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Modern Libraries: 1850-1874 CE

Let's examine the global push for mechanics, public, school, and Sunday school libraries as well as military post libraries.

By the mid-1800s, countries around the world were shifting from subscription and commercial circulating libraries to public libraries. In some cases, legislation was enacted to support the development of public libraries. After the Public Library Act (1850) in the United Kingdom, legislation was introduced in many other parts of the world. Public libraries slowly grew and gained momentum toward the end of the 1800s. Many of the same principles related to promoting education and literacy can be seen in the mission statements of today's libraries.

In the United States, reading was no longer viewed as an activity of the elite. Many subscription libraries began opening their doors to nonmembers for a fee. For instance, the Library Company of Philadelphia offered shares to carpenters and other skills laborers for work performed on the library's new building (Hayes, 2008).

According to Hayes (2008), specialty libraries were being formed to meet the needs of specific groups such as children, young men, mechanics, and mercantile men. "These libraries operated on members' annual dues, borrowing fees, and gifts rather than on a joint-stock basis. Denied access to such organizations, African Americans in the North formed their own counterpart libraries in the 1820s and 1830s." (Hayes, 2008, 362).

Mechanics Libraries

Unable to afford subscription libraries, mechanics' libraries provided vocational reading materials for a small rental fee. These libraries were subsidizes by benevolent groups and individuals.

The growth of Mechanics' Institutes in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, and the United States provided a new venue for libraries. These technical schools focused on training adult workers in scientific thinking and research. Ultimately, they trained what are now known as civil and mechanical engineers. They also contained lecture halls, laboratories, and museums.

The Mechanics Institute libraries were particularly popular. In 1857, 58 institutes were open in Upper Canada.

Van Diemen's Land Mechanics' Institute in Hobart was the first to open in 1827. By 1900, over 1000 Mechanics' Institutes were spread across Australia as a result of the School of Arts movement worldwide. In Australia, many of these places were known as Schools of Art and Literacy Institutes.

Cultural programs were often an important element of these libraries. Many libraries organized lecture series, courses, concerts, author readings, and other activities and events.

General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York
New York City, New York, USA

The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York was founded in 1785 to provide cultural, educational, and social services to families of skilled craftsmen. The second oldest operating library in New York City, General Society Library along with the school was established in 1820. The library housed the Apprentices' Library. The mission was to provide quality, instructive reading for apprentice boys.

By 1861, privileges were extended to women. The library kept evening hours to accommodate boys who worked during the day. The library began a lecture series in 1827 that included well-known speakers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greeley, Wendell Phillips, and Robert E. Peary. In 1887, classes were provided for young women in stenography and typewriting.

Learn more about the General Society of Mechanics of NY.

Mercantile Library of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

The Mercantile Library of Cincinnati established in 1835 began its first lecture series in the 1840s featuring Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wendell Phillips, W. M. Thackeray, Edward Everett, Herman Melville, Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Learn more about the Mercantile Library of Cincinnati.

New Haven Young Men's Institute
New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Founded in 1826, the Young Apprentices' Literary Association in New Haven Connecticut is an educational society dedicated to "intellectual and more improvement of its members" through a shared book collection and mutual encouragement in writing and speech. In 1835, the association opened its doors to women.

The library became known as the New Haven Young Men's Institute in 1841 and was the site of popular lecture series with featuring speakers such as notable speakers as Henry Ward Beecher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Frederick Douglass, and Anna E. Dickinson.

St. Louis Mercantile Library
St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Established in 1846, the St. Louis Mercantile Library is the oldest library general library in continuous operation West of the Mississippi.

Learn more about the St. Louis Mercantile Library.

School of Arts of Edinburgh
Edinburgh, Scotland

The School of Arts of Edinburgh opened in 1821 to provide access to education for working people. Schools in Glasgow and Liverpool opened in 1823.

By the mid 1800s, over 700 institutes were created world-wide meeting the needs of a new class of reader during the Industrial Revolution.

Manchester Mechanics's Institute
Manchester, England

In 1825, the Manchester Mechanics's Institute opened. Some mechanics' libraries ultimately became public libraries. Images are shown below.

