Pamela Spence Richards, Wayne A. Wiegand, and Marija Dalbella, eds. A History of Modern Librarianship: Constructing the Heritage of Western Culture

Pamela Spence Richards, Wayne A. Wiegand, and Marija Dalbella, eds. A History of Modern Librarianship: Constructing the Heritage of Western Culture. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2015. 248p., notes, bibliographies, index. ISBN 9781610690997. US $60.00.

This broad study focuses on the history and development of librarianship and libraries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Five scholars contribute a chapter each: about Europe; the United States and Canada; Africa; Australasia; and digital convergence. Originally conceived by Pamela Spence Richards, the project was revitalized by Wayne Wiegand. The primary audience is library and information science students and beginning historians of libraries across the globe.

The book covers three major ‘evolutionary changes’ within the profession [xvi]: (1) How librarianship evolved to serve an urbanized, industrialized society in the nineteenth century; (2) the Anglo-American hegemony that spread from England and America to continental Europe, Russia, and the rest of the world, most especially upon librarians in Australasia and Africa; (3) the shift to providing information through high-tech tools, digitization, and the Internet.

In the four main chapters, each author presents the history of librarianship on their continent through the many individuals who influenced the development of the profession. This first chapter by Peter Hoare is a sweeping history of the profession in Europe. Beginning before the Public Library Acts of 1850 in Great Britain, this compact history incorporates the rise of the Bibliothèque nationale de France after the French Revolution and the British Museum. In the second and longest chapter, Wayne Wiegand takes on the rise of libraries in North America from their founding, but particularly from 1800 to the present. Anthony Olden focuses his chapter on libraries founded by Africans and Muslims before and during the colonial period through the end of the twentieth century. Harvey Ross describes libraries in New Zealand and Australia from first encounters with British settlers in 1788 to the present. Finally, in just 19 pages, Marija Dalbello considers “digital convergence” touching upon early catalogs, computational projects, and the semantic web and digital collaboration.

This concise history of librarianship does not include South and Central America, Asia, the Middle East, and Central Asia or India. There is scant mention of museums, archives, or historical societies even though these cultural heritage institutions develop side by side with libraries and librarianship. There is little comparison or discussion of cross-influence across continents and oceans. Regardless of this compartmentalization, the authors do make efforts to describe cross-influence and connections between librarians and their respective institutions within each continent.

A History of Modern Librarianship is a welcome addition to the history of libraries and librarianship from the late 1700s to present. Each chapter stands alone. This book replaces the later chapters of Michael Harris’s History of Libraries of the Western World (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1995) and Fred Lerner’s Libraries through the Ages (New York: The Continuum Publishing Company, 1999). Wiegand and his fellow contributors bring to the profession a textbook that wraps librarianship into the history of libraries, following a chronological timeline. The brief concluding chapter on the information age foreshadows the next step in librarianship as it evolves to incorporate information professionals.

Miriam Kahn
Kent State University