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Institutions of Reading

Institutions of Reading: The Social Life of Libraries in the United States

Thomas Augst
Kenneth Carpenter
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Institutions of Reading
    Book Description:

    Tracing the evolution of the library as a modern institution from the late eighteenth century to the digital era, this book explores the diverse practices by which Americans have shared reading matter for instruction, edification, and pleasure. Writing from a rich variety of perspectives, the contributors raise important questions about the material forms and social shapes of American culture. What is a library? How have libraries fostered communities of readers and influenced the practice of reading in particular communities? How did the development of modern libraries alter the boundaries of individual and social experience, and define new kinds of public culture? To what extent have libraries served as commercial enterprises, as centers of power, and as places of empowerment for African Americans, women, and immigrants?Institutions of Reading offers at once a social history of literacy and leisure, an intellectual history of institutional and technological innovations that facilitated the mass distribution and consumption of printed books and periodicals, and a cultural history of the symbolic meanings and practical uses of reading in American life.In addition to the editors, contributors include Elizabeth Amann, Michael Baenen, James Green, Elizabeth McHenry, Barbara Mitchell, Christine Pawley, Janice Radway, James Raven, Karin Roffman, and Roy Rosenzweig.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-063-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    T. E. A. and K. E. C.
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)
    Thomas Augst

    In october 2004 a new library that exists everywhere and nowhere opened its doors to the public. The materials circulated by Google Book Search are available on the Internet anywhere on the World Wide Web, but through digital imaging technology they exist as electronic data rather than physical objects stored on a shelf. By November 2005, the Authors’ Guild and a group of publishers had filed suit against Google, arguing that the new library infringed on copyright protections of intellectual property, stealing the labor of creating and publishing texts under the pretext of promoting “fair use” of knowledge. In challenging...

  6. Chapter 1 Social Libraries and Library Societies in Eighteenth-Century North America
    (pp. 24-52)
    James Raven

    On January 8, 1760, Daniel Crawford, prosperous Carolina merchant, scholarly book collector, and vice-president of the Charleston Library Society, presided at the society’s annual general meeting. He stood in for the president, William Henry Lyttelton, governor of South Carolina for the past four years, who was reelected at this meeting as titular head of the Library Society. Crawford’s first task from the chair, as custom dictated, was to read out the society’s rules. At this “anniversary” meeting, the twelfth since the library’s foundation in June 1748, the reading of the rules was followed by “a very handsome and elegant speech...

  7. Chapter 2 Subscription Libraries and Commercial Circulating Libraries in Colonial Philadelphia and New York
    (pp. 53-71)
    James Green

    From the 1730s to the 1760s, all American libraries that circulated books to the public were subscription libraries. They were owned and supported by private individual shareholders, who could borrow books so long as they paid their annual subscription dues. Some were also open to the general public for reference, and some, like the Library Company of Philadelphia, even had provisions for non-shareholders to borrow books upon payment of a cash deposit. Then in the 1760s a new type of library suddenly appeared, commercial circulating libraries. These were individually owned—generally by booksellers—and patrons could borrow books for a...

  8. Chapter 3 A Great and Natural Enemy of Democracy? Politics and Culture in the Antebellum Portsmouth Athenæum
    (pp. 72-98)
    Michael A. Baenen

    Thus did one newspaper correspondent, signing himself “Stark,” in tribute to a great Revolutionary hero, describe the leading library and reading room of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. By presenting it, in classic Jacksonian language, as not the arsenal of democracy but its sworn opponent, he sought to make the Portsmouth Athenæum a campaign issue in the 1838 state election. It is surprising to hear a library compared to the Bank of the United States, but perhaps the Athenæum really was to Portsmouth what the Bank was to the country—in Tocqueville’s words, “a great establishment,” with “an independent existence; the people,...

  9. Chapter 4 “An Association of Kindred Spirits”: Black Readers and Their Reading Rooms
    (pp. 99-118)
    Elizabeth McHenry

    In an 1839 letter to the editor of theColored American,a member of the Phoenixonian Society, a literary society formed in 1833 by African Americans in New York City, reported that another of the city’s African American literary associations, the Phoenix Society, had “gone out of existence.” The letter did not detail the cause of the literary society’s demise, nor did it express tremendous sorrow over its disappearance. Rather, the writer’s interest was practical: he wished to know what had happened to the Phoenix Society’s library, which was apparently still intact and—at least in the opinion of the...

  10. Chapter 5 Boston Library Catalogues, 1850–1875: Female Labor and Technological Change
    (pp. 119-147)
    Barbara A. Mitchell

    In the 1850s, Boston and Cambridge were unique among American cities in the number, size, and quality of their cultural and educational institutions, in particular their libraries. The Boston Athenæum, the Boston Public Library, the Harvard College Library, and the Massachusetts State Library burgeoned in this decade, as tens of thousands of books, pamphlets, and periodicals were acquired. This growth created a concomitant need for new, expanded catalogues to render the collections accessible to readers. To produce such catalogues, a new labor force was utilized—educated women who could write a good hand and perhaps read foreign languages. This transformation...

