1902 Encyclopedia > Libraries > Libraries - Modern World - United States

(Part 12)


The libraries of the United States, as we should expect to find in a country where intelligence and education are so widely diffused, are exceedingly numerous. A great mass of information with regard to them has been published by the Bureau of Education, particularly in the comprehensive Special Report on Public Libraries issued in 1876. From this report, and the annual since appeared, we learn that the number of public libraries already registered is 3842, with upwards of 12,569,450 volumes. It is of course true that the great majority of these libraries are not numerically important. On the other hand, many of them are very rapidly growing, and their very youth implies that their shelves are not burdened with much obsolete literature. The recent development of American libraries is indeed very striking. Of the libraries reported in 1875, about 64 appear to have been established before 1800,and 30 of these between 1775 and 1800. between 1800 and 1825 there were established 179 libraries, between 1825 and 1850 as many as 551, and finally between 1850 and 1875 no less than 2240, which in the latter year contained as many as 5,481,068 volumes. It will be convenient to deal with these libraries in groups according to the historical order of their development. The earliest libraries formed were in connection with educational institutions, and he oldest is that of Harvard (1638). It was destroyed by fire in 1764, but active steps were at once taken for its restoration. From that time to the present, private donations have been the great resource of the library. In 1840 the collection was removed to Gore Hall, which was erected for the purpose with a noble bequest from Christopher Gore, formerly governor of Massachusetts. There are also nine special libraries connected with the different departments of the university. The total number of volumes in all these collections is 259,000, exclusive of over 200,000 pamphlets. The annual increase is about 7000 volumes, and the library has an endowment fund of over $200,000. There is a MS. card-catalogue in two parts, by authors and subjects, which is accessible to the readers. The only condition of admission to use the books in Gore Hall is respectability; but only members of the university and privileged persons may borrow books. The library of Yale College, New Haven, was founded in 1700, but grew so slowly that, even with the 1000 volumes received from Bishop Berkeley in 1733, it had only increased to 4000 volumes in 1766, and some of these were lost in the revolutionary war. During the present century the collection has grown more speedily, and now the main library number 102,000 volumes, while the special libraries in the control of the college bring up the total to 143,000 volumes. The yearly increase is about 4500 volumes, and the library has a book fund of $100,000. Amongst the other important university libraries are those of the college of New Jersey (Princeton). Dartmouth College (Hanover). Amherst College, Cornell University, and Brown University (providence R.I.). In 1875 the number of college libraries (not reckoning academy and school libraries) was 312, besides 299 libraries belonging to college students’ societies.

The establishment of proprietary or subscription libraries runs back into the first half of the 18th century, and is connected with the name of Benjamin Franklin. It was at Philadelphia, in the year 1731, that e set on foot what he calls "his first project of a public nature, that for a subscription library…. The institution soon manifested its ability, was imitated by other towns and in other provinces." The Library Company of Philadelphia was soon regularly incorporated, and gradually drew to itself other collection of books, including the Loganian Library, which was vested in the company by the State legislature in 1792 in trust for public use. hence the collection combines the character of a public and of a proprietary library, being freely open for reference purposes, while the books circulate only among the subscribing members. It numbers at present 123,000 volumes, of which 11,000 belong to the Longanian Library, and may be freely lent. The printed classed catalogue of the library has been praised by Brunet and Allibone. In 1869 Dr James Rush left a bequest of over one million dollars for the purpose of erecting a building to be called the Ridgeway branch of the library. The building is very handsome, and has been very highly spoken of as a library structure. Philadelphia has another large proprietary library- that of the Mercantile Library Company, which was established in 1821. It possesses 143,135 volumes, and its members have always enjoyed direct access to the shelves. The library of the Boston Athenaeum was established in 1807, and numbers 122,000 volumes. It has recently published an admirable dictionary-catalogue. The collection is especially rich in art and in history, and possesses a part of the library of Washington. The Mercnatile Library Association of New York, which was founded in 1810, has the largest of all the subscription libraries, counting over 193,000 volumes. New York possesses two other large proprietary libraries, one of which claims to have been formed as early as 1700 as the "public" library of New York. It was organized as the New York Society Library in 1754, and has been especially the library of the old Knickerbocker families and their descendants, its contents bearing witness to its history. It contains about 80,000 volumes. The Apprentices’ Library has about 63,000 volumes, and makes a special feature of works on trades and useful arts. It is maintained by the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen. Finally, the Brooklyn Library deserves mention, if only for its very useful and admirable catalogue, the printing of which was completed in December 1880, and which embraces 60,000 volumes.

