- Stimulating Scholarship:Library History Round Table’s Research Forum
To stimulate scholarship in library history by providing an annual venue in which researchers can present their work in a competitive setting, in 2003 the Library History Round Table (LHRT) established a new procedure for its Research Forum. Whereas previous programs had consisted of invited speakers, LHRT decided to make the forum a regular refereed event to take place at the American Library Association's annual (summer) conference on the morning of the same day as the regular LHRT program. Behind this move lay a belief that the opportunity to present in a refereed setting might make the Research Forum attractive to a wide group of scholars and might persuade some to join the Round Table. LHRT's Executive Board decided that its chair-elect (who is also chair of the research committee) would oversee the process of issuing the call for papers, coordinate making the selection, and preside over the event.
The first newly constituted Research Forum took place in 2004. Under the title "From the Outside In: The Library in the Life of Its Historical Users," the call for papers pointed out that most scholarship in the history of libraries has focused on libraries as institutions or on the lives and contributions of individual library leaders. By contrast, little attention to date has been paid to groups and individuals who actually made use of libraries. Most research that does take users as its focus has concentrated on the "user in the life of the library"—that is, from within the library—rather than on the "library in the life of the user." Taking a view from the "outside in," the organizers were interested in research that explores ways in which historically situated groups and individuals have encountered public, academic, school, private, and other types of libraries.
Thirteen scholars from four countries on three continents competed for the three positions on the panel. Making the final choice was not easy. [End Page 392] In the end, the committee picked three papers that did indeed view libraries from the standpoint of their users and that illustrated a variety of methodologies as well as different types of libraries in different places and at different time periods. The presentations took place in chronological order of their topics, starting with Isabelle Lehuu of the history department at the Université du Québec in Montreal, Canada, whose paper was entitled "Book Borrowing and the Social Fabric of an Urban Community: The Charleston Library Society in the Early Republic." Professor Lehuu's presentation was followed by "In Their Own Image: The Public Library Collection as a Reflection of Its Donors," by Suzanne Stauffer, at that time a Ph.D. student in library and information science at UCLA. Finally, Alistair Black, professor of library and information history at the School of Information Management, Leeds Metropolitan University, England, gave a talk entitled "The Past Public Library Observed: User Recollections of the British Public Library Recorded in the Mass Observation Archive." The session was well attended and prompted a lively discussion.
In 2005 the Research Forum called for papers on the topic "Untapped Treasures: Library Documents as Primary Sources." Acknowledging that librarians have not always recognized the value of retaining materials that document their institutions' own past and urging scholars to go beyond thinking of libraries as containers of useful materials so as to see them as sources of historical data, LHRT called for the submission of papers that illustrate the use of library records as primary sources and that discuss research processes rather than findings. Pointing out that a number of researchers, including historians of reading, the cold war, intellectual freedom, philanthropy, and civil rights, already are beginning to make use of this relatively untapped wealth, the call for papers suggested that such library records might include circulation and acquisition records, registers of borrowers, library catalogs, minutes of library board meetings, annual reports, library policy manuals, librarians' work diaries, and correspondence.
Again the response was encouraging and drew from a variety of countries. The three papers finally chosen were "'Tis Better to Be Brief than Tedious'? The Evolution of the Public...