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

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Despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, those libraries continue to thrive. 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 in Despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, those libraries continue to thrive. 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 social spaces for promoting and maintaining 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 goes on to demonstrate 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 like Ronald Reagan, 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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Despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, those libraries continue to thrive. 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 in Despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, those libraries continue to thrive. 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 social spaces for promoting and maintaining 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 goes on to demonstrate 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 like Ronald Reagan, 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

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dana

    I didn't exactly expect this to be riveting but it was way more dry than I expected. In a general sense I was interested in this subject matter, but I can't think of how one would learn about this without being bored stiff. Also a little off topic...can you no longer preview reviews? The button seems to have disappeared with the update. I didn't exactly expect this to be riveting but it was way more dry than I expected. In a general sense I was interested in this subject matter, but I can't think of how one would learn about this without being bored stiff. Also a little off topic...can you no longer preview reviews? The button seems to have disappeared with the update.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    This was truly a fascinating read! I loved learning how the American Public Library got started & how it evolved over time according to society's needs. Today, Public Libraries continue to be valued at the center of our communities, as they facilitate learning & communication for ALL people. This was truly a fascinating read! I loved learning how the American Public Library got started & how it evolved over time according to society's needs. Today, Public Libraries continue to be valued at the center of our communities, as they facilitate learning & communication for ALL people.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    When I pick up a “people’s history” of something I generally assume I'm in for popular-level social history, but this is decidedly not that. It was quite academic and hard to read, not in the usual way with big words in gigantic strung out sentences, but instead a very textbook style, where facts bombard you in an uncreatively flat strict chronological structure, written with as much flavor and panache as a Harbor Freight catalog. I think it would have been improved by a more topical organizatio When I pick up a “people’s history” of something I generally assume I'm in for popular-level social history, but this is decidedly not that. It was quite academic and hard to read, not in the usual way with big words in gigantic strung out sentences, but instead a very textbook style, where facts bombard you in an uncreatively flat strict chronological structure, written with as much flavor and panache as a Harbor Freight catalog. I think it would have been improved by a more topical organization, such as evolving stances on pleasure reading, evolving stances on representing non-majority voices in the library, evolution in library space design and use, etc. in addition to an injection of some standard pop-history rhetorical styling. Then again he occasionally cracks off a really smart observation - like that using the library is usually a child’s first assumption of civic responsibility, you take an item of public property and agree to care for it for a small amount of time - and you’re mostly glad you kept reading. His critical coverage of the library profession’s complicity with Jim Crow (especially ALA’s complicity and lack of support for librarians punished for integration efforts) is also especially welcome. However, as an overall tenor to the book the author takes a pretty hard-line librarians vs. users angle, which is strange and doesn’t really work for me. Librarians are the enemy of The People, librarians censored people's access to fiction and put sex ed books on the restricted shelf, or we defy community standards and circulate Playboy to children. He vacillates between pro-censorship and anti-censorship, where he’s anti through the 50s but pro after that. However, librarians do typically use the public library. To exclude us entirely from the users doesn’t jive. In general I think he let a lot of his professional feelings get in the way of doing history. He has a loosely anti-woman-librarians angle going on, especially for the early ones, but for the modern period, this man really hates Judy Krug. Which is fair, she’s a controversial figure, her legacy is mixed to be generous, but the vitriol he devotes to her depiction in this history leads me to believe he has a dart board in his office with her picture where he’s drawn on a witch hat and blacked out a few teeth. Calm down dude, lady’s dead, and she lost CIPA big time anyway. The biggest question you’re left with is - are librarians and trustees not people too? Are we not members of our communities and sharing the same common moral standards? Are we not part of “the people’s history” of our institutions?