Knowledge, as everyone knows, is power, and
therefore accessibility of information is ultimately
a political issue. Even in the case of abstruse
scholarly material, ease of access has been
a key issue throughout history. The Early Modern
"scientific revolution" was succesful in part because
it was international, and it was international not
only because of the printing press but also
because of the internationally circulated
journals and transactions of the new learned
societies. By the 1880s, however, neither these
publications nor the open-access research
libraries which stored their back numbers
could meet the demands of the new era ...
A WIDER USE FOR THE LIBRARIES OF
Unsigned editorial. Science 4
, 334 (1884).
The author's words are in bold.
TO those who are obliged to use the libraries
of our smaller colleges, it is often a source of
vexation to find that the books one is referred
to are wanting. The resources of the colleges
are limited, and the amount of money which can
be expended for the purchase of new books
small, and that small amount often devoted,
according to the wishes of the donor, to the
class of books least needed. A case in point
occurred lately, where a college professor of
mathematics was asked to write a short account
of the life of Todhunter ; and he felt obliged
to say that he would be glad to undertake the
article, but could not before he had visited the
libraries of either New York or Boston, which
he hoped to be able to do during his next
This constant lacking of just the books one
needs for his work is most hampering. It is
not the Century
, or the Harper
, or the latest
novel, or the new book of travel, which
cannot be had (these find their way into all the
odd corners), but it is the specialist's books,
a volume of the transactions of some learned
society, a scientific journal, or the modern
treatises on thermo-dynamics, on electricity,
or on biology, which are needed, and which
can be found only in a very few of our libraries
in the necessary profusion.
A few such libraries have now been collected
by our older scientific societies and our larger
colleges. The books of the college libraries
are for a specific purpose, and find abundant
use at the hands of the students and professors.
With the societies the matter stands differently.
It cannot be denied that one of the original
objects of the establishment of these societies
was, that, by the publication of their own
"Proceedings," they might, by exchange, gather
a collection of books which could not, in the
then comparatively poor state of the country,
be gathered in any other way, and which were
to be for the use of the members, and such
favored friends as they might designate.
It has so happened that these societies were
established by the small knots of scientific
men gathered about our larger colleges. These
colleges have developed, and their libraries
have grown more and more valuable ; so that
the professors no longer find it necessary to
go to their academy for books. At the same
time the machinery of their long-established
organization has grown more effective ; and,
while many of the members no longer need
their society collection of books, the number
and value of those added to the shelves each
year are constantly increasing. The result
is, that in some of our larger cities there
are accumulating very considerable libraries
of special works which are scarcely used, as
they are duplicated at some neighboring college
about which those employing such books
It is, of course, with regret that one enters
such a library, if library it may be called, and
sees the new books which are not called for by
the former clientage of the collection, but
which would eagerly be asked for if the circle
of favored outsiders were widened so as to
include all properly vouched-for persons who
might live within one, two, or three hundred
miles, or even more, and who would be willing
to pay a small annual fee to defray the expense
of sending books to them by mail or express,
and for the extra wear, and danger of loss. It
is true that such books as could not be readily
replaced in case of loss would necessarily be
retained from such a wide-spread circulation ;
but these would be only the older volumes of
the various series, and such books as are very
generally kept from such extra risks.
The expense of mailing would be considerable
; it would average, on volumes of the size
of a bound volume of the American Journal
about sixteen cents each way.
To this must be added the cost of handling, and
some slight charge for the privilege of use.
Altogether, the expense of taking out, say,
forty books of this class in the course of the
year would be in the neighborhood of ten to
fifteen dollars, --- a charge which could be
reduced very materially by sending for the
books a number at a time, so that they might
be forwarded to advantage by express ; the
amount named above being the maximum if
each book were mailed separately.
That the expense of using a library through
the mails would mount up very rapidly is
evident ; but the facts remain, that there are large
libraries of books solely on matters of interest
to scientific men, and of vital interest to such
men, and that these libraries exist in
communities where by duplication they no longer
have their former use. It is highly desirable
that the books should be put to use ; and their
owners would probably be glad to arrange
some plan by which the scheme of extending
the circulation through the mails could be made
practicable. It would be of great advantage
in perfecting plans, if those who might be
benefited would come forward and state their
The editorial provoked a number of
letters. Those which
were all positive:
Science 4, 368 (1884)
I noticed in the last number of Science a proposition
to render the libraries of the various scientific
societies more useful by circulating the books
somewhat by mail, among persons located in small towns.
If those having charge of those libraries knew what
a blessed boon such an arrangement would be to a
man situated as I have been for a few years, I am
sure they would heartily second the proposition.
Colleges are often located in small towns, and are very
poorly supplied with the means for scientific study
or investigation. Professors in such institutions
would be delighted with any arrangement, not
involving very great expense, which would give them
access in any way during term-time to a good
scientific library. Would not some such arrangement as
this be a wise one? --- Require a person wishing for
the privilege of taking books from the library to give
bond for a sum sufficient to meet all possible liabilities,
and charge to his account all the actual expenses
incident to packing and mailing or expressing books
to him, and also any books not returned. Charge
him, also, a small annual fee for the use of the books.
