- The Literature of American Library History, 2010–2011
History is lived forwards but it is written in retrospect. We know the end before we can consider the beginning and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only.—C. V. Wedgwood, William the Silent: William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, 1533–1584
Every new medium transforms the nature of Human thought. In the long run, history is the story of information becoming aware of itself.—James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
As historians of libraries and librarianship, we face the constant challenge of understanding the people and actions of another era, of another time, and perhaps even of another culture that has changed remarkably from the past to the present. Joyce Carol Oates observed recently that when it comes to the past we “are forever viewers, voyeurs. We haven’t a clue.”1 Yet, in order for us to do our work we need to find the clues that are left behind and from them create a story that will inform our readers about the library past and about how that past has influenced the present. That is the task before us each day as we labor in the vineyards of American library historiography.
Sources and Historiography
This section of the review can often seem rather sleepy or uneventful. Not so this time. The discipline of library history has been undergoing a rapid transition as this century progresses with the broadening of what is considered eligible for treatment within our small corner of [End Page 506] the historical universe. Our counterparts across the Atlantic recently renamed their flagship journal Library & Information History. In 2012 the American journal Libraries & the Cultural Record changed to Information & Culture: A Journal of History with its new editor, William Aspray. The expansion of our historiographical enterprise to include the entire realm of information and its history will present our membership with plenty of new opportunities for research, while at the same time we will also continue to delve into the more traditional topics of libraries as cultural agencies.2
This ongoing shift has caught the attention of a number of recent commentators, who have sought to explain what has been happening in recent years. In his keynote address to the Library Research Seminar, University of Maryland in 2010, David Gracy outlined a research agenda that in some ways foreshadowed the changes noted above. In addition to calling for sustained research in more traditional venues of library history, Gracy also urged that historians investigate the “relationships between libraries and other components of the information domain.” Gracy sees the library as one part of a network of information management entities that contemporary society has developed. William Aspray, Gracy’s successor as editor of Libraries & the Cultural Record, added his own set of recommendations for a viable research path and outlined a number that should be taken. Donald G. Davis, Jr., long-time editor of Libraries & Culture, joined his editorial colleagues with some brief observations about library historiography from an international perspective. With guidance from Gracy, Aspray, and Davis we can benefit from some well-informed advice as to how to move into the future in our historiographical journey.3
Toni Weller, who has been one of the leading lights in the British information history movement, provides an exceedingly useful review of the recent literature on that topic. Barbara Craig and Michele Cloonan bring to the conversation their interest in promoting more historical research on the preservation, conservation, and archival aspects of the information domain.4 For over twenty years the LHRT Newsletter has contained an ongoing bibliography of writings on the history of libraries and librarianship. Anne Buchanan and Jean-Pierre Hérubel examined some of the most recent bibliographies and crafted a rather remarkable analysis of them and how the literature they cite can be used to develop a greater understanding of the historiography of our subdiscipline. Although the authors may underestimate the idiosyncratic and serendipitous nature of how some of the entries are discovered and included in the bibliographies, Buchanan and Hérubel have nevertheless provided us with a valuable assessment of this...