Monday, September 28, 2015

Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand

book cover
Part of Our Lives
A People's History of the American Public Library
by Wayne A. Wiegand

ISBN-13: 9780190248000
Hardcover: 317 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Released: September 29, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
In Part of Our Lives, Wayne A. Wiegand traces the history of the public library by looking at the words of everyday patrons. He features records and testimonies drawn from newspaper articles, memoirs, and biographies. Libraries have continuously adapted to better serve the needs of their communities. Though there have been many controversies about what books should be carried in libraries and who should be allowed to use them, they have also had a transformative effect for many, including people like Ronald Reagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Oprah Winfrey.

My Review:
Part of Our Lives looks at how social issues throughout American history have affected how public libraries are used and what books they carry. The author spent a chapter describing the first public-use libraries in America (including social libraries and circulating libraries) and what prompted people to switch from that to public libraries supported by taxes. The rest of the book was about changes at and the spread of those libraries.

The author focused on what the library users of the time wrote about the libraries, so much of the book recounted controversies about what reading materials should be put in the libraries and what materials or activities should be banned (usually based on the major social issues of that period). He also quoted people explaining about how libraries and books impacted their lives.

He also talked about how libraries changed over time: closed stacks to open stacks; the various programs they hosted; allowing women, children, and blacks to use the library, and so on. I enjoyed learning how library use changed over time, but I didn't realize how much of the content would be recounting heated debates. I don't enjoy controversial debates. If that's what you're interested in, though, then you might find this book really interesting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

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