10 of My Favorite Library History Books

December 8th, 2011 by Larry T. Nix Leave a reply »
Over the years I've put together a basic collection of books on library history. I've identified ten of my favorites from this collection. Please note that I'm not saying these books are necessarily the best library history books - just my favorites. Unfortunately several are out of print, although they are usually available via the online used book market. The books are listed in random order.

The Library in America: A Celebration in Words and Pictures by Paul Dickson (Facts On File Publications, 1986. This book is a great introduction to American library history for the non-scholar. Dickson has done a terrific job of putting together a great group of images of library service in America from the founding of the Harvard University Library in 1638 through the publication date of the book. I once proposed to the American Library Association that this book would be a great model for a traveling exhibit on the history of American libraries.

American Library Development 1600-1899 by Elizabeth Stone (H. W. Wilson Co., 1977). This is a fabulous reference book that identifies and describes key events in the history of American libraries and cites good sources for information on these events. It is organized by type of libraries and type of library activities. It has a wonderful bibliography.

Dictionary of American Library Biography edited by Bohdan S. Wynar (Libraries Unlimited, 1978). I am heavily dependent on this book and its two supplements (1990 and 2003) for many of my posts to the Library History Buff Blog. It's a who's who in our library past with entries written by the best of our library history scholars. If you want to be inspired, pick some random entries and they will make you appreciate the legacy that our predecessors have left us. It constitutes the closest thing that we have to a national library hall of fame. The original volume is out of print. It would be great to have a freely accessible digital version of this work placed on the web.

Carnegie Libraries: Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development by George S. Bobinski (American Library Association, 1969). I'm a Carnegie library buff, and this book is the bible of information about Carnegie public libraries in America. Bobinski undoubtedly spent hundreds of hours going through the microfilmed records (the printed records were deliberately destroyed by the Carnegie Corporation) of Carnegie grants to communities to compile this book. I'm thankful for his efforts. I would like to see the microfilmed records (they are in the Columbia University Libraries) digitized and made available on the web for more convenient access.

Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey by Wayne A. Wiegand (American Library Association, 1996). The most thorough, best researched, and well written of several Dewey biographies. I came away from reading it with a much better understanding of one of our most innovative and complex former library leaders.

Books for Sammies: The American Library Association and World War I by Arthur P. Young (Beta Phi Mu, 1981). I'm very interested in the Library War Service of the American Library Association during World War I, and this is the basic text on that effort by ALA.

Raking The Historic Coals: The A.L.A. Scrapbook of 1876 by Edward G. Holley (Beta Phi Mu, 1967). There are several factors that make this book one of my favorites. I was privileged to know the author Ed Holley who was a great person and an outstanding library historian. The collection of letters and postal cards transmitted between library leaders prior to the 1876 conference which resulted in the establishment of the American Library Association on which the book is based constitutes one of the most important artifacts in American library history. The preface and introductory chapter are must reads for any library history buff or historian. Incidentally, the actual scrapbook which had been misplaced for several years was recently rediscovered.

For Congress and the Nation: A Chronological History of the Library of Congress by John Y. Cole (Library of Congress 1979). There are a number of good histories of the Library of Congress. I'm partial to this one because I relied on it heavily in developing my philatelic exhibit on the Library of Congress.

The Library Without The Walls: Reprints of Papers and Addresses selected and annotated by Laura M. Janzow (H. W. Wilson Company, 1927). One of several books in a series called Classics of American Librarianship edited by Arthur E. Bostwick. This one includes a wide selection of writings which deal with outreach efforts of public libraries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It's very interesting to have the perspectives of contemporary librarians during this period.

The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown: Civil Rights, Censorship, and the American Library by Louise S. Robbins (University of Oklahoma Press, 2000). I like this book because it does an excellent job of telling the story of an unknown public librarian in Bartlesville, OK who became nationally prominent as a result of standing up for what was right even though it went against the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of her community.

Final note: Selecting just ten of my favorite library history books was tougher than I thought. There are many more that I could have included. Thanks to all of our library historians, past and present, who have worked so hard to document our library heritage. Please feel free to add some of your favorites to my list via the "comments" feature of the blog.
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