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Contemporary Libraries: 1900s

Let's examine philanthropy, women's movement, traveling libraries, library campaigns, the library profession, and historical societies.

Genoa Junction Free Public Library 1905 Flickr Wisconsin Historical SocietyThe 20th century was a time of rapid changes both in society and in the use of information. It was a time of both construction and destruction.

While libraries blossomed in many cities, many rural areas and small towns were still without library services.

Local groups, government agencies, and philanthropists all worked to bring libraries to increase access to libraries. The photo on the right shows the interior of the Genoa Junction (Wisconsin) Free Public Library in 1905. Located in a dry goods store, the small card catalog box and open register are on the table near the bookcases (Wisconsin Historical Society).

The photo below shows the interior of the Arabut Ludlow Memorial Library of Monroe Wisconsin that opened in 1905. Established with a $13,930 donation from H.E. & W. Ludlow. Notice how the windows are situated to bring in light (Wisconsin Historical Society).

Arabut Ludlow Memorial Library Wisconsin Historical Society

Philanthropy and Public Libraries: The Case of Carnegie

Madison Public Library Wisconsin Historical SocietyThe late 1880s and early 1900s was an era of growth in public libraries around the world. Much of this development was due to the work of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

The photo on the right shows the interior of the Madison Public Library in Wisconsin (Wisconsin Historical Society). The library opened in 1905 and was funded by a $75,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
Scotland & United States

Andrew Carnegie was a complex man. From childhood he had a love of libraries. Born in Scotland, he rose from the slums of Pittsburgh to become the richest man in the world through his steel industry businesses. Determined to make good use of his wealth, he turned his enormous empire toward philanthropy.

According to the Carnegie organization website,

"It is said that Carnegie had two main reasons for donating money to the founding of libraries. First, he believed that libraries added to the meritocratic nature of America. Anyone with the desire to learn could educate themselves and be successful in America like he had been. Second, Carnegie believed that immigrants like himself needed to acquire cultural knowledge of America which a library would enable immigrants to do."

Homestead Library Reading Room 1900 PDHis first public library was established in 1883 in his hometown in Dunfermine, Scotland.

According to the PBS American Experience program, "Over 33 years, he provided funds for 2,811 libraries in all, including 23 in New Zealand, 13 in South Africa, and one in Fiji. Ordering a library from Carnegie was as easy as ordering a sofa from the Sears Catalog." Step one was to submit a request in writing. Step two involved identifying a site. Step three identify matching funds for maintenance.

The photo on the right shows the adult reading room at the Carnegie Library of Homestead in Munhall, Pennsylvania around 1900.

Some people criticized Carnegie's emphasis on buildings rather than collections, calling his projects "bookless libraries." In some cases, communities declined his offer fearing they would not be able to provide a collection. However some opposition related to Carnegie's politics.

Examine the illustration below. The illustration shows Charles M. Schwab holding a moneybag labeled "Schwab", standing next to Andrew Carnegie who is sitting on the ground, holding a moneybag labeled "Carnegie" and with a basket labeled "$10,000,000 for Scotch Universities" overflowing with money next to him. Schwab gestures toward factories on the left as he addresses Carnegie; in the background, on the right, is a line of old men wearing caps and gowns and carrying "Diplomas" under their arms, emerging from a building labeled "University."

Caption: Schwab (to Carnegie) This is the school most people must go to, and the one that has always turned out the biggest men. That other school is for the few and is already turning out too many doctors, ministers, lawyers and clerks. Don't you think we ought to improve conditions in our school rather than in that other one?

Illus. in: Puck, v. 49, no. 1268 (1901 June 19), centerfold.

Although Carnegie libraries can be found in styles including Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, Baroque, Classical Revival, and Spanish Colonial, many of the Carnegie libraries have a similar design known as Carnegie Classical. The photo below of the Yorkville Public Library in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is an example of this design.

Yorkville Toronto Carnegie Library Wikimedia Commons CCASA

The design of Carnegie's libraries encouraged users to browse the collection through open stacks. Patrons were encouraged to choose books for themselves and ask the librarian questions.

In addition to library buildings, Carnegie also funded related projects. For instance in 1902, he provided a $100,000 endowment for "the preparation and publication of reading lists, indexes and bibliographic aids." Now known as the Carnegie-Whitney endowment, it continues to support list creation.

