We recently ran across the “Catalogue of the Books belonging to the North Attleboro Library Association 1873″ which was in a collection of items donated owned by Mrs. Otis Stanley. Here’s what Elizabeth Mansfield wrote in the History of the Richards Memorial Library about the town library before the Richards Memorial:
The plan for a library dates back to October 24, 1870, when a group, of interested citizens met to consider the feasibility of establishing a library. This was to be a subscription library with the membership fee being one dollar. The subscribers elected Rev. J. P. Pierce, President; S. S. Ginnodo, Vice President; F. G. Whitney, Treasurer; and O. C. Turner, Secretary.
This library was first housed in the private home owned by Willard Hall. The site was found to be inadequate as a need was seen for a reading room. The collection was moved to the Kendall Block, later to the Odd Fellows Hall, and then back to the Kendall Block. The next move was to the Boyle Block as the collection and patronage kept growing throughout the early 1870’s.
With $600 raised during the first year, the officers selected five hundred volumes of works on science and history. Mrs. Charles E. Smith thought this selection of reading material was not broad enough for the subscribers, especially the ladies. With $100 that she raised herself, she purchased a hundred volumes encompassing books on art, travel, memoirs, poetry, essays, and fiction. She was reaching out to the interests of the reading public. This was a policy that would govern the library throughout out the coming years.
What were these books that they bought? The Catalogue is listed by title or author with something called the accession number to indicate where is is on the shelf. The accession number gives the order the books were acquired. The very first book was the Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures and Mining
by Andrew Ure in 3 volumes. We don’t know which edition, but you can read it online. Books 4 through 10 were a set of Modern British essayists including Macaulay, Allison, Mackintosh, Wilson, Talfourd, Jeffrey and Thomas Carlyle (who is the only one I’ve heard of.) The last book in the catalogue is Mother’s Recompense
by Grace Aguilar.
The early fiction authors include Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. Fiction mostly appears in the later numbers:
Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White is #716
Washington Irving’s Salmagundi is #495
George Elliot’s Middlemarch is #710.
Some of the titles we still own, but not in the edition that was in the library:
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility
Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Most of Charles Dicken’s works
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
I haven’t found any nonfiction books that we still own. I suspect that our copy of The Portable Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson may have some of the essays that were collected by the original library.
The library at the time was not a free or public library. It costs one dollar to join each year or you could borrow a book for ten cents a week. You could only check out 2 books at a time and they had to be returned in 2 weeks. The hours were Monday evenings, six to eight and Saturdays, three to nine from October to April and two to eight, April to October. I’m glad I wasn’t on duty then!