Academic Libraries and Librarianship
Author: Wayne Bivens-Tatum
Academic Libraries and Librarianship: a History explores two parallel histories. Academic libraries in the United States changed dramatically from the late eighteenth to the early twenty-first century. Before the rise of American research universities in the nineteenth century, academic libraries were quite small by contemporary standards. In 1790, the Harvard College library, the largest and oldest academic library in the United States, contained only 12,000 volumes, and most libraries were much smaller. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, academic library collections steadily grew to support the expanding research and teaching agendas of colleges and universities, spurring the development of new organizational methods and a building boom in the twentieth century to house the sometimes enormous collections of books and other material. By the twenty-first century, a significant amount of the content available in academic libraries was digital rather than physical and often licensed rather than owned, but the challenges of organization and access remained.
Along with the growth and development of academic libraries came the increasing professionalization and specialization of academic librarians. In the early years of the United States, many academic libraries were overseen by a professor rather than a professional librarian. As collections grew, this changed, and library staffing developed to accommodate the more demanding library environment. Throughout the twentieth century, librarians organized into professional societies, developed professional standards, and even gained faculty status at many institutions. In response to new demands and developing information technology, academic librarians changed from low level employees of their institutions to specialized professionals adapting to change and and providing new services.
Academic Libraries and Librarianship: a History is the story of how all this happened and how academic libraries and librarians became what they are today.
Wayne Bivens-Tatum is the Philosophy & Religion Librarian at Princeton University.