- The Literature of American Library History, 2006–2007
Libraries, whether my own or shared with a greater reading public, have always seemed to me to be pleasantly mad places, and for as long as I can remember I've been seduced by their labyrinthine logic, which suggests reason (if not art) rules over a cacophonous arrangement of books.—Alberto Manguel
We must start from this, that everything which has a function exists for the sake of that function.—Aristotle, On the Heavens
Historians of American libraries have spent many years puzzling over the function and meaning of libraries in American life and culture. Perhaps as Aristotle believed those long years ago, we need to peel away all the layers of mythology and mistaken assumptions and look anew at the function of the library in its many guises as a product and a producer of American culture. Recent efforts have shown that we have not shrunk from this duty; indeed, for the period 2006–2007 we have been blessed—for the most part—with another outpouring of scholarship relating to the history of libraries and librarianship. As I have for the past dozen years, I will seek to inform my readers with the writings I have come across during the past couple of years of diligently unearthing what has been written, or at least the part of our literary corpus that I have come across. Although several entries could have been mentioned in more than one of the following sections, I have included each item in only one bibliographic category. Readers may need to look in multiple sections for a work of interest. As usual, I would be pleased to learn about important works that have somehow escaped my attention. [End Page 434]
Sources and Historiography
Two of our most prominent contemporary historians—one from each side of the Atlantic Ocean—have contributed thoughtful and important essays on the ever-present question of libraries, librarianship, and their historiography. Lamenting the "virulent vocationalism" that has driven the study of library history out of most current library school curricula, Alistair Black, who until 2009 served as the editor of Library History, tackles the issues surrounding the broader topic of the history of all forms of information, not just those handled by libraries. Black discusses the history of print as well as those agencies that produced, organized, or distributed print over the centuries in an attempt to establish an interesting framework for further discussion.1
Equally valuable is Wayne Wiegand's masterful survey of libraries and their impact on how information was created and organized over the centuries. Beginning with the earliest library at Ebla, Wiegand sprints across the centuries, highlighting the most significant developments in the long history of Western libraries and concluding with a tight summary of library innovations in the United States. One of many very good essays within an excellent collection is Wiegand's contribution in A Companion to the History of the Book, edited by Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose.2
Neither of these essays is very long, so there is no excuse not to take a few minutes to benefit from the erudition of these two gentlemen who have written so much so well for so long.
I also want to mention here that the proceedings of the October 2005 Library History Seminar XI at the University of Illinois were recently edited for publication by W. Boyd Rayward and Christine Jenkins. Titled "Libraries in Times of War, Revolution, and Social Change," the proceedings were published as a special issue of Library Trends, volume 55 (Winter 2007). I will refer to specific essays from this volume in their appropriate places throughout this review.
Special, Private, and Subscription Libraries
The past few years have seen a significant increase in the number of writings exploring the history of social and subscription libraries in the early years of our country. For quite a while this topic languished in the library history wilderness, but for now, at least, it is back! Thomas Augst and Kenneth Carpenter's excellent edited collection of essays includes three impressive efforts that chart the history of these precursors to the public library.3 As...