Two men smiling and sitting at a desk with a computer and books.
William Maher and Steve Schoenly demonstrating PARADIGM on-line subject index in the American Library Association Archives (1978). Image and caption from American Library Association Archives.

This section of the blog features particularly interesting and important source collections for library history research.  Many of these sources may be unstudied and unpublished, and present infinite vistas for research.  We thank Dr. Debra Hansen at San Jose State for sharing a bibliography with us that lead us to many of the tools.  Please see also this list of links from the Library History Round Table’s web site: Resources for the Study of Library History

Databases and Indexes

American Library Association Archives

The official archives of ALA, housed at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  The ALA Archives offers a growing database of image and texts as well as several different online finding aids.  Sample sources include Sjoerd Koopman Library Postcard Collection and American Library Association Conference Proceedings

Library Literature and Information Science Retrospective, 1905-1983 (Ebscohost) (subscription database–check your library for access)

Indispensable resource for the library historian! Limit your search by publication year.  Indexes library trade journals, conferences, books, news about libraries. Covers the United States, Europe, Russia, China, India, Australia, Latin America.

Google Books

Far more than books, Google Books offers library bulletins and magazines; book trade journals; manuals on carrying out library functions; library directories; vendor and library catalogs; government documents.  Imagine the research possibilities!

Hathi Trust

Similar to Google Books in scope. In addition to primary sources, you’ll find many secondary works on library from the early 1900s whose bibliographies list even more primary sources.  Please be sure to check out Eric Novotny’s Pre-1924 Library Journal Collection  [Subject index for the library journals in the Hathi Trust Digital Library] at;c=285673302 Sample sources include American Library History (1911), By Charles Knowles Bolton Resources and Rules (1947), University of Illinois-School of Journalism Library, By Eunice Collins Moore

Google News Archive

You will want to follow the process outlined on this excellent page from Educational Technology to limit your search to historical items rather than current news.  Google News is especially helpful for research on public libraries.

Internet Archive

Books, catalogs, manuscripts, and more.  Also offers millions of archived web pages from libraries around the world.    I think a number of library history papers could be written drawing on old web pages as they allows us to track changes in library services, technologies, and policies. Sample Source: The Penn State Libraries’ page in 1996

International Coalition on Newspapers (ICON)

The Center for Research Libraries offers an extensive list of free online historical newspapers through the ICON project.

Book History Online (Brill) (subscription database–check your library for access)

History of the printed book, its arts, crafts, techniques and equipment, its economic, social and cultural environment, as well as its production, distribution, preservation and description.

The Reading Experience Database (RED), 1450–1945

The English Department of the Open University houses this database: “it is the largest resource recording the experiences of readers of its kind anywhere. UK RED has amassed over 30,000 records of reading experiences of British subjects, both at home and abroad.”

Robin Alston Library History Sources Databases

Massive database of citations to the library history of the UK.  Created by Robin Alston and maintained by Andrew Prescott.


Fortunately, several key library history journals are free via the web below.  Check the ejournals and databases on your library’s web site for subscription ones.

Journals–Primary Sources

Library Journal (1876- )

ALA Bulletin (1907- )

Public Libraries (1896- )   [Available via the Internet Archive]

Special Libraries (1910- )

American Library Association Conference Proceedings  [Printed in Library Journal until 1906]

News Notes of California Libraries (1906- )

 JournalsSecondary Sources

Libraries: Culture, History, and Society, 2017-present

Information and Culture, 2012-present

Library and Information History, 2009-present

Libraries and the Cultural Record, 2006-2011

Libraries and Culture, 1988-2006

Journal of Library History, 1966-1987

Library Trends [Occasional special issues devoted to library history]

Library Quarterly [Often runs articles dealing with library history]


Bowker Annual of Library and Book Trade Information (New York: Bowker, 1961-2008). See 1989 edition for “Library Statistics, 1870-1990” (pp. 409-13).

US Bureau of Education.  Public Libraries in the United States of America (Washington, DC: GPO, 1876).

McMullen, Haynes.  American Libraries before 1876 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000)

Database of Libraries before 1876 (Davies Project).

Historical Statistics of the United States (Cambridge University Press)–library database

Statistical Abstracts of the United States (U.S Census Bureau)–you’ll probably need to download individual years for the best searching


Even in our digital age of databases and search engines, bibliographies have immense intellectual value–they offer well-organized lists of resources hand-picked by the great library historians–and can help locate historical gems that might not turn up in machine-driven keyword searches.

American Library History: A Comprehensive Guide to the Literature.  Donald G. Davies and John Mark Tucker, eds. (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1989) “Offers a detailed bibliography of works related to the development and functions of American libraries, including the earliest public, Sunday School, YMCA, and privately established libraries around the country.”  LHRT offers PDF of several chapters for free!

ALA Library History Round Table.  Bibliography of American Library History (ongoing series, 1990- )

American Library History: A Bibliography of Dissertations and Theses. Arthur P Young, ed. 3d ed. (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1988).

American Library History: A Bibliography.  Michael Harris, ed. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979)

A Guide to Research in American Library History.  Michael Harris, ed., 2d ed. (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1974)

Library Science Dissertations, 1925-1972.  Gail Schlachter and Dennis Thomison (Littleton, Co.: Libraries Unlimited, 1974); suppl. 1973-1981

Libraries in American Periodicals Before 1876: A Bibliography with Abstracts and Index.  Larry J. Barr, et al. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1983)

Bibliography of Library Economy; a Classified Index to the Professional Literature . . . from 1876-1920.  H. G. T. Cannons, ed. (New York: Wilson, 1927)


The encyclopedias below are great places to start library history research and feature mini-bibliographies with their entries.

Encyclopedia of Library History.  Wayne Wiegand and Donald G. Davies, Jr., eds. (New York: Garland, 1994).  Partial view available in Google Books.

Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences. Marcia Bates and Mary Niles Maack, eds. (Abingdon, UK: Taylor & Frances, 2010).


A Chronology of Librarianship, 1960-2000. Jeffery Wilhite, ed. (Lanham: Scarecrow, 2009)

A Chronology of Librarianship.  J. M. Smith, ed.  (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1968)

Anthony Bernier, et al. “Two Hundred Years of Young Adult Library Services: A Chronology.” Voice of Youth Advocates, 28 (June 2005): 106-111. Updated annually at

Jeffrey M. Wilhite. A Chronology of Librarianship, 1960-2000 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009).


A Guide to Collecting Librariana (by Norman D. Stevens)

Very useful if you are researching library artifacts–the author discusses historic librarian autographs, badges, bookplates, postcards, photos of library buildings, overdue notices!