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Kara DeCarlo

LIS 771 01
Reaction Paper: Upon the Objects to be Obtained by the Establishment of a Public Library

After reading Upon the Objects to be Obtained by the Establishment of a Public Library I
can see why this document has retained relevance for the establishment of public libraries into
the current era. The holdings have been arranged into four categories, each with a clear
1. Books that cannot be taken out of the library, such as Cyclopaedias, Dictionaries,
important public documents, and books which…cannot be easily replaced.
2. Books that few persons would wish to read
3. Books that will be often asked for (we mean, the more respectable of the popular books of
the time)
4. Periodical publications
The four main categories of objects are exactly what one has come to expect even in the smallest
of public libraries. I would argue that due to the technological revolution, the balance of the four
categories has shifted to weigh in favor of popular materials. Also the items that are most clearly
missing from this list have to do with the increasing inclusion of technology in our lives.
I find it amusing that the caveat to the inclusion of popular materials includes that the
books be “respectable”—I suspect that most of today’s popular materials would fall outside of
that realm. I also think that this is an interesting indicator of how the culture of the library has
changed from censorship of the collection (to provide “respectable materials”) to providing
access to a wide variety of ideas and viewpoints.

In the document the strongest argument in favor of the creation of public libraries is to
ensure that citizens have access to information, “it is of paramount importance that the means of
general information should be so diffused that the largest possible number of persons should be
induced to read and understand questions going down to the very foundations of social order,
which are constantly presenting themselves, and which we, as a people, are constantly required
to decide, and do decide, either ignorantly or wisely.” While today’s libraries promote access to
information for all, I would say that they are most known for their collections of books—
particularly popular fiction. After reading Upon the Objects to be Obtained by the Establishment
of a Public Library I have to say that the Trustees of the City Library would not approve.
I am curious about the category of "books that few persons would wish to read". Clearly
these are not reference books as those have their own category--could they be books that cover
very specific historical periods? Or are they books that one would expect to see in the
bibliography of a high school student's research paper? And how have the books in this category
changed from 1852 to now?