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    Like so many voracious readers with limited budgets and space can attest to, library has been instrumental in my autodidactic pursuits. It is a privilege to be able to utilize the resources and stacks of the tenth largest library company is US, not to mention it is one of the few things that stay free in the country where the cost of living increases regularly and disproportionately to the wages. In short, libraries are important, one of the few public services well worth the taxes and all aroun Like so many voracious readers with limited budgets and space can attest to, library has been instrumental in my autodidactic pursuits. It is a privilege to be able to utilize the resources and stacks of the tenth largest library company is US, not to mention it is one of the few things that stay free in the country where the cost of living increases regularly and disproportionately to the wages. In short, libraries are important, one of the few public services well worth the taxes and all around awesome. If you don't share this opinion, Wayne A, Wiegand will change your mind. If you do, he'll show you just how right you are. This turned out to be a great book, despite the somewhat pedantic foreword (and afterword for that matter), the actual chapters were immensely readable, no academese, very educational, tons of facts balanced out nicely with personal stories about the library's importance to their lives. Of particular interest to me were the correlations between the social, historical and political events and the library attitudes/selections/etc. What libraries have done for women alone can't be underestimated. Also, for a staunch fiction reader who tries and tries to throw in some nonfiction in the mix (hence this book), it was fascinating to observe the changing attitudes toward fiction (most popular, yet least praised sort of books) throughout the years. Fascinating, consistently interesting and very enjoyable account of US's best social institution. Highly recommended. Thanks Netgalley.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Part of Our Lives by Wiegand is a history book of the American Library System through the eyes of the people that went to the library. Wiegand took accounts that were published in newspapers and elsewhere from all over the country and separated them in their specific eras. The book starts before the founding of America with libraries run by affluent individuals in larger cities that only circulated material to friends, basically. As libraries became more popular they were opened up to more diffe Part of Our Lives by Wiegand is a history book of the American Library System through the eyes of the people that went to the library. Wiegand took accounts that were published in newspapers and elsewhere from all over the country and separated them in their specific eras. The book starts before the founding of America with libraries run by affluent individuals in larger cities that only circulated material to friends, basically. As libraries became more popular they were opened up to more different types of individuals but it took time. One thing that surprised me throughout the book is that not only was the public wanting to restrict those who used the library, but the actual librarians also did as well. As much as we want to believe that librarians are the paragons of acceptance that we kind of see them as today, it was the culture around them that impacted their views, and not vice versa. Each era throughout the history of the library struggled with the same issues of censorship, not meeting the needs of their public, and exclusiveness. Wiegand makes the argument that libraries are the most successful when they meet the needs of the public, giving in to public demand for materials the public wants. At times the librarians looked down on novels and didn't meet the need of their community by trying to push "serious books." Certain authors and types of books were considered lesser literature and libraries just didn't want to carry those items even though the public wanted them. As soon as libraries started to carry the material the patrons wanted, there was an explosion of library use. One would think that it would just be the community that wants to censor content in books but the librarians are just as guilty. It was interesting how libraries used to keep certain books in what they called "the Inferno," which is basically a backroom with a locked door. Open shelves weren't always the norm and individuals had to stand in line to request books that might not be shown to the public. It amazed me how many libraries actively got rid of books during times of war that had to do with the opposing country. Wiegand wants us to understand that it just isn't all about stats or reports, it is about the lives that the libraries touch. A branch of a library might have the lowest circulation in a city but they are trying to reach a population that needs that cultural center. Libraries are here to celebrate diversity, they aren't just a cultural meeting place, but a multicultural center for individuals to come into contact with many walks of life in a city. Yes, libraries sometimes have their moments of controversy but that is why they are there. They force community conversation and compromise in a way that no other institution does because it is a public entity. Libraries prosper when they embrace change and die when they don't. Wiegand makes the argument that even though many people are worried about library funding that there really isn't a program that generates the value that libraries offer. That for an average of $42 a year in taxes per person, that the library adds so much to our communities, and adds much more value than a dollar sign. Overall, this wasn't that bad of a history book. Yes, there are a lot of quotes and statements that Wiegand found of individuals throughout the decades and if that doesn't seem like something you'd like, I would skip it. This isn't a rousing read by any stretch of the imagination but it is a solid foundation to hang future knowledge of the American Public Library System onto.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Corban Ford

