Library catalogs are a vital resource for the study of reading patterns and the evolution of reading tastes and collecting interests in American intellectual and cultural history. The Society's collection of institutional public library catalogs (the classification PBL) and private library catalogs (PL) affords access to a rich body of material for literary scholars, historians, librarians, and bibliographers. Such catalogs provide a barometric view of the intellectual life of an institution or an individual as well as highlighting the distribution of particular books at any given time.
Public library catalogs printed through 1840 are accessible via the card and online catalogs. Those issued after 1840 are mostly uncataloged, and are shelved alphabetically by state, with state institutions preceding those of individual city or town. There is a checklist of uncatalogued post-1830 public library catalogs. The checklist currently consists of five loose-leaf binders of photocopies of library catalog title-pages, arranged by state or foreign country. The foreign libraries checklist is available as a pdf.
Included in the PBL collection is a representative selection of nineteenth-century institutional library catalogs. There are catalogs for the Boston Athenaeum, the New York Society Library, the public libraries of Cincinnati and Worcester, Sunday school libraries, lyceum libraries as well as mercantile libraries in San Francisco, St. Louis, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, to mention but a few examples. There are also foreign library catalogs for institutions in Canada, France, England, and Barbados, among others.
In addition to library catalogs, the PBL collection consists of institutional annual reports to the present day, such as those of the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Library Company of Philadelphia, as well as modern monographs, such as the histories of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the Huntington Library, in San Marino, California. There are also assorted institutional publications, including newsletters, readers' guides to special collections, exhibition catalogs, and occasional miscellanies. Journals issued by institutional libraries are shelved with the periodicals collection.
The catalogs of private libraries (PL) provide critical insights for both biographers and intellectual historians and offer an amazing range for the study of individual collecting interests and tastes. Most of the private library catalogs printed through 1840 are cataloged online. Those issued after 1840 are shelved alphabetically in the PL classification by name of library owner. A primary access point for these works is found in the card or online catalogs under the subject heading "Libraries, private."
The Society's post-1830 private library catalogs range from the eighty-volume set of loose-leaf notebooks of Thomas Winthrop Streeter and the twenty-one-volume set of binders of Henry F. DePuy to the smaller catalogs of the important libraries of Jared Sparks and Amor L. Hollingsworth. The PL collection also consists of modern catalogs of reconstructed private libraries that existed in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, including, for example, Intellectual Life on the Michigan Frontier: The Libraries of Gabriel Richard and John Monteith (Ann Arbor, 1985). There are also many valuable auction catalogs of the sale of great private libraries, such as the 1948 Parke-Bernet catalog of Herbert S. Auerbach's Western Americana collection, Christie's catalog of the Estelle Doheny collection sold between 1987 and 1989 in New York and London, Sotheby's catalogue of the 1989-90 sale of the library of H. Bradley Martin, and the 1999 catalog of Frank T. Siebert's library of the North American Indian and the American frontier.
Material related to public and private library catalogs may be found in many other collections such as Biography, Book Trades (including Booksellers and Auction Catalogs), Broadsides, General Institutions, and Manuscripts. Researchers who are interested in studying public and institutional library catalogs should be aware of Robert B. Winans's A Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America 1693-1800 (Worcester, 1981) and Robert Singerman's American Library Book Catalogues, 1801-1875: A National Bibliography (Champaign, Ill., 1996).
- Joanne Chaison, Research Librarian