Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Furs for Books, Ohio's Coonskin Library

In 1803 the residents of the Town of Ames, Ohio entrusted an accumulation of animal furs to Samuel Brown for the purpose of acquiring a collection of books for the town. Brown traveled to Boston where he sold the furs for $74 and was able to purchase 51 books. These books formed the nucleus of the Western Library Association subscription library which was founded in 1804. The library was commonly referred to as the Coonskin Library.  The library lasted until 1861 after being divided into two separate collections in 1830. After Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731, the mother of all subscription libraries, hundreds of these fee based lending libraries were established in the United States.  Most of them faded into obscurity with the onset of the free public library movement.  It is extraordinary that the story of the small Coonskin Library has not only survived all these years but has actually flourished.  If you search for "Coonskin Library" in Google, you will get over 11,000 hits. What is now the Village of Amesville, Ohio is quite proud of the fact it was home to the Coonskin Library.  A Coonskin Library Association (with a very nice website) has been established which operates a Coonskin Library Museum.  Portions of the original collection of books in the Coonskin Library are preserved in the Ohio Historical Society and at Ohio University. An early history of the Coonskin Library has been reprinted in the journal Ohio History. There was considerable controversy about which subscription library could claim to be the first in Ohio (and the Northwest Territory). The Coonskin Library was actually the third such library. In the Winter 1977 issue of the Cincinatti Historical Society Bulletin (available online at the Historical Society's website) Wayne Wiegand provides an overview of the controversy about which library was first.  Bob Avery was the founder and current president of the Coonskin Library Association. The Athens County Public Library (which makes note of its heritage) now serves the residents of Amesville.  Congratulations to Amesville for preserving and celebrating its library heritage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This article was picked up by American Libraries magazine (online) where I happened upon it this morning. Brought back fond memories of my two+ years of working in the Alden Library Archives and Special Collections Department at Ohio U. as an undergrad and seeing the Coonskin Library materials in their glass-fronted cabinet. Thanks for the memory!