Sunday, May 8, 2011

Early Railroad Libraries

At last year's Library History Seminar XII I attended a very interesting presentation on the Employees' Free Circulating Library of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) given by John Buchtel of Georgetown University. This was just one of several early efforts by railroad companies to provide library service to their employees and to the public. The B&O library was established in 1885 and served only the employees of the B&O and their families. The library operated out of a central site in Baltimore but books were distributed to any point on the rail lines of the B&O. The Seaboard Airlline Railway library service which began in 1898 distributed books provided by others to communities along the Seaboard rail lines in the six Southern states in which it operated. This service continued to operate until 1955. Sally Heard of Rose Hill Plantation near Middleton, GA was the person responsible for starting the service and obtaining most of the books made available through the service.  These books were made available in "traveling library" collections to over 250 schools and to 30 communities.  This service was instrumental in promoting the development of public library service in the states where it operated. A third model of railroad library service occurred in Altoona, PA, and was started in 1858 by the employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. This library was called the Altoona Mechanics' Library and Reading Room Association and was organized as a stock company. The Pennsylvania Railroad purchased a large portion of the shares of stock for the library on which they paid a $2 annual fee to help support the library.  The railroad gave these shares of stock to retired employees and to some other employees.  A stock certificate from my collection dated Sept. 3, 1885 for one share of stock shown above. The Mechanics' Library was a predecessor to the current Altoona Area Public Library which has a nice history on its website. The January 1915 issue of Special Libraries has an article about "Railway Libraries" that provides a good summary of the various approaches railroads took in providing library service to their employees and to others. That article was the source of much of the information in this post. Other library membership and stock certificates can be found HERE.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Thank you for this post! I am a library student, and my husband is a rail fan. To see how these two worlds came together to help public libraries evolve is fascinating!