    This was a really fascinating read! I had no idea that the history of the American Public Library would be so riveting, and yet it was! I was hooked from the beginning, and Wiegand did an amazing job highlight the triumphant highs and the historic lows of the Public Library as an institution from its origins down through modern times. No matter what era, issues of censorship and exclusiveness remain the same, and to see the evolution of the library while also trying to make sense of this age old This was a really fascinating read! I had no idea that the history of the American Public Library would be so riveting, and yet it was! I was hooked from the beginning, and Wiegand did an amazing job highlight the triumphant highs and the historic lows of the Public Library as an institution from its origins down through modern times. No matter what era, issues of censorship and exclusiveness remain the same, and to see the evolution of the library while also trying to make sense of this age old issue was something that I found very interesting. All in all, I can't recommend this enough. If you're a fan of a good history book, libraries, or both, be sure to check this one out. You won't regret it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa S.

    Wiegand truly knows his American library history, and it shows in this piece. As someone who does not know much about the development of libraries in the US, this book gave me a great background and truly walked me through the last 350+ years of history. I loved many of the anecdotes of how public libraries affected countless Americans, such as African American teens participating in sit-ins in the 1960s South. I like that Wiegand followed certain topics, such as fiction’s rise, racial tensions, Wiegand truly knows his American library history, and it shows in this piece. As someone who does not know much about the development of libraries in the US, this book gave me a great background and truly walked me through the last 350+ years of history. I loved many of the anecdotes of how public libraries affected countless Americans, such as African American teens participating in sit-ins in the 1960s South. I like that Wiegand followed certain topics, such as fiction’s rise, racial tensions, and women in libraries, through nearly each chapter of the book to show how those things were treated differently over time. My main criticisms are that the book often read too much like a textbook and contained so many facts that they were hard to keep up with and made the book dry.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    Fascinating subject (to me anyway), but I wanted more in-depth stories about how individuals experienced the library through time, and fewer statistics on how many people attended what type of event at which specific library in which specific year. At times I felt like I was reading a truly epic Director's Annual Report. I would have expected a book with "people's history" in the title to be a book that at least a biggish subset of "the people" might want to read. Instead it was like reading the Fascinating subject (to me anyway), but I wanted more in-depth stories about how individuals experienced the library through time, and fewer statistics on how many people attended what type of event at which specific library in which specific year. At times I felt like I was reading a truly epic Director's Annual Report. I would have expected a book with "people's history" in the title to be a book that at least a biggish subset of "the people" might want to read. Instead it was like reading the very long term paper of a promising college sophomore: well-researched, grammatically perfect, occasionally fascinating, but still very much under the thrall of the Five Paragraph Essay school of composition. I'm a public librarian and lifelong public library devotee, and am very passionate about libraries, their history, and their role in society. So when _I_ find it a little too dry, I wonder where this book is going to find an audience.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    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 nothing int he library world is new as there were consistently recurring themes throughout the book: libraries as community space, immigrant and low-literacy learning, canoodling (and more in the stacks), borrowing more than books and media from the library, censorship, etc. Interesting, but skim it. Po 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 nothing int he library world is new as there were consistently recurring themes throughout the book: libraries as community space, immigrant and low-literacy learning, canoodling (and more in the stacks), borrowing more than books and media from the library, censorship, etc. Interesting, but skim it. Popsugar Reading Challenge | Task 34: A book from the library (I went very meta on this one because otherwise it was too easy)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina

    It's hard to know what this book wants to be. It's the size of a small textbook, and somewhat formatted to look like one, too. However, it also attempts to be somewhat narrative in its chapters, and has very few sub-sections within chapters. It would have felt a lot less dense if the sections had been broken down, and at times it was difficult to understand why the author jumped from topic to topic without these visual divisions in the text. However, the massive scale the author attempts to cover It's hard to know what this book wants to be. It's the size of a small textbook, and somewhat formatted to look like one, too. However, it also attempts to be somewhat narrative in its chapters, and has very few sub-sections within chapters. It would have felt a lot less dense if the sections had been broken down, and at times it was difficult to understand why the author jumped from topic to topic without these visual divisions in the text. However, the massive scale the author attempts to cover in as few pages are here is commendable, and I did learn a lot. However, this wasn't fun to read and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn't like to or want to read a textbook for fun.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early September, possibly to get back into an academic groove as the fall semester began. Though it's written very slightly like a reference book, it's incredibly inspiring and uplifting to learn about the civic, uniting aspects about early libraries. Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early September, possibly to get back into an academic groove as the fall semester began. Though it's written very slightly like a reference book, it's incredibly inspiring and uplifting to learn about the civic, uniting aspects about early libraries.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    I was slowly slugging my way through this book and then started skimming. It is a subject near and dear to my heart, and the author did have some interesting details and historical perspectives - but it was dry and read like a textbook. However, if you want the big-picture history of American public libraries I'd recommend this book for a lookie-loo. Two words - Yay libraries!!!! I was slowly slugging my way through this book and then started skimming. It is a subject near and dear to my heart, and the author did have some interesting details and historical perspectives - but it was dry and read like a textbook. However, if you want the big-picture history of American public libraries I'd recommend this book for a lookie-loo. Two words - Yay libraries!!!!

  13. 4 out of 5

    La La

    A wonderfully detailed history of public libraries including patrons' points of view. This book also brings us to thinking about the function of libraries in our future. I was approved for this title via Netgalley in return for an honest review. A wonderfully detailed history of public libraries including patrons' points of view. This book also brings us to thinking about the function of libraries in our future. I was approved for this title via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    A fascinating and comprehensive account of public libraries in America from their earliest days to the present. As much a cultural history as simply a history of libraries, the book is full of anecdotes and personal testimonies, demonstrating how important libraries have always been and the vital role they have played in the nation’s development. Changing social attitudes, censorship, popular taste, the role of the library in the community, all these topics are explored here and it makes for som A fascinating and comprehensive account of public libraries in America from their earliest days to the present. As much a cultural history as simply a history of libraries, the book is full of anecdotes and personal testimonies, demonstrating how important libraries have always been and the vital role they have played in the nation’s development. Changing social attitudes, censorship, popular taste, the role of the library in the community, all these topics are explored here and it makes for some fascinating reading.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lucia

    This was fun to read. I've always wanted to know about the origins and evolution of libraries in America and it's laid bare here, even the unpleasant and ugly parts. This was fun to read. I've always wanted to know about the origins and evolution of libraries in America and it's laid bare here, even the unpleasant and ugly parts.