Between 1883 and 1929, thousands of Carnegie libraries were established around the world. Harris found that (1972, 33), "Carnegie and his fellows considered the library a wise investment in order, stability, and sound economic growth...Carnegie was a conservative, rigidly moralistic, and toughminded individualist." According to Harris (1972, 35),

"The big philanthropy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries came as a mixed blessing to the American library professions. For it brought increased demands for wealthy and aggressive patrons who looked to librarians to provide considerable evidence of their success in fulfilling the purpose of the public library in American life. All of those who viewed the library as a stabilizing agent in society assumed that the common man, if properly motivated and rewarded, could learn, and not infrequently, this faith in the common man's capacity to learn was exaggerated... such a naive, and generally unfounded, belief in the average American's interest in cultural matters, led men like Carnegie to scrutinize insistently the statistical records of public libraries seeking evidence of a general 'elevation of the Masses.' Librarians in turn were forced to analyze carefully, for the first time, the nature of their audience, and to assess their successes and failures in reaching the common man, This self examination precipitated a serious professional crisis - a loss of confidence - as more and more public librarians began to compile the dismal facts relating to the extend and nature of public library use."

Librarians were disappointed at the lack of progress being made in convincing the masses to use the public library. Harris notes that librarians were frustrated to find that the "uplift theory" was not supported in their library circulation statistics. Patrons didn't progress from reading light fiction to more scholarly works. Instead, 70-80% of library circulation remained fiction.

As a reaction to pressures from library benefactors, public librarians developed new services to address the needs of the "common man". The addition of reference services, children's programs, and reader's advisory are a few examples.

Explore a list of Carnegie libraries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Oceania, Canada, Europe, and the United States at Wikipedia.

Learn more by watching the Andrew Carnegie: American Experience at PBS.

Skim Flickr Carnegie Libraries for many photos of Carnegie Libraries.

Skim Google 3D Warehouse for a collections of models of Carnegie Libraries and their locations.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Stauffer, Suzanne M. (2007). In their own image: the public library collection as a reflection of its donors. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(4), 387-408.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Dredge, Bart (2008). Contradictions of corporate benevolence: industrial libraries in the southern textile industry, 1920-1945. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 43(3), 308-326.

Women's Movement

In addition to the contributions of wealthy philanthropists, smaller groups and individuals also had an impact on public library development.

The growth of women's clubs, public libraries, and the suffrage movement are closely connected. The growth of women's literary societies and cultural clubs from the late 1800s provided the volunteer power needed to form public libraries. The new libraries provided a meeting place for women who sought other civic reform efforts such as the suffrage movement.

Women's Clubs and Libraries

The General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) strongly supported the formation of free libraries. By 1904, they had been involved with establishing 474 free public libraries (Watson, 1994). The clubs provided leadership in the form of lobbying for legislation to provide tax support to libraries. They also raised money through bake sales and other fund-raising activities.

The photo below shows the Womans' Club Room at the Neenah Public Library in Wisconsin (Wisconsin Historical Society).

Neenah Public Library Wisconsin Historical Society

Women's Suffrage and Libraries

Success in the formation of libraries gave some women the confidence to move into other areas of social activism such as the suffrage movement.

Although women were gaining recognition for both philanthropic and professional librarian work, many barriers remained.

Women were an important part of Melvil Dewey's plans for the librarian profession. In 1887, Dewey included women when he launched the School of Library Economy at Columbia College in New York City. Formal training provided women a gateway into the profession. In 1892, Mary Salome Culter stated "a woman's fitness for library work has been proved. She has already a recognized place in the profession... due largely to the liberal spirit of the leaders in the library movement."

Library leaders such as Cornelia Marvin, Mary Wright Plummer, Mary Eileen Ahern, and Grace Hebrard supported women's suffrage and social reforms. Most of these women focused on the professional concerns related to the women's movement and were more interested compromise than a separatist approach.

Gratia Countryman
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Gratia Countryman was a librarian who believed strongly in the power of outreach. She developed collections and reading rooms throughout Minneapolis in factories, fire halls, and hospitals in addition to establishing a mobile library truck. In addition, she provided reading materials for the blind and foreign language materials for immigrants.

