Part of Our Lives

Part of Our Lives

A People's History of the American Public Library

Book - 2015
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"Despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, their numbers have only increased. 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"-- Provided by publisher.
"Part of Our Lives challenges the conventional idea that public libraries are valuable mostly because they are essential to democracy. Instead, this book uses the voices of generations of public library users to argue that Americans have loved their libraries for the useful information they make accessible; the public spaces they provide; and the commonplace reading materials they supply that help users make sense of the world around them"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, [2015]
ISBN: 9780190248000
Branch Call Number: 027.473 WIEGAND
Characteristics: 331 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm


From Library Staff

Just how did libraries come to be? If you like history and books, this book is for you.

Learn how the American library came to be and explore stories of why patrons can't get enough even with changing tides.

From the critics

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Jun 27, 2017

I was prepared to enjoy this book and I found some good bits in it, but I also felt that the author repeatedly emphasized the same points. Regardless of era, many "elitists" didn't like fiction incorporated into a library. Also, the average library user wanted fiction, not non-fiction. The author pointed these out repeatedly in all the chapters that I read, which made the book a bit boring... I didn't finish reading it.

May 01, 2017

Written as the culmination of a lifetime's study of the place of libraries at the center of American public life and culture, Wiegand's book serves equally well as a textbook or as a casual read for anyone interested in the social history of the United States.

Dec 28, 2015

Forget the books, check out your local librarian!

This book was a fascinating read about this history of libraries.

Sep 18, 2015

A couple of caveats: I have been an American library history buff since I took the History of American Libraries from Wayne Wiegand while I was in library school and Professor Wiegand was my teacher and much valued mentor that I still keep in touch with today.
Even though this was a "people's history," there were some historical individuals that I thought would be spotlighted such as Gratia Countryman, the founder of Hennepin County Library. I was pleasantly surprised this book kept its focus on public libraries and their impact on their environment and introduced the reader to many unknown or obscure stories of library service.

Wiegand has a knack for pulling out interesting stories that connect us with history, showing us that contemporary topics are also history. Here are a few examples: indecent exposure in public libraries (1872); the importance of being open on Sundays (1874); children getting molested at the library (1914); Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) lecturing at Minneapolis Public Library (1916) to an overflow crowd despite being warned she wouldn't be welcome and many other stories that resonate today.

Wiegand weaves these first-hand accounts into a tapestry that is compelling - two things are very clear: public libraries have made a difference is our society and their history is interesting. I can say by far, this is the most fascinating and page-turning book on library history I have ever read.

One last thing: Wiegand does a very good job of covering a recent bit of history from my neck of the woods: Adamson v. Minneapolis Public Library. In 2000, the unfiltered internet situation at MPL was so bad that staff felt sexually harassed by patrons that were viewing pornography and showing it explicitly to staff. Management ignored their pleas to control the problem, citing intellectual freedom. They were sued and beaten by a group a staff. Wiegand uses this case to illustrate the balance between intellectual freedom and it limits and staff safety. He covers other topics with a balanced approach, while spotlighting the advocacy of libraries. An excellent read.


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