  16. 5 out of 5

    April

    Read for class. Early librarians hated novels. Like HATED them. Glad that's mostly changed. Read for class. Early librarians hated novels. Like HATED them. Glad that's mostly changed.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Darren

    Society does not value its public libraries in the same way as it used to; the library is being forced to change and seeks to remain relevant in today’s different world. Yet a good library, staffed by knowledgeable librarians, can still be important and they can still be part of our lives. They are just serving us in a different way than before. This book argues that the average American has not fell out of love with the library and that they are managing to survive; two out of three Americans ar Society does not value its public libraries in the same way as it used to; the library is being forced to change and seeks to remain relevant in today’s different world. Yet a good library, staffed by knowledgeable librarians, can still be important and they can still be part of our lives. They are just serving us in a different way than before. This book argues that the average American has not fell out of love with the library and that they are managing to survive; two out of three Americans are members of public libraries and visit them at least once a year. Of course, user patterns have changed. How many children would go to the public library to conduct homework research, for example, yet this was a staple part of school-life for this reviewer! So the book’s author dons his rose-tinted spectacles at times to examine why Americans have loved their public libraries, as viewed by “regular folk” through newspaper articles, memoirs, biographies and other sources. Views, or expert testimony, from politicians or library professionals have been eschewed. The voice of the user is being allowed to shine, aided at times, it must be said, by a slightly confrontational, argumentative tone. The author’s passion shines through, that much is clear. As you may hope for in a book about libraries, the organisation is excellent with a detailed index and you are positively encouraged to check out other sources of information through the extensive bibliography at the back. All in all, an interesting, sensitive, thought provoking read about a very important institution that, even today, can have its place. You don’t have to have experienced an American library to enjoy this book. You just have to be curious: you get a mix of many different subjects all in one not-so-little book. Part of Our Lives, written by Wayne A. Wiegand and published by Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190248000. YYYY Autamme.com

  18. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This is probably a 3.5 but I gave it the benefit of the doubt because I don't think I could have written it any better than Mr. Wiegand did. The main premise of the book is that people love their libraries. The book is overstuffed with statistics and snippets of stories to back up this claim. One might think there were too many and that was the downfall of the book. But I can understand the dilemma: which one would you leave out? Perhaps leave out some of the statistics? As a result of the overw This is probably a 3.5 but I gave it the benefit of the doubt because I don't think I could have written it any better than Mr. Wiegand did. The main premise of the book is that people love their libraries. The book is overstuffed with statistics and snippets of stories to back up this claim. One might think there were too many and that was the downfall of the book. But I can understand the dilemma: which one would you leave out? Perhaps leave out some of the statistics? As a result of the overwhelming amount of information, the book becomes a bit scattered. A statement is made but then the following stories, good and interesting stories, may or may not support that statement. A secondary discussion running through the book was how libraries have played a part in culture, racism, and classism. I can not imagine the task of taking a specific amount of money and determining which books to purchase and which to pass over. This is not excusing the libraries for their behavior but I think perhaps Mr. Wiegand could have done a bit better job of placing these events in historical perspective. The one flaw he highlighted I feel is still incredibly relevant today. Libraries in lower income neighborhoods may have lower usage but that does not make them less valuable. And when times are difficult, those are not the ones to do away with. A correlation between these libraries and what are being called "food deserts" can be made, but wasn't by Mr. Wiegand. The people in these neighborhoods have limited resources and are not as mobile as others in higher socioeconomic classes. (If my beloved branch were closed, I would drive to the next one. Some people do not have this luxury.) I did appreciate that the book included some of the struggles the libraries faced in the past (including racism) and some they continue to face.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    Part of Our Lives is a fascinating and passionate treatise on the history, culture and contribution of American public libraries by Wayne A. Wiegand. With a focus on the perspective of 'library in the life of a user' Wiegand explores the important role libraries play in the life of individuals: as distributors of information and education, as a source of fiction that entertains and enlightens, and as social community spaces, debunking the notion that libraries are, or have ever been, simply 'ware Part of Our Lives is a fascinating and passionate treatise on the history, culture and contribution of American public libraries by Wayne A. Wiegand. With a focus on the perspective of 'library in the life of a user' Wiegand explores the important role libraries play in the life of individuals: as distributors of information and education, as a source of fiction that entertains and enlightens, and as social community spaces, debunking the notion that libraries are, or have ever been, simply 'warehouses for books'. Tracing the evolution of public library services, from Benjamin Franklin's Library Company of Philadelphia established in 1732, through to the 17,219 modern public library systems more than 93 million Americans utilised in 2012, Wiegand draws on official and anecdotal sources to illustrate the value of libraries that statistics don't always reflect. In addition Wiegand examines issues such as access, censorship, and technology and the sway of factors such as gender, race, class, politics, and religion, that have have shaped, and continue to affect modern library services. Though primarily a professional text, Part of Our Lives is an accessible read, I'd recommend it to bibliophiles, social historians and anyone who treasures their library card.

