- The Literature of American Library History, 2012–2013
A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.—Andrew Carnegie
A library is but the soul’s burial-ground. It is the land of shadows.—Henry Ward Beecher
It has been nearly fifty years since the first issue of the Journal of Library History rolled off the press at Florida State University. The journal’s inaugural issue appeared in January 1966, and within two years Michael Harris had crafted the first review of historical writings in “The Year’s Work in American Library History, 1967.”1 This essay, therefore, follows a hallowed tradition of nearly a half century whereby the writings on American library history are surveyed and commented upon.2 Each time the survey is published, I am surprised that despite the relatively small space historical scholarship occupies on the library and information science stage, a remarkable number of books and articles are consistently generated dealing with the broad expanse of topics that concern our discipline. Easily over 150 items appeared over the past two years that deserve attention within the pages that follow. I have maintained the traditional subject rubrics, although this time I added a category called the “History of Information,” which reflects the burgeoning literature devoted to that rather amorphous and still developing aspect of our historical pantheon. [End Page 267]
Sources and Historiography
While we await the next supplement to the ongoing Dictionary of American Library Biography or a new edition of Wiegand and Davis’s Encyclopedia of Library History (and both publications are long overdue for such updating), we will need to be content with smaller efforts. James Cortada provides a very useful introduction to the various methodological questions that confront historians who investigate the broad topic of information history. Cortada notes the essential challenge of both defining what information is and determining how it was used in previous societies. He proposes a number of questions historians will need to ask in order to effectively chart the role of information in earlier times. His essay is an excellent starting point for anyone still learning about this relatively new field of study.3
Vincent Larivière, Cassidy R. Sugimoto, and Blaise Cronin crafted an informative survey of the history of library and information science going back to the days of Dewey at Columbia College and Katherine Sharp at the University of Illinois. Focusing primarily on the literature of the field, the authors produced a remarkably complex analysis over the past several decades noting prominent journals and topics as they evolved over time. They conclude that especially since the 1960s, the field of LIS has become less insular and much more intertwined with disciplines of computer science and management.4
Finally, an additional historiographical piece is the previously published biennial essay of historical writings authored by Goedeken. It contains references to over 150 books and articles dealing with the period 2010–11.5
LIS scholars and students sorely need updates to the two reference works noted above, since they are both at least ten years old (the Encyclopedia is actually twenty years old!). And let us not forget that Davis and Tucker’s American Library History: A Comprehensive Guide to the Literature appeared in 1989, with its coverage ending in 1986. Updating these significant reference resources is, of course, a great deal of work, but I trust that some of our young and ambitious scholars will be energetic enough to take on these important tasks. In the meantime, it is my wish that the DALB volumes be digitized; I hope someone can start that process soon.
Special, Private, and Subscription Libraries
Interest in noninstitutional libraries has waxed and waned over the years. At present we are in one of those periods when historical attention is focused elsewhere. Yet despite the relative lack of studies, we still [End Page 268] have a nice set of book-length treatments that have appeared in the past couple of years. Robert Post explores the already well-known history of the Smithsonian Institution with a critical look at the various controversies that have...