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A History of Modern Librarianship

Constructing the Heritage of Western Cultures

by Pamela Spence Richards, Wayne A. Wiegand, and Marija Dalbello, Editors


Discover the role of libraries in shaping modern society—and gain a fresh perspective on the importance of your profession.

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Cover image for A History of Modern Librarianship

May 2015

Libraries Unlimited

Pages 248
Volumes 1
Size 7x10
Topics Librarianship: Philosophy, Values, and Issues/History of Books, Publishing, and Librarianship
  Librarianship: Philosophy, Values, and Issues/International and Comparative Librarianship

A broad, comparative history of librarianship, this intriguing work goes beyond the standard focus on institutions and collections to help you explore the part modern librarianship played—and continues to play—in forming Western cultures.

Previous histories of libraries in the Western world—the last of which was published nearly 20 years ago—concentrate on libraries and librarians. This book takes a different approach. It focuses on the practice of librarianship, showing you how that practice has contributed to constructing the heritage of cultures. To do so, this groundbreaking collection of essays presents the history of modern librarianship in the context of recent developments of the library institution, professionalization of librarianship, and innovation through information technology.

Organized by region, the book addresses the widely recognized, international impact of Anglo-American librarianship and its continuing influence over the past century, combining critical analysis with chronological histories of modern librarianship in Europe, North America, Australia/New Zealand, and Africa. An introductory chapter explains the origins of the project, and a concluding chapter examines the effects of digitization on modern librarianship in the 21st century.


  • Discusses the cultural role of libraries and the role of information in shaping modern society
  • Deepens readers' understanding of the history of the 20th century and modern librarianship, including digital convergence of the past two decades
  • Analyzes the cycles of "information explosion" and multiple information eras as part of the development of librarianship over more than a century
  • Explores tensions around professional neutrality in the provision of public access to information and knowledge in a democratic society
Author Info

Pamela Spence Richards, PhD, (deceased) wrote more than 20 journal articles, including some in Russian, French, Hungarian, and German, and authored or coauthored book chapters and three books. She is still widely known for her articles "German Libraries and Scientific and Technical Information in Nazi Germany" (1985) and "Aslib at War: The Brief but Intrepid Career of a Library Organization as a Hub of Allied Scientific Intelligence 1942–1945" (1989). Her books include Scholars and Gentlemen: The Library of the New-York Historical Society, 1804–1982 and Scientific Information in Wartime: The Allied-German Rivalry 1939–1945. She received her doctorate from Columbia University.

Wayne A. Wiegand, PhD, is F. William Summers Professor of Library and Information Studies Emeritus at Florida State University, Tallahassee. In addition to more than 100 scholarly articles, his published works include Politics of an Emerging Profession: The American Library Association, 1876–1917; "An Active Instrument for Propaganda": The American Public Library During World War I; Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey; and Main Street Public Library: Reading Spaces and Community Places in America's Heartland, 1876–1956. He is coauthor of Books on Trial: Red Scare in the Heartland, with Shirley Wiegand; and of "Right Here I See My Own Books:" The Woman's Building at the World's Columbian Exposition, with Sarah Wadsworth. Wiegand holds a doctorate in history from Southern Illinois University.

Marija Dalbello, PhD, is associate professor of information science in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. Her research, teaching, and publications focus on print culture and visual epistemology, digital heritage, and social history of media and information. She coedited Print Culture in Croatia: The Canon and the Borderlands with Tinka Katic, and Visible Writings: Cultures, Forms, Readings with Mary Shaw. Her work is published in scholarly journals including The Library Quarterly, Library & Information Science Research, Journal of Documentation (an article for which she won an award in 2012), Analytical & Enumerative Bibliography, and Information Research. Dalbello holds a doctorate in information studies from the University of Toronto.

Table of Contents


  • Preface Introduction
  • Chapter One: Europe Peter Hoare Introduction The Background to Modern European Librarianship Libraries and Librarianship of Different Types Conclusion Bibliography
  • Chapter Two: The United States and Canada Wayne A. Wiegand Introduction Colonial America to 1776 Canada to Confederation United States, 1776-1876 U.S. and Canadian Librarianship, 1876-1893 U.S. and Canadian Librarianship, 1893-1914 Bridging the Wars, 1914-1945 Consolidating Gains, 1945-1970 After 1970: "The Information Age" Bibliography
  • Chapter Three: Africa Anthony Olden Introduction Education and Literacy Publishing Subscription Libraries Public Library Service The Academic Library The Librarians Professional Education and Training Conclusion Bibliography
  • Chapter Four: Australasia Ross Harvey Introduction 1788–1900: First Encounters to Federation 1901–1945: Federation to World War II 1945 to Date: Australia Since World War II 1945 to Date: New Zealand Since World War II Conclusion Bibliography
  • Chapter Five: Digital Convergence: The Past in the Present Marija Dalbello Introduction Origins and Prototypes: 1890 to1960s Online Catalogs and the World Wide Web: 1970s into the 1990s Digital Libraries: mid-1990s to 2005 The "Semantic Web" and Social Media from 2005 Epilogue Bibliography
  • Index



    "This is a fascinating history. . . . It lends itself to ad hoc reading—picking an area of interest and studying the history of librarianship there. . . . This book has been well researched and furnished with extensive bibliographies. It is an enjoyable read for anyone interested in the history of the world's libraries and librarianship—students, academics, historian, and practitioners."BBC Archives

    "This volume will serve students and scholars well as a reference for the modern history of libraries in the West, and may also be useful for some courses in library and information science, possibly even as a textbook. I highly recommend it, too, for librarians interested in the history of their profession. It is a valuable addition to the literature."Against the Grain

    "Every contribution is well worth reading."Alexandria

    "A History of Modern Librarianship is a good beginning for those interested in the history of Western libraries. The similar writing styles of all the authors involved made the book a quick read. It offers a fascinating survey through time, listing the challenges libraries have faced as well as the solutions that each country's libraries developed to try to solve them.. . . . Libraries of all types, but especially academic libraries, would find A History of Modern Librarianship beneficial. Universities that support undergraduate and/or graduate programs in Library and Information Studies as well as librarians with an interest in the history of libraries will find this a good source. The book would be a good introduction not just for librarians but for historians wanting to research how history, such as revolutions and world wars, affect the general population and its habits. . . . Purchasing this book will provide readers with the information needed to understand the past, work in the present, and prepare for the future."Technical Services Quarterly

    "A History of Modern Librarianship is likely the most dense and concise outline of library history one is likely to find, and it seems an indispensable tool for anyone looking to write about libraries. . . . Its bibliographic information is extensive, which alone makes it a valuable resource for anyone looking to do research in the history of libraries."Amphora

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