Manchester Wikimedia PD

Manchester PD

Bradford Mechanics' Institute Library
Bradford, England

Established in 1832, the Bradford Mechanics' Institute Library's mission focused on adult technical education including chemistry for the textile industry, building construction, and industrial art and design.

The large library was surrounded by classrooms for up to 700 adult working students. Today, the library continues to operate as a subscription library.

Swan River Mechanics' Institute
Perth, Australia

In Perth, Australia, the Swan River Mechanics' Institute was established in 1851 housing a cultural center, natural history collection, and subscription library. The goal was to provide a recreational facility for middle class workers through lectures and a reading room. Ex-convicts were not acceptable Institute members. This restriction lead to alternative working men's associations by the 1860s that catered to the working classes.

The book plate provides the guidelines for use:

Book plant PDTHIS IS THE PROPERTY OF The Swan River Mechanics Institute (Incorporated, Perth, WA)
This book must be returned to the Librarian within fourteen days, but may be re-issued provided it has not previously been applied for by another member.
A fine of 9d. per diem will be indicated for each week detained beyond the period allowed.
No Book shall be taken from the Library without the consent of the Librarian.
Wrappers of Books must be preserved as far as practicable and the cost of any book lost or injured will be recovered from the person to whom it was last issued.
Subscription, 6 per Quarter, Family Members, 2
Books will not be issued to any member whose subscription is in arrear.
As the books of the Library are the property of the members as a body, it is expected that they will take care of them, and inform the Secreatary of any of which they may hear in the possession of unauthorized persons.

The Swan River Mechanics' Institute is shown below.

Swan River Mechanics Institute Wikimedia PD

Toronto Mechanic's Institute
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Toronto Mechanics Canadian Illustrated 1870 Wikimedia PDThe Toronto Mechanic's Institute (shown on right) was established in 1830 to provide technical training and adult education. A new building was erected to house lectures, courses, and a library.

During the mid 1880s, mechanics' institutes such as the Bytown Mechanics' Institute of Ottawa and Hamilton and Gore Mechanics' Institute of Ontario were established in Canada. Most of these institutes later became public libraries.

The Toronto Public Library was the first to make the change in 1883.

Learn more about the Mechanics Institute Toronto.


Beyond the Book

At the Public Library, State Library of Victoria, PDGames, globes, and other interesting devices have often been identified with libraries.

The image on the right provides a sense for what life was like in a public library in Australia from February 23, 1888. Click the image for a larger view. Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, mp010060.

In Essex, England, the Plume Library trustees minutes of January 6, 1829 read

"Ordered that a pair of globes be purchased by the secretary for the use of the Library - the old ones being quite worn out".

Learn more about the Plume Library.

San Francisco Mechanics' Institute
San Francisco, CA

Gaming has a long tradition in libraries. Along with the library, the San Francisco Mechanics' Institute houses the oldest continuously operating chess club in the United States. The economic downturn after the gold boom caused a flood of former miners with no job skills. Established in 1854, the Mechanics' Institute began with four books, a chess room, and the hope of starting a vocational school.

Learn more about the San Francisco Mechanics' Institute.

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Read Kraus, Hildie V. (2007). A cultural history of the Mechanics' Institute of San Franscisco, 1855-1920. Library History, 23(2), 115-128.

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Read Hovde, David M. & Fritch, John W. (2005). In union there is strength: the Farmers' Institute and the western literary union library. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 40(3), 285-306.

Women and Libraries

Throughout the 19th century, small strides were made in meeting the reading and library needs of women. For instance, while most mechanics libraries focused on the needs of men, a few focused on working-class women.

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Read Gerrard, Teresa & Weedon, Alexis (2014). Working-class women’s education in Huddersfield: A case study of the Female Educational Institute Library, 1856-1857. Information & Culture, 49(2), 234-264.

In the mid 1800s, the Woman's Library of the New York City Library was established. However by 1870 funding was eliminated and the project was taken over by the Women's Protective Union.

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Read Roff, Sandra (2014). A room of her own: the Woman’s Library, a footnote to New York City Library history. Information & Culture, 49(4), 450-468.