  20. 5 out of 5

    victor harris

    Comprehensive and detailed survey of the history of libraries in U.S. Heavy focus on issues that have bedeviled public libraries since their inception: censorship, acquisitions, do public preferences trump recommended reading materials, and the evolution of libraries to accommodate technology. Contrary to expectations, libraries have continued to adapt and survive and still service diverse populations. They remain a vital center for community services and are the lifeblood of many small towns a Comprehensive and detailed survey of the history of libraries in U.S. Heavy focus on issues that have bedeviled public libraries since their inception: censorship, acquisitions, do public preferences trump recommended reading materials, and the evolution of libraries to accommodate technology. Contrary to expectations, libraries have continued to adapt and survive and still service diverse populations. They remain a vital center for community services and are the lifeblood of many small towns and villages. This despite slashes in funding and certain ideological factions that would like to see them eliminated altogether. The pace slows in some spots as the reader is inundated with data, but there is plenty of solid narrative and a nice collection of anecdotes about users and requests that don't conform to the mainstream tastes. A solid 4 and a must-read for library lovers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Arlen

    As a library worker, I enjoyed this book very much but readers need to be aware that it is an academic study so it can be a bit dry. It was always fascinating though. It has been the call in recent decades that "libraries aren't just about books anymore." Well, after reading this history of the American Public Library you quickly realize libraries have never been "just about books." They are repositories of information but they are equally social centers and safe havens for members of the commun As a library worker, I enjoyed this book very much but readers need to be aware that it is an academic study so it can be a bit dry. It was always fascinating though. It has been the call in recent decades that "libraries aren't just about books anymore." Well, after reading this history of the American Public Library you quickly realize libraries have never been "just about books." They are repositories of information but they are equally social centers and safe havens for members of the communities they serve, and this has always been the case.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adrith Bicchieri

    [Requested an advance reader copy of this title through NetGalley. I can't wait to read it! July 15, 2015] [Requested an advance reader copy of this title through NetGalley. I can't wait to read it! July 15, 2015]

  23. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    An excellent history of American public libraries. Cogent, concise, insightful, and entertaining.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sherry

    Wayne Wiegand visited our library in August 2016, giving us a terrific synopsis of his research and this book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah - All The Book Blog Names Are Taken

