Pennsylvania Library History Project

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About PLHP

Since 2005, I have made it my personal mission to research and document the history of libraries in Pennsylvania. So far, I have researched the history of more than 30 public libraries throughout Pennsylvania. I hope to publish a book someday. Currently, pre-prints of all my major publications are available through Penn State’s ScholarSphere. I welcome collaboration with other librarians, scholars, students, and volunteers. Contact me if you have questions or would like to help.


The goals of my work are to:

·        Document the history of Pennsylvania's public, academic, school, and other libraries.

·        Inform scholars and practitioners about the contributions Pennsylvanians have made toward the development of librarianship and print culture in the United States.

·        Raise public awareness about the unique contributions libraries have made to the history of Pennsylvania.


My project strives toward these goals by creating high-quality professional and scholarly literature that draws deeply from Pennsylvania's experiences, and developing freely-available web sites that make historical information about Pennsylvania's libraries easily accessible to everyone. I envision a future where every Pennsylvania library is active in collecting, organizing, and preserving documentation about its history.


I do not currently have the resources to record the history of every library in Pennsylvania. Therefore, I will offer free advice to library staff, volunteers, and students who wish to research, preserve, or write about their library's history.


Online Research Resources

·        Google Books: digitized books, including many pre-1920 materials, from dozens of research libraries nationwide.

·        Digitized Collections at Penn State: digitized books, maps, photographs, and other items from Penn State's collections.

·        Literary and Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania: a treasure-trove of information about Pennsylvania authors. Created by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book at Penn State.

·        Maps from the Library of Congress' American Memory project. The maps of "Cities and Towns," "Cultural Landscapes," and "Transportation and Communication"  can help put a library's location in context with other resources in its town, county, or region.

·        Pennsylvania GenWeb  

·        Pennsylvania Library and Museum Notes: a periodical that was published by Pennsylvania's State Library and Museum from 1907 to 1941. Online full text of volumes 1-8 (1907-1916) are available through the Hathi Trust and volumes 15-18 (1935-1941) are available through Penn State.

·        Pennsylvania Library Histories on the Web: links to library histories that are freely available online.


Archival Collections

·        American Library Association Archives, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: includes photographs, archival records, and other materials pertaining to the association. Since Pennsylvania did not have a statewide professional organization until 1901, the ALA Archives and the Dewey Papers (see below) are important resources for our state’s library history.

·        Erie County Public Library has maintained library directors’ correspondence files from its founding through the 1920s, including the papers of Jean Hard, who was president of the Pennsylvania Library Association during World War I.

·        Henry Carr Papers, ALA Archives, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Carr was the first director of the Albright Library in Scranton and was highly active in ALA and PaLA.

·        James V. Brown Library (Williamsport) has correspondence, scrapbooks, and other materials of O.R. Howard Thomson, the library’s first director and a longtime activist within PaLA.

·        Melvil Dewey Papers, Columbia University, New York, NY: as the founder and longtime Executive Secretary of the American Library Association, Dewey’s papers contain correspondence from many notable Pennsylvania librarians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

·        Kroeger Family Papers, Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri-St. Louis: Alice Bertha Kroeger founded Drexel’s library school. The Kroeger Family Papers include a scrapbook pertaining to Kroeger’s untimely death in 1909.

·        National Register of Historic Places Database, National Parks Service, Washington, D.C.: dozens of Pennsylvania libraries are on the historic register. In some cases, the site provides each building’s application. Applications sometime include bibliographies, historical information, and photographs.

·        Pennsylvania Library Association, Mechanicsburg, PA: includes board minutes, unit files, correspondence, conference programs, publications, and other materials pertaining to the association’s history from precedents in the 1890s through the present.

·        Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA: offers the records of the state Federation of Women’s ClubsGrange, and Young Men’s Christian Association, each of which promoted public library development. Also maintains the records of state government agencies.

·        State Library of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA: while SLP does not have substantial archival records, it has many relevant printed primary sources, including long runs of annual reports of SLP and various public libraries; local newspapers from every corner of Pennsylvania; and much more.

·        Wagner Free Institute of Science, Philadelphia, PA: Accession 91-040 (Actuary and Librarian Records, 1886-1903), available at the Wagner’s library, includes some professional correspondence of Thomas Lynch Montgomery. Montgomery was a founder of the Keystone State Library Association and later became State Librarian of Pennsylvania.


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Copyright 2015, Bernadette A. Lear. Please contact me for permission to use this page.