After the Civil War, women's clubs known as "study clubs" or "reading circles" gained in popularity. This increase was due in part to the introduction of modern appliances that provided middle class women with free time to engage in intellectual activities.

At first, many of these clubs maintained their own collections of books. However between the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of these groups took on social causes including the creation of traveling libraries and public libraries. According to Scheer (2002), women's clubs are estimated to have started between 75 and 80% of all public libraries in the United States.

The Growth of Public Libraries

Why should every town have a public library Public Libraries PDBy the late 1800s, most large cities and many towns had developed public libraries.

In the mid to late 1880s, people began campaigning for libraries in their communities. In Public Libraries (1890, 511), Thomas Greenwood asked "Why Should Every Town Have a Public Library?

He answered with 20 statements. Click the images on the left for a larger view of the Greenwood's answers.

Public Libraries of the United States

In the United States each state created its own laws related to the creation of public libraries.

In the case of Massachusetts, the provision adopted in Boston was adopted for the state.

"An Act to Authorize Cities and Towns to Establish and Maintain Public Libraries...
Any city or town of this Commonwealth is hereby authorized to establish and maintain a Public Library within the same, and with or without branches, for the use of the inhabitants thereof, and to provide suitable rooms therefor, under such regulations for the government of said Library as may from time to time be prescribed by the city council of such city, or the inhabitants of such town." (Greenwood, 1890, 396)

Michael Harris' 1972 article, The Purpose of the American Public Library in Historical Perspective: Revisionist Interpretation stresses that early library historians may have misrepresented the origins of the public library in America. While some researchers focus on the public library as a grand example of democracy in action, others claim that the motives of the founders were less than altruistic. Harris notes that

"everyone involved generally agreed that if the public library was to be a force for good in American life it was essential that the masses be induced to utilize the libraries begin established in their respective communities...Most... maintained that fiction was to be the 'carrot' with which the librarian could catch his 'hare'. It was what you did with the 'hare' after you caught him that counted most... It was their conviction that if the common man could be induced to read the 'best' books, he would be more inclined to be conservative, patriotic, devout, and respectful of property" (1972, 23-24).

While librarians today think of themselves as open-minded and defenders of intellectual freedom, this has not always been the case. Harris notes that

"Convinced of the value of good books, librarians were also quick to see the potential danger that "bad" books held for the nation. Consequently they were careful to select only those books best suited for the purpose they had in mind. The word "censorship," now considered taboo by librarians, was frequently used in the pages of the professional literature. It connoted the idea that the librarian was responsible for keeping certain books from the public" (1972, 25).

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Read Johanningsmeier, Charles (2004). Welcome guests or representatives of the 'mal-odorous class'? Periodicals and their readers in American Public Libraries, 1876-1914. Libraries & Culture, 39(3), 260-292.

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Read Pateman, John (2004). Public libraries and the working class. Library History, 21(3), 189-194.

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Read Skouvig, Laura (2007). The construction of the working-class user: Danish free public libraries and the working classes, 1880-1920. Library History, 23(3), 223-238.

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Read Stauffer, Suzanne M. (2011). A good social work: women's clubs, libraries, and the construction of a secular society in Utah, 1890-1920. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 45(2), 135-155.

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Read Goldstein, Daniel (2003). The spirit of an age: Iowa Public Libraries and professional librarians as solutions to society's problems, 1890-1940. Libraries & Culture, 38(3), 214-235.

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Read Wiegand, Wayne A. (2013). Main street public library in the rural heartland, 1876-1956. In, C. Pawley & L.S. Robbins, Print Culture History in Modern America: Libraries and the Reading Public in Twentieth Century America. University of Wisconsin, 23-36.

Boston Public Library
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

As trustee of the Boston Athenaeum, George Ticknor envisioned the development of a public library as early as 1826 but was unable to generate funding. In a speech at the Boston Mercantile Library in 1841, Alexandre Vattemare suggested combining the various Boston libraries into a single institution.

