- The Literature of American Library History, 2003–2005
When I worked at the library, my favorite job was opening up in the morning. Strolling toward the big, wooden doors I felt like the manager in a store of ideas.—Ron Koertge, “Summer, 1962,” in Fever: Poems
I love libraries, but I will be damned if I will ever walk into a “Resource Center.”—Richard Needham
A number of years have elapsed since publication of the last essay of this sort, so this one will cover three years of historical writings on American librarianship, 2003–5, instead of the usual two. We will have to see whether this new method becomes the norm or will ultimately be considered an aberration from the traditional approach. I do know that several years ago Donald G. Davis, Jr., and Michael Harris covered three years (1971–73) in their essay, and we all survived the experience.
In preparing this essay I discovered that when another year of coverage is added the volume of writings to cover also grows impressively. A conservative estimate places the number of books and articles published in the years under review at more than two hundred items. Needless to say, I will be selective and not review each and every item; otherwise, this essay would needlessly tax the patience of both the reader and the author!
Sources and Historiography
In 2003 two significant reference sources for library historians appeared. Donald G. Davis, Jr., produced the second supplement to the foundational Dictionary of American Library Biography (DALB), continuing the tradition of this exceptional biographical source begun in 1978 by George Bobinski, Jesse Shera, and Bohdan Wynar and followed in 1990 [End Page 440] by Wayne Wiegand’s first supplement. The new supplement contains essays for 77 new subjects and when combined with the first two editions now covers 430 prominent librarians, library educators, and others associated with the field of librarianship in some fashion. Especially useful is the index, which includes references to biographical entries in all three editions of the DALB.1 Complementing Davis’s volume is Marilyn Miller’s valuable edited work entitled Pioneers and Leaders in Library Services to Youth.2 If some of Miller’s essays look familiar, they should, since forty of the ninety-seven essays in this collection first appeared in various editions of the DALB. But more than half are brand new and retain the look and feel of the DALB essays in the quality of the writing and the emphasis on making sure that primary sources—where available—are noted. Davis and Miller have provided us with two high quality biographical reference sources that will greatly expand current knowledge of our profession’s leaders and their contributions to the growth of American librarianship.
John Y. Cole, who has forgotten more than most of us will ever know about the history of the Library of Congress, has joined with another prominent LC scholar, Jane Aikin, and together they have edited an unprecedented reference volume devoted solely to the Library of Congress. Cole and Aikin, among others, created a number of lengthy topical essays that treat specific aspects of the LC, including its history, the Copyright Office, and the Congressional Research Service, as well as thoughtful considerations of the Library of Congress and its relationship to Congress or American librarianship. Beyond these contributions are smaller entries devoted to a variety of topics, including biographical essays on the librarians of Congress. Given the size of the Library of Congress, readers could easily quibble about what was left out of a one-volume reference work, but the fact remains that the Cole-Aikin volume is the most valuable tool we have that plumbs the complex world of our great national library.3
Moving from sources to historiography, Richard Krzys crafted a rather interesting chapter entitled “Library Historiography” for the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Krzys seeks to address both the definition of library history and how one goes about writing and researching it. He cites seminal works in library history such as Holley’s biography of Charles Evans (1963) as well as Sidney Ditzion’s classic Arsenals of a...