When Gratia Countryman became the first director of the Minneapolis Public Library in 1903, it was a major accomplishment. However her salary was set at $1000 less that her male predecessor. Maude Stockwell, president of the Minnesota Suffrage Association wrote a scathing editor in the Library Journal stating, "it may be doubted whether a man had been chosen as librarian any such arrangement such as this would have been made".

Countryman went on to become the president of the American Library Association.

Traveling Libraries

Traveling libraries were a way to provide library resources to under served areas, particular in rural locations. Itinerant religious figures sometimes stocked parish libraries with traveling collections. Napoleon I had a traveling camp library during war. Some circulating libraries provided crates of books to schools.

In 1679 Thomas Bray stated that

"standing libraries will signify little in the country where persons must ride some miles to look into a book; but lending libraries which come home to them without charge, may tolerably well supply the vacanies in their own studies till such time as these lending may be improve."

During the 19th century English, Scottish, and Australian libraries sometimes loaned cases of books to parishes. In 1817, Samuel Brown created library stations in Scotland parishes.

In 1876, the Light House Establishment began providing light stations with reading materials in wooden cases. The collections were largely fiction with some periodicals included. The image below shows the bookplate.

For a sampling of books, go to the Lighthouse Traveling Library Page at the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy.

Light House Establishement

The photos below shows a traveling library box from the Board of Library Commissioners of Vermont in 1902.

Vermont Traveling Library Wikimedia CommonsInterior of Traveling Library, Wikimedia Commons, PD

In 1910, James H. Gregory of Marblehead Massachusetts funded a traveling library service for Southern African Americans known as the Marblehead libraries. Administered by Atlanta University, the libraries were distributed in Georgia.

In 1948, the American Seaman's Friend Society provided libraries to American ships including naval hospitals. Similar approaches were taken to providing libraries at remote lighthouses.

In the 1970s, Oxford and Cambridge Universities used traveling libraries to assist university extension courses.

The traveling library movement including New York, Michigan, Iowa, and Montana in the 1890s. It was particularly popular in Wisconsin.

Free Traveling Libraries Wisconsin Magazine of History 2006-2007Wisconsin Traveling Libraries
Wisconsin, USA

In his article Free Traveling Libraries in Wisconsin, Frank Hutchins (1897) states that small, rural libraries often have small, low quality collections. As a result many small town efforts at providing libraries have failed. To hold client interest, these rural libraries need a constant influx of new materials. In addition, small library patrons have a difficulty getting and returning books because of the distance to the library.

"No recent movement for the public weal in Wisconsin has won such quick and ready sympathy as the effort to put the best of books and current literature where country people may read them freely. The cities and large villages have been rapidly establishing free public libraries, but most former efforts to supply farmers and people of small hamlets with free reading have failed."

Members of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission developed the idea of creating small traveling libraries. J.H. Stout, a library trustee in Menomonie, suggested purchasing quality materials and distributing them in sixteen collections containing 30 volumes each. Each collection was placed in a strong book case with shelves and a lock and key. In addition, a circulation book, rules, and other management materials were included. Circulation began in 1896.

The photo (below left) shows the storage boxes ready for shipment. The photo (below right) the Stout Library Station in Downing, Wisconsin. Notice the table and storage shelf.

Traveling Library, in Free Traveling Libraries 1897Free Traveling Libraries in Wisconsin 1897

A related traveling library project was operated by J.D. Witter of Grand Rapids, Wisconsin.

Learn more about the J.D. Witter Traveling Libraries.

Skim Free Traveling Libraries in Wisconsin from the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (1897) to learn about the history of these traveling libraries.

Melbourne Public Library
Melbourne, Australia

In 1860, system of traveling libraries was begun in Melbourne Australie by Redmond Barry. In the beginning, the system serviced libraries within 10 miles of the Melbourne Post Office. However by 1867, the service spread across the colony. At one point 120 cases containing 8000 books were circulated to 42 libraries.

The materials were circulated in oak cases with brass fittings. Books were placed snugly on the shelf with a sliding door.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Stotts, Stuart (2006-2007). A thousand little libraries: Lutie Stearns, the Johnny Appleseed of Books. Wisconsin Magazine of History, 90(2), 38-49.

Public Library Campaigns

During this time, public library campaigns were a popular way to gain support and funding.