In the mid 1800s, donations by Josiah Quincy, Jr. and a bequeath by John Jacob Astor added momentum to the movement. The state legislature supported creation of the library in 1848. Then in 1851, Edward Everett former Mayor of Boston and retired President of Harvard wrote a letter to Boston's mayor about the need for library to be available for scholarly research, but also accessible to people of all classes.

The Boston Public Library was established by the city of Boston in 1852. Ticknor along with others began planning the library that was opened to the public in 1854. While Ticknor envisioned that the library was to be aimed at the "common man," he was actually a quite conservative. According to Harris (1976, 15), "Ticknor's belief in the library's potential as one means of restraining the "dangerous classes" and inhibiting the chances of unscrupulous politicians who would lead the ignorant astray, explains his insistence that the public library be as popular appeal as possible."

The Boston Public Library (below left) became the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States. All adults residents were entitled to borrow materials. The image below right was drawn in 1871.

Boston Public Library, Wikimedia Commons PDBoston Public Library Wikimedia Commons PD

The Boston Public Library Annual Report for 1875 stated that "it is no part of the duty of the municipality to raise taxes fro the amusement of the people, unless the amusement is tolerably clearly seen to be condusive to higher ends of good citizenship, like the encouragement of patriotism, the promotion of public health, of the undermining of immorality." Harris (1976) stresses that "recreational reading was acceptable because it would eventually raise the individual's reading tastes (the uplife theory) or because it was a harmless form of entertainment; it contributed to the maintenance of order."

Hartford Public Library
Hartford, Connecticut

Originating as the Library Company in 1774, the library began as a subscription library. In 1838, they merged with the Hartford Young Men's Institute and eventually moved into the Wadsworth Atheneum.

In 1875, Caroline Hewins was appointed by the Hartford Young Men's Institute that later became the Hartford Public Library. She was one of many women to join the ranks of professional librarian in the late 1880s.

Like many libraries, the people of Hartford created campaigns to raise money for their library. Made possible through a combination of donations and tax monies, the free public library opened in 1892.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read McCrossen, Alexis (2006). 'One cathedral more' or 'mere lounging places for bummers'? The cultural politics of leisure and the public libraries in gilded age America. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 41(2), 169-188.


Public Libraries of the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a movement in the 1830s encouraged lower classes to spend free time on "morally uplifting activities" such as reading. Those involved with the temperance movement hoped that establishing parish libraries, museums, reading rooms, and lecture halls would reduce drinking by providing an alternative activity. The Museums Act of 1845 was the first step.

The Public Libraries Act of 1850 gave local boroughs in the United Kingdom the power to establish free public libraries. No everyone supported the act. Many disliked the idea of taxation and others felt it infringed on private enterprises. The middle and upper classes disliked the idea of providing a service used mostly by the working classes. Those in support of the act felt that would reduce crime rates by increasing levels of education. Unfortunately, the act only applied to building projects and staff, not books and other materials. Amendments were made in 1855 and 1866, however funding was still a problem.

Learn more about the Public Libraries Act of 1850 at Wikipedia.

Edward Pease Public Library
Darlington, England

Many public libraries began with donations. Edward Pease left funds in his will for a public library in Darlington. A library trustee offered to purchase furnishing and provie a site in a central position in town if the town adopted the Public Libraries' Acts. The voters agreed and the Renaissance style building was constructed and opened in 1884.

The Darlington Public Library has an interesting layout reflecting the times. It contains three rooms: reference library, lending library, and reading room. It's also interesting to note that the library has a reading room specifically for women.

Darlington, Public Libraries, PD

According to Public Libraries (Greenwood, 1890, 96),

"The Edward Pease Library at Darlington has ben open four years, and although every book in the lending department has been, on the average, some dozen times in circulation, not a single one is now unaccounted for; and this speaks well for the readers. The inhabitants make the greatest possible use of the institution, as will be seen from the fact that 84,621 books have been taken out for home reading. This out of a total of 10, 664 in the lending department, in charge of the present librarian., Mr. Everatt, shows a capital record, the daily average being 323 volumes. The juvenile section of the library has been particularly successful. The actual number of readers' tickets now in use is 2,493. The gross number of volumes now in the library is 14, 2900. No fewere than 950 people as a daily average visit the reading-rooms."

