Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library

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Oxford University Press, Sep 10, 2015 - History - 480 pages
Despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, their numbers have only increased. Two of three Americans frequent a public library at least once a year, and nearly that many are registered borrowers. Although library authorities have argued that the public library functions primarily as a civic institution necessary for maintaining democracy, generations of library patrons tell a different story. In Part of Our Lives, Wayne A. Wiegand delves into the heart of why Americans love their libraries. The book traces the history of the public library, featuring records and testimonies from as early as 1850. Rather than analyzing the words of library founders and managers, Wiegand listens to the voices of everyday patrons who cherished libraries. Drawing on newspaper articles, memoirs, and biographies, Part of Our Lives paints a clear and engaging picture of Americans who value libraries not only as civic institutions, but also as public places that promote and maintain community. Whether as a public space, a place for accessing information, or a home for reading material that helps patrons make sense of the world around them, the public library has a rich history of meaning for millions of Americans. From colonial times through the recent technological revolution, libraries have continuously adapted to better serve the needs of their communities. Wiegand demonstrates that, although cultural authorities (including some librarians) have often disparaged reading books considered not "serious," the commonplace reading materials users obtained from public libraries have had a transformative effect for many, including people such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Moyers, Edgwina Danticat, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sotomayor, and Oprah Winfrey. A bold challenge to conventional thinking about the American public library, Part of Our Lives is an insightful look into one of America's most beloved cultural institutions.
 

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User Review  - bell7 - LibraryThing

Wayne A. Wiegand, former librarian and professor at Florida State University, investigates the history of the American library through the people who used it. Drawing copious quotes from a myriad ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Bodagirl - LibraryThing

I finally finished this book! While the topic was interesting, the presentation was too scholarly to be read easily but too disorganized to serve as research material. I did find it intriguing that ... Read full review

Contents

 So Much More Than Information
1
 Social Libraries before 1854
7
 The American Public Library 18541876
30
 18761893
53
 The Carnegie Era 18931917
75
 19171929
106
 The Great Depression and World War II 19291945
136
 19451964
165
 19641980
193
 19812000
221
 2001Present
250
Acknowledgments
271
Notes
273
Index
311
Copyright

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About the author (2015)

Wayne A. Wiegand is F. William Summers Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University and former director of the Florida Book Awards. Often referred to as the "Dean of American library historians," he is the author of more than one hundred articles and numerous award-winning books, including An Active Instrument for Propaganda: American Public Libraries During World War I and Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey. In 2008-9, he was a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow to support his research on the American Public Library. He now lives in the California Bay area.

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