    I have been reading this book since October, when I got it as an ARC via NetGalley. The beginning was just so dry; once I got into the early 1900s and beyond it picked up but man it take me a long time to get there. Full review to come. ++++++++++++ http://allthebookblognamesaretaken.bl... www.facebook.com/AllTheBookBlogNamesA... www.twitter.com/SarahsBookNook Rating: 3.5 Stars I received this book (an embarrassing amount of months ago) as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I know w I have been reading this book since October, when I got it as an ARC via NetGalley. The beginning was just so dry; once I got into the early 1900s and beyond it picked up but man it take me a long time to get there. Full review to come. ++++++++++++ http://allthebookblognamesaretaken.bl... www.facebook.com/AllTheBookBlogNamesA... www.twitter.com/SarahsBookNook Rating: 3.5 Stars I received this book (an embarrassing amount of months ago) as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I know what you're thinking - how on earth could a book about LIBRARIES, one of Sarah's most FAVORITE PLACES IN THE WORLD, take her almost 8 months to read??!! I've asked myself that same question many times over, both as I was reading and after I finished the book. There is no good reason why this book took me so long, and I really can't explain it. Perhaps it is because the beginning was kind of dry? I don't know; once I got to the 1900s, I breezed through the book and could not put it down. I can't say for sure what it was that took me so long, but there's something, and for that reason - whatever it may be - I can only give 3.5 stars. It's not a terrible book, it's a very good book and if you love libraries you MUST read it. it just took me a while, and I LOVE libraries. I will forever be an advocate for libraries, yelling down those who claim that now that we can get eBooks, we don't need the real thing. If you truly believe that, or that books don't need to be physical, I honestly do not know if we can be friends. I prefer the real thing, but have my Kindle which is just more practical when out and about. But libraries are such a wonderful resource for the communities they serve and provide a plethora of services that are vital. If we do not provide adequate funding for our libraries, I truly believe society will collapse. I don't even care if you think I am crazy for that statement. it's true. Libraries are mandatory for an educated, well-functioning society. Okay, so I guess maybe the US is not exactly 'educated' or 'well-functioning' right now, but I have faith we can get back there again. Rant over. On to the book. The author clearly knows what he is talking about. The research is all here, he uses multiple libraries as examples when discussing the evolution of what we have come to know as a public library, but there really are some sections that are not written in a very engaging way. As I mentioned earlier, I can't quite put my finger on what made some parts this way. This is, after all, a history of a vital cultural institution that has shaped our country in many ways. Still, I appreciate the amount of work that went into writing this text. As I read it on my Kindle, I made a note that 81% of the book was the actual text and the last 19% was devoted to notes and bibliography. That's not a small amount, that's quite a bit of research and numerous resources. I really loved all the facts about early libraries and the system of checking out books. There's something so quaint about the idea that you gave a librarian your slip with the name(s) of the book(s) you wanted, and they would retrieve them for you. Then, your name would be copied down in a giant ledger with the titles you'd selected. What simple days. And time-consuming! I can't imagine anyone today in our impatient world suffering through any of that for a book and it is probably for the best that we can now get our books ourselves and use self-checkout together - though I adore my librarians at my favorite branch and will always opt for the check out counter over the automated service. In early days also, it amuses me that patrons could only check out 2 to 5 books at a time. When I was pregnant with my daughter over the summer, I would walk out with the max limit of 40 books at a time and it never felt like enough! I also found the crusade against fiction earlier in the life of the public library to be highly amusing. I never really knew that fiction was considered to be such garbage. Librarians went to great lengths to make sure people did not read ONLY fiction and in some libraries if you were checking out a fiction book, you also had to check out a nonfiction one as well. I myself am partial to nonfiction, so this would not have bothered me much, but I certainly know quite a few people who would have had quite a difficult time getting books had they lived in that period. I also had no idea that Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and the Hardy Boys were considered unsuitable for children and librarians recommended children NOT read them. I can't imagine a childhood without Nancy Drew! I read those books over and over in elementary school and loved them. I was never as into the Hardy Boys, though I read a few, but Nancy was my girl and I fondly recall wanting to be friends with her and solve mysteries. There are a lot of other interesting and sometimes little-known facts about the growth and change of libraries over the decades. For example, during WWII when there was a major lack of gas and tires, Baltimore kept its bookmobiles going around the city by purchasing a horse-drawn wagon to be able to bring books to people. This little fact made me love libraries even more. I was also highly amused by a rule imposed by Chicago's public libraries in the '60s: "In 1969 the Chicago Public Library forbade patrons from exposing their toes while reading. 'Can't have toes all over the place,' one official commented. 