Wigan Public Library
Wigan, England

Reference Library, Public Libraries, PDThe Wigan Public Library was extremely popular in the late 1800s. In addition to reading, the library also sponsored lectures that were particularly popular in the winter.

The library's annual report noted that (Public Libraries, Greenwood, 1890, 141)

"the public are allowed to help themselves to books, which are upon open shelves. There is a notice hung up that no books are to be taken out of the room. No supervision is required beyond rearranging the books early each morning. In twelve years six books only have been taken away. For some years a voluntary rate of a halfpenny in addition to the penny has been paid by a large number of ratepayers, as the legal penny was insufficient for the rapidly extending work."

The reference library is shown in the sketch on the right. According to Public Libraries (Greenwood, 1890, 138),

"So rapidly has its work extended since it was opened in 1878 that already the newroom and the reference library need extension, and a spare piece of ground in the rear of the building will be probably soon used for this purpose."

Bootle Public Library and Museum
Merseyside, England

The Bootle Public Library and Museum is an example of combining a public library and museum. Shared spaces such as the lecture hall make effective room of space. The images below show the Bootle Public Library and Museum (Greenwood, 1890).

Bootle Public Libraries PD

Bootle Library Floorplan Public Libraries PD

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Sked, Katrina M.L. & Reid, Peter H. (2008). The people behind the philanthropy: an investigation into the lives and motivations of library philanthropists in Scotland between 1800 and 1914. Library History, 24(1), 48-63.

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Read Black, Alistair (2005). The library as clinic: a Foucauldian interpretation of British Public Library attitudes to social and physical disease, ca. 1850-1950. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 40(3), 416-434.

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Read Hammond, Mary (2002). 'The great fiction bore': Free libraries and the construction of a reading public in England, 1880-1914. Libraries & Culture, 37(2), 83-108.

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Read Cullen, Clara (2007). 'Dublin is also in great need of a library which shall be at once accessible to the public and contain a good supply of modern and foreign books': Dublin's nineteenth-century 'public' library. Library History, 23(1), 49-61.


Public Libraries of Canada

The Toronto Public Library and many other public libraries in Canada began as Mechanics Institutes. In 1895, the Public Libraries Act changed these institutes into public libraries.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Dean, Heather (2011). The persuasion of books: the significance of libraries in Colonial British Columbia. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 46(1), 50-71.

Public Libraries of Australia and New Zealand

According to Peter Biskup (1994), the First Fleet arrived in New South Wales Australia carrying convicts and soldiers, but also a printing press and books. An appeal to the British public by Reverend Samual Marsden in 1809 was the first call for public libraries. However this movement was unsuccesssful.

Free municipal libraries began to appear in Australia in the 1850s. Many of these later became State Libraries.

Melbourne Public Library
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Founded in 1853, the library building and initial books were purchased with grant funds.

"No books are allowed to be removed from the rooms, and as supplementary rule to this, all books must be returned to the shelf from whence they were taken by the reader. This plan saves considerable labour to the attendants, but it is not clear that from a librarian's point of view it works well." (Greenwood, 1890, 412)

A system was of lending books to country libraries was put into place. Books are loaned to thirty-seven country libraries free of charge except for shipping from the library to the railway station.

Westbury Library poster Westbury Public Library
Westbury, Tasmania, Australia

The town of Westbury was established in the 1820s. Like many public libraries during this time, the town sought funds for the public library.

The poster on the right is a poster advertising an amateur concert used as a fundraising event for the library. Courtesy of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Auckland Public Library
Auckland, New Zealand

In 1873, the Auckland Mechanics' Institute petitioned the General Assembly to established a public library. In 1880s the Public Library Acts was adopted. The Auckland Public Library opened in 1887.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Traue, J.E. (2007). The public library explosion in Colonial New Zealand. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(2), 151-164.

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Read Traue, J.E. (2007). Reading as a 'necessary of life' on the Tuapeka goldfields in nineteeth-century New Zealand. Library History, 23(1), 41-48.