In that case, he would pay only the actual expenses,
and for the use of the books.
I earnestly hope our scientific societies may consider
this question, and give to those of us who are
isolated from the rest of the world, in small colleges
and small towns, the benefit of the wealth of learning
idly hoarded up in their libraries.
W. Z. Bennett.
Wooster, Wayne county, O.,
Bennet taught scientific subjects at the
University (now College) of
Wooster in Ohio.
Science 4, 396 (1884)
In Science for Oct. 3, your editorial calls attention
to the need of making scientific libraries more widely
useful. Perhaps some of your readers will be glad to
know the liberal policy of the
Boston Society of Natural History.
The society is willing to send such books
as can be replaced, to students in any part of the country,
at their expense of course ; asking from strangers
a deposit of twice the market-value of the books so
sent, as a guaranty against loss. This is an example
which may well be followed by all special libraries.
Edward Burgess, librarian.
Boston, Oct. 17.
Burgess was a typical Nineteenth Century
American intellectual with wide-ranging interests.
Although employed as a biology instructor at Harvard,
he is best remembered for designing the yacht
which won the America's Cup in 1885.
The Boston Society of Natural History is today the
Museum of Science
the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge. In its current incarnation,
the Museum of Science is aimed chiefly at the general public, and
especially at children; in its mission statement it defines itself
as "an informal learning institution to help the formal preK-12
education system". This is true of most "science museums"
in the Western world. No one would wish to deny the importance
of the work of such science museums; nevertheless, they
provide an example of the contingent nature of history.
In our society, "serious" scientific research is conducted at universities,
at a few elite undergraduate colleges, at government or industrial laboratories,
and at small number of dedicated "research institutes". Other societies
have done things differently: original research has at various times been pursued
chiefly in monasteries, in parsonages, on the estates of aristocrats,
even in the porticoes of Athenian public buildings. Very small changes in
history could have seen museums, public libraries, and zoos become
dominant engines of scientific progress during the 1900s, with colleges and universities
relegated to a purely instructional role. The latter half of that process is
unfortunately taking place in the Twenty-First Century, but with non-academic
institutions failing to take up the torch dropped by academia.
Edward Burgess in 1887
Science 4, 413 (1884)
Your remarks in Science (iv. 335-338) on a wider
use for the libraries of scientific societies, give me
occasion to mention at least two societies which
make such use of their libraries. I think you would
do a service by collating a list of such societies, and
making a statement of their rules for the loan of
books. A brief standing notice, or one occasionally
inserted, would be of service to your readers.
Certainly the societies not deriving a revenue from
these loans should not be expected to advertise at
their own expense.
The constitution of the American Association for
the Advancement of Science provides that all books
and pamphlets received by the association shall be
catalogued, and that members may be allowed to call
for such books and pamphlets to be delivered to them
at their own expense ; but as yet the books are not
available, as the catalogue has not been made.
Cambridge Entomological Club
allows subscribers to
the use of its library under certain restrictions,
--- a library containing about a thousand titles.
On the other hand, the
American Entomological Society
provides that "no
books presented to the society
shall be loaned from the hall under any pretence or
for any purpose whatsoever."
The publishers of the
Revue et magasin de zoologie
at Paris, conducted for many years a circulating
library amongst the subscribers to the magazine, and
reported that they had never sustained the loss of a
single volume. Will not other societies or periodicals
copy these practices ?
B. Pickman Mann.
Washington, D.C., Oct. 21.
Mann, son of the famous Horace, was another Harvard-trained biologist.
He founded the Cambridge
Entomolgical Club before entering government service with the Department of
Agriculture, and thus stood at the exact cross-road of scientific
history where "amateurism" and "professionalism" diverged
in the late 1800s.
Pickman Mann thirty years later (from the
Washington Times, 1914 November 12, illustrating an
article about Mann's efforts to improve the legal status of children
born to unwed mothers.)
"Interlibrary loan" was an idea whose time had almost come, and by 1894
it was a reality in California through the efforts of Berkeley's
Joseph C. Rowell (comically known to
Wikipedia as "U. L. Rowell" from a misunderstanding of
the abbreviation for his job
title "University Librarian"). In the Twentieth Century the
growth of interlibrary loan programmes was slow (probably because falling
publication costs, philanthropic bequests, and government funding
made it possible for small institutions to greatly expand their own holdings)
but inexorable, and by the heyday of Big Education in the 1960s
practically any book not classified as "rare" could be borrowed by any
scholar in the Western world.
Ironically, just as online databases, especially
, moved interlibrary loan out of the hands of librarians
and into those of users, the whole system began to seem outdated. A century
after Rowell the demand is not for physical copies of books but for their digitised content,
and the issues of fairness, control, and above all "Who will pay?" remain
as central and as controversial as they were in 1884.