Guidelines for Writing Local Library Histories

Developed by Dr. John V. Richardson Jr. (UCLA GSLIS), Steve Fisher (U. Denver) Betty Hanson (Indiana U.), and Holley R. Lange (Colorado State U.)

Ten Steps:

  1. Identify all relevant primary and secondary source material relating to the library (see Appendix A for a brief listing of the various types of sources).
  2. Identify any local histories or archival collections which allow you to set your library's history in the context of its community.
  3. Read other local library histories as models for your own work (see Appendix B)
  4. Read other sources which give you a sense of the development of libraries and the environmental context during the time period you are covering so that you can set your library in context.
  5. Immerse yourself in local source material.
  6. Establish a chronology of critical events and people in the history of the library.
  7. Establish a periodization (i.e. time periods) for the chronology.
  8. Consider these periods as the basis for the chapters of your local history.
  9. Write drafts of your chapters, documenting how you know what you know (e.g. footnotes, references, or bibliography of sources) and circulate these to critical readers for their comments.
  10. Publish your work so that it can contribute to the growing body of knowledge about the development of libraries.

Appendix A: Primary Source Materials

  1. Board Minutes.
  2. Annual Reports and Departmental Reports.
  3. Collection development statements, donation records, accession books, circulation records, and any public service policy statements.
  4. Correspondence (letter books).
  5. Photographs.
  6. Local/national newspaper and journal articles.
  7. Personal papers of librarians and support staff.
  8. Oral histories of senior/retired staff as well as long-time library users.
  9. Earlier local histories, published or in manuscript.
  10. Precursor organizations (minute books of women's clubs, Sunday school libraries).
  11. Published biographies or memoirs.
  12. Student papers from colleges and universities with an interest in your library.
  13. Blueprints and other architectural material relating to library construction.

Locations for primary source material:

  • state library
  • your local institution's archives
  • local historical societies

Appendix B: Model Histories

The following source contains some excellent library histories:

Donald G. Davis and John M. Tucker, American Library History: A Comprehensive Guide to the Literature. Santa, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1989, especially chapters 5 (public libraries),
6 (academic libraries), 7 (school libraries), 8 (state libraries), and 9 (special libraries).

Also see LHRT's Library History Bibliographies, posted on this website.