View item information

A patron's library card for the Nevins Memorial Library, 1962. Courtesy of the Nevins Memorial Library via Digital Commonwealth.

At the core of the public library’s mission is community access to its collections. As such, cataloging, acquisitions, and lending are important parts of library operations. Shared cataloging has existed since 1901, when the Library of Congress produced its first printed catalog cards. Cataloging items is key in helping patrons access and check out materials. Beyond cataloging, and acquiring new material, collections can also be shared between libraries via interlibrary loan, standardized by the American Library Association in 1952.

Early in the history of public libraries, however, providing access was at odds with some libraries’ complicity in censoring books in their collections. Although school libraries were the most active in promoting “morally acceptable” reading through book censorship, some public libraries played a role, too. For example, the Kern County Free Library in California complied with a county-wide ban against The Grapes of Wrath that lasted from 1939 to 1941.

By the 1950s, the ALA began taking an anti-censorship stance. The “Freedom to Read” statement, supported by the ALA and other booksellers’ and publishers’ associations, was adopted in 1953. Now, public libraries play an active role in collecting and supporting the reading of banned books. The ALA, for example, is a participant in Banned Books Week which highlights commonly contested books such as Catcher in the Rye and The Bluest Eye.

Though library collections have traditionally included books and periodicals, they have also grown to include so much more. Libraries have not only adapted to, but embraced new technologies. Even before the rapid changes brought on by the computer age, libraries integrated things like microfilm and taped recordings into their collections.