Why Do We Need a Public Library?The American Library Association provided resources to assist librarians in developing their campaigns. Pamphlets like Why Do We Need a Public Library? (right) produced in 1902 and 1910 are examples. The pamphlets provide suggestions for using the power of the press to promote libraries.

The 1902 American Library Association publication Why Do We Need a Public Library?, demonstrates the thinking of librarians of the times.

"The free town library is wholly a product of the last half-century. It is the crowning creature of democracy for the its own higher culture." - J.N. Larned (p. 16)

"Cataloguing has also, thanks in great measure to American librarians, become a science, and catalogues, ceasing to be labyrinths without a clue, are furnished with finger-posts at every turn." - James Russell Lowell." (p. 7)

"The public library of to-day is an active, potential force, serving the present, and silently helping to develop the civilization of the future." (p. 21)

A similar publication also titled Why Do We Need a Public Library? was distributed in 1910.

"A library is not a luxury; it is not for the cultured few; it is not merely for the scientific; it is not for any intellectual cult or exclusive literary set. It is a great, broad, universal public benefaction. It lifts the entire community; it is the right arm of the intellectual developing of the people, ministering to the wants of those who are already educated and spreading a universal desire for education." - C. C. Thach (p. 10)

"A library charging a fee may bring comfort to a respectable board of directors by ministering to a small and financially independent circle of book-takers... but such as library never realizes the highest utility. The greater part of the books lie untouched upon the shelves, and compared with the free library it is a lame and impotent affair." (p. 15)

"The work of the library is for civic education and the making of good citizens, a form of patriotism made imperative for the millions of foreigners coming yearly to our shores." - Waller Irene Bullock (p. 44)

Read Why Do We Need a Public Library (1902) and (1910). They provide a nice sense for the time period.

The image below shows the public libraries in Massachusetts. The caption reads: Population of Massachusetts in 1910 was 3,366,416. A Public Library free to every man woman and child. Annual circulation three volumes to every inhabitant. 6,291,811 volumes. Annual circulation 12,440,819 volumes.

the public libraries of Massachuesetts, LOC, PD

The Library Profession

By the early 1900s, specialization was occurring in many areas of the library profession. For instance academic libraries now had reference departments with specially trained reference librarians to assist library users and foster independent research. This trend in reference service lead to specialty areas related to "subject (i.e., art librarian), type of material (i.e., rare books librarian; government documents librarian); and function (i.e., reference librarian or cataloging librarian)" (Weiner, 2005).

The library profession began looking back on the history of libraries and a number of library history texts were written. In addition, library professionals and faculty became more involved with publishing professional textbooks, articles, and research. In 1900, the ALA Publishing Board and the Cataloging Section of ALA were both established.

Library History

Library history emerged as an area of interest.

Skim Bolton, Charles Knowles (1911). American Library History. American Library Association. Available: http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/13899037 .

Library Instruction

Library instruction also became an area of focus in the early 1900s. Books like The Practical Use of Books and Libraries: An Elementary Manual by Gilbert Ward were intended to teach young people about the use of the library and help teachers and librarians train apprentices.

Library Education

Jewish children, LOC, PDLibrary education standards continued to evolve. The American Library Association recommended two to three years of college prior to library education.

Library Services

Increasingly, libraries were offering programming such as storyteling and children's activities.

The photo on the right shows Jewish children in Beals, New York listening to A Legend of the Northern Lights, an Native American Indian story.

In addition, library reference services were shifting from more general services to special services.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Deng, Liya (2014). The evolution of library reference services: from general to special, 1876-1920s. Libra, 64(3), 254-262.

Professional Materials

In addition, professional materials were widely available. The Booklist began publication in 1905 to provide a guide to current materials for all ages. Then, in 1907, ALA Bulletin (now American Libraries) began publication.

Skim Dana, John Cotton (1913). A Library Primer. Library Bureau.

Skim Miller, Zana Kate (1921). How to Organize a Library. Library Bureau.

Finding Aids

From inventories to indexes, librarians and publishers sought new ways to organize and access information. People began creating resources to help librarians in finding materials.

Halsey William Wilson

Halsey William Wilson along with Henry Morris started a bookstore in Minnesota in 1889. As a bookseller, Wilson sought to keep track of currently published books. In 1898, he published the Cumulative Book Index. He began selling subscriptions to his index.