If you'd like to browse public libraries of this time period, read Thomas Greenwood's Public Libraries from 1890. You'll find lots of information about how the libraries were organized, floorplans, circulation, management, promotion, and other interesting information.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Greenwood, Thomas (1890). Public Libraries: A History of the Movement and A Manual for the Organization and Management of Rate-Supported Libraries. Third Edition. Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, & Co. Limited. Find interesting library statistics at the back of the book.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Niessen, James P. (2006). Museums, nationality, and public research libraries in nineteenth-century Transylvania. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 41(3), 298-336.

School Libraries

In 1835, New York passed the first law providing "that the school district library should be supported by taxation of the same principle as the public school." (Sayers, 1963). Unfortunately, few school districts asked the taxpayers to vote on the tax until the state developed a program of matching funds. School libraries rose until around the time of the Civil War when they began a slow decline.

School libraries in Ohio relied on funds from a law passed in 1853 based on property taxes. In many states, after an initial influx of money to purchase books, expenditures were reduced and libraries declined. Part of the problem related to lack of care and maintenance. Most schools did not provide for a librarian to supervise the library. A 1876 report titled Public Libraries in the United States stressed that the problems facing school libraries. The noted the lack of attention given to book selection in schools. Koos in State Participation in the Public Library Service called for "expert knowledge in the care, use and management of libraries".

According to Johnson (1970, 358),

"several publishing firms took advantage of the school district library laws and compiled sets of works, poorly selected, printed and bound, but sold on commission through local representatives. These sets often took up the entire funds available, and their drab appearance and dry contents did little to promote their use."

After the Revolution, France soon began a centralized system of schools with libraries. However in the mid 1800s educational meetings were discouraged because of the fear of radical behavior leading to a downturn in support. However by the 1860s, school libraries were again being supported. The collections were available to both children and adults in the community. Each school was required to maintain its own armoire-bibliotheque or "closet library" (Clyde, 1981).

Rugby School, PDIn 1868, the Schools Inquiry Commission in England carried out a study of schools including school libraries.

Their report titled Report of the Commissioners identified three types of schools: classical schools, semi-classical schools, and non-classical and elementary schools.

It was found that 67.1% of classical schools had libraries while only 24.6% of non-classical/elementary schools had libraries. Many of the non-classical/elementary schools relied on parish libraries, subscription libraries, or the headmaster's personal library for book access.

A major of the school libraries were open to all students (Clyde, 1981).

The image on the left shows the Rugby School library in 1842. When Rugby students were questioned about use of the library, most students replied that they did little general reading. However when time was available, students chose to read novels.

Curriculum and Collections

By the 1860s, the curriculum had begun to broaden including languages, history, geography, religion, arithmetic and mathematics. Some schools also taught science, drawing, and other subjects.

Evidence that collections were changing comes from the Dursley Parochial and School Library in England (Clyde, 1981). Between 1857 and 1864 the percentage of religion books in the collection dropped from 36.2% to 18.5%, while history/biography rose from 16.29% to 20.6% and fiction rose from 12.7% to 23.7%.

A study of collections in Ontario Canada school libraries in 1874 found that 28% of the collection was fiction, 17% history, and 11% biography (Clyde, 1981).

In 1892, Thomas Greenwood published the first standard manual for school libraries titled Sunday-School and Village Libraries.

Not everyone was in favor of school libraries. It was described as "a school nuisance" and a place where students might "idle away precious minutes, if privileged to read books during school hours" (Certain, 1915). Some people insisted that only textbooks were needed and

"as an extra precaution (placed) formidable restrictions upon the use of the reading room, if such there be, requiring special permits for library privileges, all permits being severly dated, and time limited." (Certain, 1915)

Academies and Secondary School Libraries

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, academies were created in the United States. A type of semi-public secondary school, they often had libraries. The Boston Latin School, St. Louis Academy, and Abbott Academy in Andover are a few examples. These libraries were supported by individual contributions as well as state grants.

In 1855, the Annual Report of the Regents of the University of the State of New York reported that all 172 academies had libraries. The average collection was 530.8 volumes. While many school libraries focused on the needs of young children and the general populations, academy libraries stresses scientific works and classics.

