decided British slant), is the second edition of Richardson's bibliographical guide to historical research. 5

We are all practicing historians grappling with a craft that is as old as the written record and probably as ancient as storytelling around the campfire. Each year a bundle of books appears devoted to explicating our discipline for the latest generation and explaining how we do what we do. The period 1999 to 2000 was no exception. Of the lot, the best is probably Richard Evans's well-written survey of contemporary historical methodologies, In Defense of History. Complementing Evans is Jordanova's History in Practice, which...


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