Although the State libraries of Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are known to have been established as early as 1777, it was not until some time after the revolution that any general tendency was shown to form official libraries in connection with the State system. It is especially within the last thirty years that the number of these libraries has so increased that now every State and Territory possesses a collection of books and documents for official and public purposes. These collection depend for their increase upon annual appropriations by the several States, and upon a systematic exchange of the official publications of the general Government and of the several States and Territories. The largest is that of the State of New York at Albany, which contains 116,000 volumes, and is composed of a general and a law library, of which a printed catalogue has been published with full subject-indexes. The State libraries are libraries of reference, and only members of the official classes are allowed to borrow books, although any well-behaved person is admitted to read in the libraries.

In addition to the libraries maintained by the several States, there are the collections belonging to the general Government, most of which are at Washington. The most important of them is of course the Library of Congress, but there are also considerable libraries attached to the house of representatives, the senate, the department of state, the patent office, and the office of the surgeon-general.

The Library of Congress was first established in 1800 at Washington, and was burned together with the Capitol by the British army in 1814. President Jefferson’s books were purchased to form the foundation of a new library, which continued to increase slowly until1851, when all but 20,000 volumes were destroyed by fire. From this time the collection has grown rapidly, and now consists of 396,000 volumes with 130,000 pamphlets. In 1866 the library of the Smithsonian Institution, consisting of 40,000 volumes, chiefly in natural science, was transferred to the library of congress. The library is specially well provided in history, jurisprudence, the political sciences, and Americana. Since 1832 the law collections have been constituted into a special department. This is the national library. In 1870 the registry of copyright was transferred to it under the charge of the librarian of congress. As two copies of every publication which claims copyright are required to be deposited in the library, the receipts under this head are nearly 25,000 articles per annum. The sum annually appropriated by congress for the management and increase of the library is $52,840. The present accommodation is inadequate, and a separate building is to be erected of size to contain two million volumes. There is an alphabetical card-catalogue kept constantly up to date, and a printed catalogue of subject-matters. The library is open every day in the year, except on four legal holidays, from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. and admission is granted to all persons over sixteen years of age without formality or introduction, but books are only lent to members of the official classes.

Since the organization of the Government in 1789, no less than one hundred and sixty historical societies have been formed in the United States, most of which still continue to exist. Many of them have formed considerable libraries, and possess extensive and valuable manuscript collections. The oldest of them is the Massachusetts Historical Society, which dates from 1791.

The earliest of the scientific societies owes its origin to Franklin, and dates from 1743. The most extensive collection is that of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, which consists of 35,000 volumes and 40,000 pamphlets. For information as to the numerous professional libraries of the United States – theological, legal, and medical –the reader may be referred to the report already mentioned.