As a result of the popularity of academy, people began to demand free high schools. In 1827, Massachusetts enacted a law requiring a high school in every town of five hundred families or more. However it wasn't until the late 1800s that high schools became common.

Libraries began to form in primary and secondary schools in Australia in the 1860s and were well-established by the 1880s and 1890s. Unlike some other countries, these libraries were generally not open to the general public. However by the early 1900s, some primary school collections provided community reading materials for all ages.

Detroit High School Library
Detroit, Michigan

In 1886, a high school library was established. The library contained reference works and literature. Much of the collection consisted of donations.

Florence Hopkins was hired as the librarian. Although she had no formal training, she began developing a plan for library instruction to increase library use (Edberg, 1962).

Greenville High School Library
Greenville, Mississippi

The Greenville High School Library was established around 1890. The library was housed in a separate room designed for study and reading. It had no librarian until 1920. The open-access library included pictures and busts in addition to shelving and work space (Gaston, 1973).

The Greenville High School Library in the 1890s is shown below.

Greenville High School Library, PD

Sunday School Libraries

Sunday School Library Card, 1884, PDIn England, Scotland, and the United States, Sunday school libraries played an important role in providing books for young people. By the mid 1800s, most church congregations had a Sunday School Library according to an 1870 survey (Brooks, 1879). Both religious and recreational literature was included in most of these libraries.

The image on the right shows a "Sunday school library borrower's card in use in 1884" (Dunning, 1884).

Martha Wheeler (1888, 395) suggested that a Sunday School Library should contain "light science, biography and general helps of many kinds suited to young people." She stated that,

"in a country town where there is no good public library and large private libraries are rare, the Sunday-school library may incalculably increase its good influence by including general literature, science, history, poetry, and whatever is healthful for young and old, or will help to keep the village boys and girls out of those moral and intellectual slums which are perhaps more tempting thanthose of the city because there are so few offsets".

Sunday School Libraries were less common in Australia than in the United Kingdom and United States. However Sunday Schools following the English model were found in some areas in the early 1800s.

By the turn of the 20th century, Sunday School Libraries began to lose their appeal with an increasing number of public libraries providing a wider variety of books.

Military Post Libraries

Governor's Island, 1895, USAMHI PDUntil 1821, there's little evidence of post libraries. General Regulation for the Army (1821) stipulated funding for the "purchase of books, &c. for a library, one section of which, to be adapted to the wants of the enlisted men." However funding for this program was suspended in 1857, reauthorized in 1861, then reenstated again after the Civil War in 1866.

Lori Sekela (2009) notes that as military posts were placed in more remote locations west of the Mississippi, post libraries began to appear. The post surgeon in Laramie indicated in 1968 that around 300 old books were available in the library room.

The post library at Fort Wallace, Kansas contained over 200 volumes along with newspapers and magazines that had high usage in 1869.

By the 1880s, post libraries were becoming better supplied. The Fort Robinson, Nebraska post library contained over 700 items in the collection including military topic, biographies, and novels.

By the 1890s, the East coast post libraries were well-established providing quality reading experiences for soldiers. The photo below shows the Governor's Island, New York post library in 1895. (Photo courtesy of USAMHI)


Biskup, Peter (1994). Libraries in Australia. Centre for Information Studies.

Brooks, Martha H. (1879). Sunday School Libraries. Library Journal, 4, 338.

Certain, C.C. (1915). The status of the library in southern high schools. Library Journal, 40, 633.

Clark, John Willis (1901). The Care of Books. Cambridge University Press Warehouse. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=uvQ_AAAAYAAJ

Clyde, Laurel A. (1981). The Magic Casements: A Survey of School Library History from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century. PhD Thesis, James Cook University. Available: http://eprints.jcu.edu.au/2051/

Dunning, A.E. (1884). The Sunday-School Library. New York.

Edberg, Ruth Marie (1962). The Dynamic Evolution, A History of Detroit School Libraries, 1886-1962. Detroit.

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Harris, Michael H. (1972). The Purpose of the American Public Library in Historical Perspective: Revisionist Interpretation. ERIC. Available: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED071668.pdf

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