'Feet disturb some people,' said another." I really cracked up over that one because while yes, I think feet are weird and kind of gross (I mean really, they sweat inside socks and shoes all day, yuck), silly rules like this are obviously targets for rule-breakers. My flip-flops and I certainly would not have been welcome in those libraries in the 1960s! Unfortunately, it also seems that through the years libraries have also attracted what I can only describe as total a-holes who ruin the experience for everyone else. The author tells of teenagers in the 1950s harassing patrons, riding their bikes through the reading rooms and throwing bricks and PIPE BOMBS through the front doors. Who are these idiots and where are their parents?! Guess the 50s weren't as wonderful as everyone likes to remember. Similar things happened in the late 60s in New York, and some branches even had to close because of the gangs of a-holes terrorizing the libraries. The most disturbing story to me though came from librarians in Minneapolis (though no doubt this occurred in libraries across the country and is not just local to my home city). In the early 2000s with the rise of the Internet, librarians reported male computer users looking at porn in the library and several were masturbating. IN PUBLIC. Seriously? I don't even. Who are these idiots trying to ruin it for everyone else?! My main issue with the book and another reason I could not rate it above a 3-3.5, relates to the following. I really hope it was not the author's intention to compare gay people and pedophiles but that is how it came across to me and as an ardent supporter of the LGBTQ community, I can not abide this. However, if my interpretation is incorrect, I'd be all the more happy for it. At 73% the author discusses the San Francisco Public Library "affirming its right" to display a rainbow flag over one of its branches, but then goes on to say that the community showed its limit of tolerance when the citizens protested when the library was going to allow NAMBLA to rent a library meeting room. Now, if you do not know what NAMBLA is, don't Google it at work, because that could land you in some hot water for being A PEDOPHILE and disgusting human being. Now, due to my long-running obsession with a certain yummy former NYPD SVU detective (Oh Elliott Stabler, I love you still, even though you have not been on the show in years - and not ironically, it has been the same amount of years since I have watched the show), I know that NAMBLA stands for the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Gross, right? Sorry, but no, there is no way you will ever convince anyone that this is 'normal' or justify your crimes of raping children. There's no comparison, it is not even close. If the intent is what I originally thought, I am quite bothered. If I misinterpreted, I apologize. There is so much more I want to say about this topic, but then this post will turn into a political rant and not a book review and I am trying very hard to keep this blog and my Twitter as politics-free as possible. it creeps in sometimes, I just can't help it. Ever since these fancy schmancy new devices called eReaders came into being - and even before - people, especially those who have more authority than they should, have questioned the relevance of libraries in our communities anymore. To those people who would suggest that we no longer need them, I challenge them to step foot in a library, small town or large city alike, and see the wide variety of services offered to the community. The library is not just about checking out books (though that is MY favorite part). There are so many small groups offered by libraries throughout the year, from reading times for little ones, teen lock-ins, adults doing geneology research. It is a place where a homeless person might come to use the computers to look for a job or other assistance they desperately need - or often yes, to sit in the warmth on a wintry day. The Internet can never replace our librarians, nor should we even try. And as for the "Many authorities (who) still have questions about the value of public libraries," (75%), be quiet. Yes we need them and we always will.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    The first paragraph of Wayne Wiegand's introduction to Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library includes three quotes from famous authors about why they love libraries, the second an overview of recent Pew Research statistics on how Americans feel about libraries, and the third a historical and statistical overview of a decade's worth of usage data demonstrating what the nation loves to do at the libraries they love. If that does not sound fascinating, then this is not The first paragraph of Wayne Wiegand's introduction to Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library includes three quotes from famous authors about why they love libraries, the second an overview of recent Pew Research statistics on how Americans feel about libraries, and the third a historical and statistical overview of a decade's worth of usage data demonstrating what the nation loves to do at the libraries they love. If that does not sound fascinating, then this is not the book for you. A thoroughly-researched social history of libraries intended to focus Howard-Zinn-style on how the institution fit into the lives of its users and the voices of those users, Part is divided into ten chronological sections which cover the development and use of the American library from the 1700s through roughly 2010. Beginning with social libraries, like the one that evolved from Benjamin Franklin's blue-collar book club, it moves through the birth of the public library system in the 19th century (and the sudden controversy over what constituted "appropriate" reading), the role libraries played as instruments of US government propaganda in the early 20th century, and the move to digitization in the early 21st. Along the way the author tosses in enough trivia to make a library nerd swoon, from an account of the 1893 ALA meeting at the Chicago World's Fair (sadly, no word on whether any members were lost to the mad machinations of H.H. Holmes) to the story of a man who, informed that the public library of his time did not permit children, was forced to check his daughter with his umbrella to get her out of the rain. Several reviewers have commented on the dry nature of Wiegand's text; to be perfectly honest, I did not find it so at all, but I also did not come to this book expecting the kind of sweeping, narratively-linked chronicle that may readers seemed to believe the phrase "people's history" implies. For an academic text, which this clearly is (Wiegand is an emeritus professor of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University), Part is extremely well-written, avoiding the dreaded Here's What I'm Going to Tell You, Now I'm Telling You What I'm Going to Tell You, See What I Just Told You? so common in academic writing and liberally mixing in quotes from patrons (some famous, some not) to lighten up its statistical recitations. Though I originally picked this up to consult as a reference book for a lecture I was giving on the history of libraries, Part of Our Lives was so fascinating I wound up reading the whole thing. While it may be a bit much for readers interested in a more general history, I'd strongly recommend it for librarians or historians interested in one of America's most beloved institutions.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Boyd

