News about Alston’s Library History Database

Please see below for a message from the SHARP list with exciting news about a key online resource for library historians!:


Dear SHARP-L readers—

I have an exciting announcement for those of you interested in the history of British and Irish libraries, readership, and the book trade. As many of you will know, from the early 1990s onward, the accomplished bibliographer and historical linguist Robin C. Alston (1933–2011) compiled the Library History Database, a directory of more than 27,000 libraries and reading societies active in the Atlantic Isles through 1850. (See also Andrew Prescott’s valuable blog post on the database.) With the support of the University of Virginia and the University of London’s Institute of English Studies, I am working to restore Alston’s database to public access on the IES website, as was Alston’s original intention.

In addition to hosting a legacy version of the database as it appeared during Alston’s lifetime, I aim to reorganize Alston’s data into a more accessible spreadsheet format, which will enable detailed statistical and geographical analysis of the directory’s coverage. Thus far, I have prepared a preliminary file covering the 12,000+ institutional, commercial, and associational libraries in the database, and I am now in the process of incorporating data on the various categories into which Alston sorted these entries. In the future, I hope to follow a similar procedure with Alston’s extensive data on country house libraries.

In the meantime, I’m eager for feedback on this project from fellow researchers in library history, online directories, and the geography of the book trade. I’d also be thrilled to interview anyone who knew Alston and/or followed his library history research as it was being conducted. The IES has been very kind in sharing files from its archive, but much about the database’s provenance remains unclear from the available witnesses.

With gratitude,

Michael VanHoose
PhD Candidate, English Department, University of Virginia  
Digital Humanities Fellow, Scholars’ Lab, UVA  
Postgraduate Research Fellow, IES / DHRH, University of London  
Main email: mjv7ny@virginia.edu

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