New Book: American Libraries

The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, chief of the Prints and Photographs Division, about “American Libraries 1730–1950,” published this fall by W.W. Norton and Company in association with the Library of Congress.

You can find libraries at the heart of many different communities, from the center of a town or a college campus to a shared toolbox at a construction site. The new book “American Libraries,” written by architectural historian Kenneth Breisch, takes you on a tour of the interior spaces as well as the public facades of libraries throughout the United States from 1730 to 1950. By way of introduction, here’s a sampler of the more than 450 photographs and architectural designs that fill the volume to the brim.

The Library Company of Philadelphia represents the world of private libraries featured in the first chapter. Designed in 1876 by Addison Hutton, multistory iron stacks house the books. I’d love to explore those shelves.

The Library Company of Philadelphia’s stacks. Photograph by Jack Boucher, 1962.

A panoramic view featuring the Low Memorial Library at Columbia University confirms the centrality of a library on a college campus. The academic libraries chapter describes various plans and styles chronologically: early, linear alcove, panoptic, classicism (Low Library), eclecticism and modern.

Low Memorial Library of Columbia University. Photograph by Haines Photo Co., 1909.

The chapter on government libraries features the Library of Congress, from its origins in the United States Capitol to the three buildings that comprise the national library today on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Aerial view of Capitol Hill featuring the three buildings of the Library of Congress—Madison, Jefferson and Adams—in the right foreground. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, 2007.

Public libraries are so numerous in the United States that they fill the final three chapters of the book, starting with large urban public libraries from coast to coast.

Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, 2011.

Tower of the Central Library in Los Angeles. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The functional requirements of a public library are clearly delineated in their floor plans: a gracious or inspiring entry area, a space to serve children, a classroom for teaching and study, a reference and reading area and the book stacks. Architect Henry Hobson Richardson introduced the Romanesque Revival style for libraries in the late 1800s, which provided grand, distinctive exteriors as seen in the image below.

First-floor plan for the Scoville Institute, now the Oak Park, Ill., Public Library. Photograph of an architectural drawing by Patton and Fisher, ca. 1886.

Exterior of the Scoville Institute, now the Oak Park, Ill., Public Library. Photograph of an engraving, ca. 1890.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No book on library architecture would be complete without a close look at the Carnegie era of the early 1900s. Andrew Carnegie and his foundation endowed more than 1,600 library buildings in almost every state and territory of the United States. Lighting fixtures might seem to be the focus for the photograph below. But the real joy for a public library is tables crowded with children of many ages, ready to read.

Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, ca. 1900–05.

From the book’s foreword by the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden:

American Libraries 1730-1950 is the 11th and last title in the visual sourcebook series launched by the Library of Congress in collaboration with W. W. Norton in 2003. Bringing this series to conclusion with a book about libraries—their functional designs as well as their beauty and value to society—is especially fitting for us as the national library of the United States.

Learn More

New Online: A Redesigned Portal for Librarians and Archivists

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Fulford, a librarian in the Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access (ABA) Directorate, and Susan Morris, special assistant to the ABA director. The Library of Congress provides many resources to support information professionals worldwide. To streamline access to that content, we’ve redesigned our portal for librarians and archivists. The new […]

Pic of the Week: Library and Military Service Academies Collaborate on Collections Access

The Library of Congress and the U.S. military service academies signed a cooperative agreement this week to provide researchers with enhanced access to the institutions’ collections and grow representation of service members in the Library’s collections—including the Veterans History Project. The three-year agreement, which took effect on September 18, provides greater access for Library researchers […]

Uncovering the Story of Cats in the Biodiversity Heritage Library

This post is by Madison Arnold-Scerbo, a 2017 summer intern with the Junior Fellows Program. She is a student of history and museum studies at Haverford College. Her Junior Fellows project in the Science, Technology and Business Division combined many of her interests—the history of science, exhibition curation, library science and cats! Rodent catchers, lab […]

Inquiring Minds: The Unheralded Story of the Card Catalog

The library card catalog was one of the most versatile and durable technologies in history—a veritable road map for navigating a “wilderness of books”—says Peter Devereaux of the Library’s Publishing Office. His new book on the subject, “The Card Catalog: Books, Cards and Literary Treasures,” explores the history of this once-revolutionary system and celebrates literary […]

New Book: Card Catalog’s History

A new book exploring the history of the card catalog—that venerated chest of small drawers that contained the known universe—has been published by the Library of Congress in association with Chronicle Books. The lavishly illustrated volume tells the story of libraries’ organizing approaches from the layout of papyrus scrolls at the Library of Alexandria, to […]

Literacy: Libraries Without Borders

(The following is a guest post by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.) You have probably heard about the aid organization Doctors Without Borders. But do you know about Libraries Without Borders? Libraries Without Borders provides a different type of aid: Since 2007, the organization has […]

Literacy Awards: Thomas Jefferson Would Have Approved

(The following is a guest post by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.) Thomas Jefferson, the Library of Congress’s spiritual founder, wrote about the pursuit of happiness. “I like to think that literacy is fundamental to that pursuit. So many doors are closed to those who […]

Pic of the Week: Saturdays at the Young Readers Center

The Young Readers Center in the Library of Congress hosted a series of events Jan. 28 to celebrate its new Saturday hours of operation, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The center, which opened in October 2009, will offer more young people and their families the opportunity to experience the wonders and resources of the nation’s library. “It […]