  11. Chapter 6 Faith in Reading: Public Libraries, Liberalism, and the Civil Religion
    (pp. 148-183)
    Thomas Augst

    “Why library architecture should have been yoked to ecclesiastical architecture . . . is not obvious, unless it be that librarians in the past needed this stimulus to their religious emotions,” wrote William Poole inThe Construction of Library Buildings(1881).¹ “The present state of piety in the profession renders the union no longer necessary and it is time that the bill was filed for divorce. The same secular common sense and the same adaptation of means to ends which have built the modern grain elevator and reaper are needed for the reform of library construction.”

    Poole’s comment on the...

  12. Chapter 7 Domesticating Spain: 1898 and the Hispanic Society of America
    (pp. 184-202)
    Elizabeth Amann

    I first visited the library of the Hispanic Society of America in November 1996. At the time, I was working on Góngora’sSolitudes,a dense and allusive poem of the Spanish Baroque, and wanted to consult several seventeenth-century commentaries in the library’s collection. A doctoral candidate at Columbia, I had only the common student’s knowledge of the institution: I had been told that it was an excellent resource for medieval and early modern studies and that it was conveniently located a few stops north on the IRT subway. When I arrived at the 157th Street station on a blustery Saturday,...

  13. Chapter 8 Women Writers and Their Libraries in the 1920s
    (pp. 203-230)
    Karin Roffman

    During the same period in the early 1920s, the poet Marianne Moore and the novelist Nella Larsen—both yet to publish their first major works—were assistant librarians at different branches of the New York Public Library. Moore worked at the Hudson Park Branch downtown; Larsen worked at the 135th Street Branch uptown. Both authors managed the children’s sections of their libraries, reported to the same central administrator (Miss Annie Moore), and took the examination offered by the central library as a tool for promotion. The geographical distance between the two library branches, however, signals the different literary worlds the...

  14. Chapter 9 The Library as Place, Collection, or Service: Promoting Book Circulation in Durham, North Carolina, and at the Book-of-the-Month Club, 1925–1945
    (pp. 231-263)
    Janice Radway

    On January 1, 1929, Clara Crawford, the librarian of the Public Library in Durham, North Carolina, officially submitted her annual report to the board of trustees. Although she was expected to report only on the previous year’s accomplishments and to state the library’s future needs, Crawford used the five-year anniversary of her appointment to summarize the great strides the Durham library had made during her tenure. Indeed, Crawford claimed, “During this time the work has taken on new character and power both as to the extent of city and county territory covered by book distribution and the kind of service...

  15. Chapter 10 Blood and Thunder on the Bookmobile: American Public Libraries and the Construction of “the Reader,” 1950–1995
    (pp. 264-282)
    Christine Pawley

    In 1967, Bob H. took a new job: he became a bookmobile driver for the Door County (Wisconsin) Library. Bob, a Wisconsin native, had worked for twenty-one years on the West Coast where he was parts manager for a car dealership, before deciding to move back to the Door Peninsula. While job-hunting, he spotted a classified ad: the county library was looking for a bookmobile driver. In the early 1950s, the county bookmobile had been staffed by both a driver and a professionally trained librarian, but since 1953 funding shortages had forced the library to roll the functions of both...

  16. Chapter 11 Toward a New Cultural Design: The American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, and Libraries in the 1930s
    (pp. 283-309)
    Kenneth Carpenter

    In the late 1920s, the scholarly world was experiencing signs of a publishing crisis. Would the philanthropic foundations continue to provide sufficient subsidies to cover rising costs? At the same time, scholars were experiencing needs for source materials that libraries were unable to provide, and libraries, in addition, were finding that many of their existing holdings were crumbling. American learned societies in the humanities and social sciences responded. Through their umbrella organizations, they formed a joint committee, which to this day continues to be the only instance in which scholars of many sorts took a long and hard look at...

  17. Chapter 12 Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era
    (pp. 310-342)
    Roy Rosenzweig

    On october 11, 2001, the satiricBert Is Evilwebsite, which displayed photographs of the furry Muppet in Zelig-like proximity to villains such as Adolf Hitler (see figure 12.1), disappeared from the web—a bit of collateral damage from the September 11 attacks. Following the strange career ofBert Is Evilshows us possible futures of the past in a digital era—futures that historians and other scholars need to contemplate more carefully than they have done so far.

    In 1996, Dino Ignacio, a twenty-two-year-old Filipino web designer, createdBert Is Evil(“brought to you by the letter H and...

  18. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 343-344)
  19. Index
    (pp. 345-368)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 369-369)