Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dartmouth's Student Literary Societies

Early academic libraries, unlike those of today, were not very friendly to students. This led to the creation of student literary societies that established their own libraries which had more popular collections and more liberal lending policies. Dartmouth College is an excellent example of this situation. An online history of the Dartmouth College Library includes the following description of student access to the official college library in 1802: "The collection numbers approximately 3,000 volumes, many of which are duplicates and of little practical use to the students and faculty. Library hours are very restricted: 1 hour per class every other week, with no more than 5 students in the library at one time. No one is permitted to take a book down from the shelves without permission of the librarian. A use fee of $1.50 per year is assessed from each student, one quarter of which goes to the librarian. Circulation is limited to one volume at a time for freshmen, two for sophomores and juniors, and three for seniors." In 1783 a student literary society called the Society of Social Friends was founded at Dartmouth. A similar student society, the United Fraternity, was founded in 1786. For many years the libraries of these two student organizations were the primary source of books for both students and faculty. In 1817 in the midst of a controversy between the State of New Hampshire and the Trustees of Dartmouth over the control of the College, the student societies decide to move their collections out of Dartmouth Hall into a building controlled by the societies. The College attempts to prevent this and a student "riot" ensues. As a result both sides press charges and both students and faculty are arrested. The matter is ultimately settled out of court. The controversy between the State and the Trustees is settled in favor of the Trustees in a United States Supreme Court case argued by Daniel Webster (class of 1801; see postage stamp above). In 1874 in return for more favorable access the student societies agree to combine their libraries with the college library under a single head. In 1904 the societies disband and full title to the libraries was transferred to the college. A bookplate for the Social Friends' Library of Dartmouth is shown above.

A follow up post on the Social Friends' Library of Dartmouth was made on April19.

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