Themes Through The Ages

A group of children smiling and standing in front of books stacks.
Children at Drew Court Branch Library, Sylacauga, Alabama, August 1955.  Courtesy of American Library Association Archives

Intellectual freedom vs. censorship has been one key themes in the historiography of libraries, and there are many others to explore.  In fact, almost any theme in the broader flow of history shaped, and was shaped by, the work of libraries.  For example, the spread of literacy, development of publishing houses, civil rights movement, rise of the space program, wars, depressions, and almost all social reform efforts manifested themselves in library history, as an overview of works by library scholars will show.  Enjoy these notes about various themes in the history of libraries.

Note (June 28, 2017): A History of Christian Publishing in Grand Rapids: How Four Families Shaped an Industry

By Erinn Huebner, Wayne State University

Author Bio: Erinn Huebner is a student in the Master of Library and Information Science Program at Wayne State University. She received her BA in Spanish Literature and History from Grand Valley State University. She currently works as a para-professional in the Bultema Memorial Library at Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids, MI.

Introduction from the Editor: “Beginning from humble origins in a small Dutch immigrant kolonie in Grand Rapids, Michigan, two families diverged into four Evangelical publishing houses that have, through shrewd business practices, financial frugality, and the sheer forces of faith and will, impacted the globe over the course a little more than a century” (p. 19).   Ms. Huebner thus summarizes the historical significance of the four great publishing houses of Grand Rapids–Kregel, Baker, Eerdmans, and Zondervan.  I found this paper fascinating because the story draws from original interviews conducted by the author with descendants of the first publishers; it chronicles a little known part of book history; and it sets the story against the backdrop of Dutch Calvinist immigration to the United States.  Note in her paper the ingenuity and faith of the publishers: they utilized typewriters and mimeographs for their early production, clever mail ordering systems for distribution, partnerships with local colleges to recruit labor, and a chicken coop for a book storage warehouse!  Ms. Huebner concludes that “authors and publishers alike deal in ideas—those which inspire, incite debate, educate and call for action. That’s what these four firms have done for a little over a century, and hopefully, with God’s blessing, will continue to do for another” (p. 20).  Originally presented as a poster session at the Association of Christian Librarians’ 2017 Conference.  Wonderfully done, Ms. Huebner!  Read Ms. Huebner’s full paper here: A History of Christian Publishing in Grand Rapids


Note (August 22, 2016): Literacy and Libraries in Sixteenth Century England

By Christine A. Egger

Author Bio: Ms. Egger recently finished her Master’s degree in Library Science from Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management.

Author’s Introduction: The library is an important part of the community. People visit the library for a variety of reasons – to check out materials like books and movies. Moms bring their tots to story time to partake of a book and activities that relate to the book. Teens come and hang out with their friends. It wasn’t always like that. In sixteenth century England, libraries were not common and the literacy rate was low. In this paper, it is my intention to explore literacy and the libraries in sixteenth century England. For the purposes of this paper, “literacy” is defined as a person’s ability to read and write and “libraries” are generally defined as institutions, whether private or public, where literary resources like books, maps, scientific papers and historical records, are purposely collected and stored for protection and use. This paper will place the heaviest weight on studying literacy in sixteenth century England, and then spend some time describing the types of libraries that were prevalent in the sixteenth century.  Click this link to read Ms. Egger’s full essay: Literacy and Libraries in Sixteenth Century England.