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Small Settlement Ohio Social Libraries on the Connecticut Western Reserve,1800-1900

By: Stuart A. Stiffler

The founding and evolution of numerous stock and subscription libraries on the Nineteenth Century Connecticut Western Reserve in Ohio, draws attention to the contributing role of these earnest enterprises in the transplantation of New England culture onto the Ohio frontier. At a minimum the collections, supplying representative instructional and general literature, supported social mobility and provided educational opportunity and diversion to isolated farms and towns. At least since de Tocqueville’s observations in the 1830s, it has been perceived that when, in the absence of governmental initiatives, a pressing public need should surface, there often followed a compensatory version of American voluntarism. Yet as transitional institutions the social libraries, unlike the common schools and churches, have attracted limited notice in scholarship on the Western Reserve and deserve to be more clearly situated in the Reserve’s nascent cultural life.1 Continue reading

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  1. “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite, Nor only do they have commercial and industrial associations, but they have a thousand other kinds…Americans use associations…to distribute books…” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, translated, edited and with an introduction by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 89; David L. Sills, “Voluntary Associations–Sociological Aspects,” in Sills and Robert King Merton, eds., The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York: Macmillan and Free Press, 1991), 16:372-374; for background on the Western Reserve and social libraries: Robert C. Wheeler, “The Literature of the Western Reserve,” Ohio History 100 (1991), 101-128; Kenneth Lottich, “The Western Reserve and the Frontier Thesis,” Ohio History 7 (1971), 45-50; Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelley, eds., A History of the Book in America: An Extensive Republic, Print Society and Culture in the New Nation, 1790-1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); L.K. Yankaskas, “Borrowing Culture: Social Libraries and American Civic Life, 1731-1854,” (PhD diss., Brandeis University, 1995); Jesse Shera, Foundations of the Public Library movement in New England, 1790-1855 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 226-230; L.K.M. Rosenberry, The Expansion of New England (New York: Octagon, 1965), 178-194; A.O. Craven, Sources of Culture in the Middle West (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1934), 39-71; Johann N. Neehm, “Creating Social Capital in the Early Republic: the View From Connecticut,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 34:4 (Spring 2009), 471-495.