Of all the libraries of the United States none have achieved a greater fame, and none are more zealously and admirably conducted, than those which are supported from the public funds of some of he great cities. Legislation on the subject of free public libraries was almost synchronous in England and America. Of the free town libraries of America, much the largest and most successful is the Boston Public Library, which was established in 1852. Besides the liberal appropriations made by the city for its support, it has been the object of a long series of splendid gifts in money and books. Among the more conspicuous of its benefactors have been Joshua Bates, Theodore Parker, and George Ticknor. Since the library has been opened to the public there has thus been gathered "the largest collection of books, under one administration, upon this continent." The number of volumes in the library on July 1, 1881, was 395,478, and the annual accessions are over 17,000 volumes. In addition to the income available from trust funds, the annual appropriation by the city is $115,000. Besides the central library, with the Bates Hall and Lower Hall, there are eight branches, and the total circulation is considerably over 1,000,000 volumes per annum. Any inhabitant of Boston over fourteen years of age is admitted to read in the library and to borrow books. The principal catalogue of the library is upon cards, in addition to which there are printed catalogues of special collections, and a perfect multitude of useful class catalogue and bibliographical helps of various kinds. The number of persons engaged in the service of the library is one hundred and forty-three. The library is open to readers from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. from October to March, and until 7 P.M. during the rest of the year. Books are delivered for home use until 9 in the evening. The periodical room is open from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. on week days, and on Sundays from 2 to 9. A new building is in contemplation.

Of the remaining free town libraries, the most important are those of Cincinnati and Chicago. The public library of Cincinnati, which was established on its present footing in 1867, has 122,930 volumes besides pamphlets. Its expenditure last year $51,465, and its total issues, including those from the two branches, were 768,565. The reading-rooms are open every day in the year from 8 A.M. to 10 P.M. The library building were completed in 1873 at a cost of about $400,000, and are "among the handsomest in the world." The Chicago Public Library was established in 1872, and owed its origin to the sympathy felt for Chicago in England after the great fire of 1871. The number of volumes now in the library is 76,120. There is a very full and minute card-catalogue, in one alphabet, of authors and subjects; the contents of collections, volumes of essays, &c., are analyzed under their subject. The reading-room is open three hundred and sixty-five days in the year from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. and it is not even closed for the purpose of taking stock or cleaning. The library has not yet an appropriate building. Of smaller free town libraries there is a considerable number, especially in Massachusetts. Of the entire number ten only possess over 30,000 volumes each. It is the opinion of the energetic and enlightened managers of these libraries that a free public library is the proper corollary of a free system of public education, and it is their aim as far as possible to direct the taste and to methodize the reading of those who use the collection under their charge.

We cannot conclude their brief sketch without mentioning some notable illustrations of that public-spirited munificence which is nowhere perhaps so frequently found as in the United States. The Astor Library in New York was founded by a bequest of John Jacob Astor, whose example was followed successively by his son and grandson. The library was opened to the public 1654, and at the end of 1880 the collection due to their joint benefaction contained 192,547 volumes. It consists of a careful selection of the most valuable books upon all subjects. It is a library of reference, for which purpose it is freely open, and books are not lent out. It is "a working library for studious persons," and such persons on a proper introduction are allowed to pursue their studies in the alcoves. In 1880 the number of general readers was 45,670 and the number of visits to the alcoves was 7961. The total endowment is over $1,100,000. There is a printed catalogue for about half the library, with a printed index of subjects, and a similar catalogue for the rest is in preparation. The Lenox Library was established by Mr James Lenox in 1870, when a body of trustees was incorporated by an Act of he legislature. In addition to the funds intended for the library building and endowment, amounting to $1,247,000, the private collection of books which Mr Lenox has long been accumulating is extremely valuable. Though it does not rank high in point of mere numbers, it is exceedingly rich in early books on America, in Bibles, in Shakesperiana, and in Elizabethan poetry. The Peabody Institute at Baltimore was established by Mr George Peabody in 1857, and contains a reference library open to all comers, numbering about 72,000 volumes. The institute has an endowment of $1,000,000 which, however, has to support besides the library, a conservatoire of music, an art gallery, and courses of popular lectures. The largest legacy yet made for a public library has recently fallen to the citizens of Chicago in the Newberry bequest of over $2,000,000 for the founding of a free public library in the north division of Chicago.

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