    “The three most important documents a free society gives,” wrote author E. L. Doctorow in 1994, “are a birth certificate, a passport, and a library card.” Like many an avid readers, I've been a voracious user of the library since early childhood. "History shows that the reasons Americans have loved their public libraries fit into three broad categories: for the useful information they made accessible; for the public spaces they provided; and for the power of reading stories they circulated that “The three most important documents a free society gives,” wrote author E. L. Doctorow in 1994, “are a birth certificate, a passport, and a library card.” Like many an avid readers, I've been a voracious user of the library since early childhood. "History shows that the reasons Americans have loved their public libraries fit into three broad categories: for the useful information they made accessible; for the public spaces they provided; and for the power of reading stories they circulated that helped users make sense of phenomena in the world around them." the book tells us and that has certainly been true for me. Need a place to study in quiet? Go to the library. Need to find out how to do something? Check out some books on the subject. And I am endlessly, endlessly reading novels and spiritual texts to figure out the world around me. At a time when most public institutions are looked on with skepticism, the library remains a beacon in our midst. The guide for our "better angels". For me, as a fiction connoisseur, some of the best parts of the books dealt with the long raging battle between fiction readers and librarians. "Because generations of cultural authorities failed to understand how “plain people” used literary practices and fictional stories in their everyday lives, they continued to disparage the reading selections most patrons made. Public libraries encouraged self-improvement reading" we are told. "In Germantown, Pennsylvania, the public library refused to stock any fiction. “This furnishing of unwholesome mental food or poison is gradually pervading our literature to an alarming extent,” explained the librarian. “Could the directors of our public libraries but see the evil, and aid in checking its spread, they would be conferring a great benefit on the young people." Good thing that by my time, libraries had a more lenient view and were willing to supply my incessant need for Nancy Drew and the historical novels of Gladys Malvern and Rosemary Sutcliffe as well as many other works. The author can be dry at times but this is an excellent read for those interested in the history of library use and formation from the era of Benjamin Franklin to the present day.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    3.5* This comprehensive history of public libraries in the United States explores 'libraries as place' in the context of community influence and social change. Wiegand's material is, while at times somewhat dry, largely captivating in the way it captures significant historical events through the lens of the public library. From the Revolutionary war and Benjamin Franklin to modern-day (2015) trends in national library policy and local public library responsiveness to social pressures, Wiegand cov 3.5* This comprehensive history of public libraries in the United States explores 'libraries as place' in the context of community influence and social change. Wiegand's material is, while at times somewhat dry, largely captivating in the way it captures significant historical events through the lens of the public library. From the Revolutionary war and Benjamin Franklin to modern-day (2015) trends in national library policy and local public library responsiveness to social pressures, Wiegand covers a lot of ground in this text. Thankfully, his structure is clear, albeit somewhat repetitive, as an overall literary work and within each chapter. Chronologically organized, Wiegand also covers similar major topics in the same order within each chapter. While this can get a bit overly familiar at times, it also makes it possible for the reader to directly compare different time period's responses to the same subjects – homelessness, censorship, etc. Wiegand typically starts with an overview of the state of libraries during the time period each chapter covers, followed by heartwarming stories and highlights of the positive influences that particular generation of libraries had to offer. Wiegand then moves into the negative aspects – the ways in which libraries didn't measure up – of the time period, and ends with a summary. This format makes it approachable and consistent, qualities in this type of text that make me readily willing to forgive the iterative nature of the work. The stories – both heartwarming and tragic – of this text will make you fall in love with libraries even more, with the realization that they reflect both the best and worst of our society.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Despite focusing on the users of the public library, instead of approaching it from the librarians' viewpoint, it is a dry book. The development of public libraries, who could use them, what was available, and who could access what, changed over time. At first just certain men, then some women, then adults more generally, then children; minorities were the last. It was a long time before library users were allowed in the stacks, rather than requesting specific books at the circulation desk to be Despite focusing on the users of the public library, instead of approaching it from the librarians' viewpoint, it is a dry book. The development of public libraries, who could use them, what was available, and who could access what, changed over time. At first just certain men, then some women, then adults more generally, then children; minorities were the last. It was a long time before library users were allowed in the stacks, rather than requesting specific books at the circulation desk to be retrieved. For most of public library history there was a conflict between the mass of readers who wanted fiction and the library staff who wanted people to read more serious books and sought to elevate their taste. This was also true with children's books. For example, it was surprisingly late before libraries would even stock children's series books, like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, or in earlier years Horatio Alger or Oliver Optic books. In the late 20th century certain experts predicted the doom of libraries and printed books, but happily library use has continued to grow. For information, I give it 3 stars, for enjoyment, 2-1/2 stars.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    A good comprehensive history of libraries in the U.S. This made for dense reading. There were so many facts and little anecdotes. It took me well over a month to get through the book. One thing that surprised me was how opposed the library culture was to the reading of novels, especially women reading novels. In 1851, one librarian remarked about female readers, "A considerable portion of the library should be to her a sealed book." In 1868, an author thought novels and romances could cause "undu A good comprehensive history of libraries in the U.S. This made for dense reading. There were so many facts and little anecdotes. It took me well over a month to get through the book. One thing that surprised me was how opposed the library culture was to the reading of novels, especially women reading novels. In 1851, one librarian remarked about female readers, "A considerable portion of the library should be to her a sealed book." In 1868, an author thought novels and romances could cause "undue excitation" and "give rise to to the whole tribe of dyspeptic and irritable disorders", particularly in the "irritable uterus." Even my own Minneapolis Public Library used to state right on their application that "Women will be accepted as Guarantor unless of Age and Independently Responsible." One reading room sign in the 1920's asked "Please do not sneeze in the books." Another funny sign in the 1950's said "For Sex Education, See Librarian", referring to the sex education books being in a back room, not on the open shelves.

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