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  • Introduction
  • Robert S. Martin (bio) and Bernadette A. Lear (bio)

Every state in this country has a state library agency, and yet these institutions are among the least studied and least understood agencies in the library constellation. While library education programs offer multiple courses on school, public, academic, and special libraries, not one offers a course on state libraries. Most practicing librarians are only vaguely aware of their state library, and the historical literature on state libraries is scant.1 Yet state libraries are extremely important, if for no other reason than that they administer the federal funds directed to each state under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA).

This collection of essays had its origin in the fertile mind of the former editor of this journal, David B. Gracy II, who in compiling his own comprehensive history of the state library and archives in Texas noted the dearth of published historical studies on state libraries. Knowing of our pursuits in library history and our experience working in state libraries, David approached us and asked if we would be interested in developing a special issue. We readily agreed. We issued a call for proposals and received a bountiful number of submissions, from which we selected the strongest for inclusion in this volume. Our criteria included the range and depth of the primary resources available, the coherence of the narrative, and the sophistication of the analysis proposed. Each of the authors represented here produced an essay that fulfilled the prospect embodied in his or her proposal.

The first question that arises when contemplating such a project is, What is a state library? In terms of geography, one might think of the forty-eight different jurisdictions represented in the contiguous United States, plus Alaska and Hawaii, but such boundaries are more complex than they seem on the surface. For instance, one could also include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other territories, especially since some residents in these areas have organized statehood political movements as well as “state chapters” within the American [End Page 1] Library Association. Furthermore, one could ask whether a current state library’s history extends back to territorial days, when the library and other aspects of public administration were overseen by national governments (including the United States, England, France, Spain, and other countries). Although not a focus of this issue, provincial or state libraries in Australia, Canada, and other countries could be examined as well.

For the purposes of this collection of essays, the editors defined state libraries as those entities that are eligible to receive federal funds under the Grants to States program of the Library Services and Technology Act: the fifty US states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. There are a number of reasons for using this pragmatic definition: it is stipulated by statute; it is simple and clear; and administering LSTA funds is today one of the most important functions of the state library agency in the United States.

While today each of the fifty states has a state library agency, variations among them are enormous, including the place of the agency in the structure of state government, the range and scope of responsibilities of the agency, and the scale and sources of funding. As Wayne Wiegand has pointed out, the source of this variety can be traced to the Constitution of the United States, which stipulates that all powers not specifically enumerated to the federal government remain vested in the states. “As a result,” Wiegand has observed, “each state gradually developed a unique history as it responded to differing pressures brought by indigenous geographic, economic, political and social forces.”2 The state library agency in each state reflects that diversity in myriad ways. Among the various categories of activity are the following:

  • • library development, which encompasses fostering the establishment of local libraries and supporting them through staff training, professional resource collections, and in some cases administering state funds to support local library services;

  • • library resource sharing, including support...


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