Next, Wilson created the United States Catalog followed by the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in 1901. Wilson's projects were so successful that he incorporated in 1903 as H.W. Wilson.

He went on to create Book Review Digest, Index to Legal Periodicals, Children's Catalog, and others.

Book Selection

Increasing interest in selection brought books, pamphlets, and editorials related to selection policies. Read the Put It Out editorial in Public Libraries (January 1911, 16(1), 15) below. Some librarians of the time viewed censorship as part of their job.

Public LIbraries 1911, 15

Skim Sonnenschein, William Swan (1901). The Best Books.  A reader's guide to the choice of the best available books (about 50,000) in every department of science, art and literature.

Library Sales

Finally, library sales catalogs provided the latest innovations for purchase.

Skim Library Catalog (1909). Library Bureau.

Historical Society Libraries

Minnesota Historical Society WIkimedia Commons PDHistorical societies were well established in European countries during the 18th century. However the first groups in the United States were formed in the late 18th and early 19th century by members of the elite class.

Jeremy Belknap founded the first historical society in the United States. The Massachusetts Historical Society was founded in 1792 becoming both a repository and publisher of information about American history.

Historical societies grew in popularity throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. By the mid 1800s most states east of the Mississippi had historical societies.

The photo on the right above shows the Minnesota Historical Society building in 1920.

Historical society libraries collect, interpret and preserve items of historical interest. Many of these groups maintain both museums, archives, libraries, and educational outreach. Genealogy, colonial history, pioneer history, and natural history are just a few of the areas of focus.

In 1940, the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) was formed to bring attention to state and local history.

The photo below taken in 2010 is of the Wisconsin Historical Society library. The library building was constructed between 1896-1900.

Wisconsin Historical Society Library Reading Room Wikimedia Commons

Explore a list of historical societies from around the world at Wikipedia.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Laugesen, Amanda (2004). Keepers of histories: the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Library and its cultural work, 1860-1910. Libraries & Culture, 39(1), 13-35.


Bolton, Charles Knowles (1911). American Library History. American Library Association. Available: http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/13899037

Butler, Pierce (1933). Introduction to Library Science. University of Chicago Press. Available: http://archive.org/stream/introductiontoli011501mbp

Cutler, Mary Salome (August 1892). What a woman librarian earns. Library Journal, 17, 94.

Dana, John Cotton (1913). A Library Primer. Library Bureau. Available: http://archive.org/stream/alibraryprimer02danagoog

Garrison, Dee (1979). Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920. Free Press.

Learned, William S. (1924). The American Public Library and the Diffusion of Knowledge. Harcourt. Available: http://archive.org/stream/americanpublicli007473mbp

Library Catalog (1909). Library Bureau. Available: http://archive.org/stream/librarycataloga01buregoog

Maack, Mary Niles (1996). Women's values, vision and culture in the transformation of American librarianship, 1890-1920. Libraries and Reading in Times of Cultural Change. Moscow. Available: http://pages.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/maack/Values.htm

McCook, Kathleen de la Pena (2002). Rocks in the Whirlpool: Equity of Access and the American Library Association. Available: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED462981.pdf

Miller, Zana Kate (1921). How to Organize a Library. Library Bureau. Available: http://archive.org/stream/howtoorganizeal00buregoog

Plummer, Alston Jones Jr. (1999). Libraries, Immigrants, and the American Experience. Greenwood Press.

Sonnenschein, William Swan (1901). The Best Books. Available: http://archive.org/details/cu31924024892881

Ward, Gilbert O. (1917). The Practical Use of Books and Libraries: An Elementary Manual. Boston Book Co. Available: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL:2990923?n=10

Watson, P.D. (1994). Founding Mothers: The contribution of women's organizations to public library development in the United States. The Library Quarterly, 64(3), pp. 233-269.

Weiner, Sharon Gray (2005). The history of academic libraries in the United States: a review of the literature. Library Philosophy and Practice, 7(2). Available: http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/weiner.htm

Wiegand, Wayne A. (1986). The Politics of an Emerging Profession: The American Library Association, 1876-1917. Greenwood Press.

Why Do We Need A Public Library (1902). American Library Association. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=PPe6AAAAIAAJ

Why Do We Need A Public Library (1910). American Library Association. Available: http://archive.org/stream/whydoweneedpubl00hadl

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