Saturday, October 8, 2011

MAIN STREET PUBLIC LIBRARY by Wayne A. Wiegand ✰✰✰


I enjoyed this little tome.  Author Wayne Wiegand spotlights four libraries in the rural mid-west, giving a brief history of each, from about the 1870s through the 1950s.  He then discusses the books which did or did not make it into the collections of these libraries.
The first section of the book can get a bit tedious at times, as it lists by name every founding board member and their political and religious affiliation.  In addition, each and every librarian is discussed.  However, in the later sections of the book, this information does become relevant as the driving forces behind collection choices are discussed.  Despite the rather dry subject litany, Mr. Wiegand portrays a marvelous picture of how libraries were founded and run in rural America in the late 19th and early 20th century, and in the end I enjoyed the section more often than not.
The role of the library as a place within the communities of rural America is also given a fair amount of ink.  Interestingly enough, many activities which still take place today in my local library system had their roots in these first fledgling, small town libraries. 
Collection building is given an interesting perusal.  Wayne Wiegand built a data base to cross reference the collections of the four libraries he profiles, plus one additional library of the era.  He then gives a prose comparison of all the libraries and compares their collections with publications such as Booklist, which were put out by national and state library organizations, to see how the libraries followed the collection building trends recommended by their professional organizations.
I would have happily read twice the given information pertaining to how each of the libraries dealt with the major social issues of their era.  This period in American history saw many pivotal issues, such as the rise of labor unions and socialism, women’s suffrage, and prohibition.  The efforts of various national and local groups to suppress certain specific works of literature and the ongoing battle against fiction in favor of non-fiction is discussed in interesting detail, with special emphasis given to how each of the profiled libraries handled the issues.  This section was definitely the strongest of the book.
There were may titles which I discovered for the first time as I learned about library holdings of this era and which I look forward to reading.  In addition, the book sparked a desire to learn more about Andrew Carnegie, who provided funding to erect the buildings in which three of the profiled libraries were housed.  At about 250 pages, this book is a quick look at a seldom discussed element of American history, which I, as a bibliophile and lover of small, local libraries, found well worth my while.

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