Monday, February 6, 2012

Lloyd P. Smith and the Library Co. of Philadelphia

Founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin and friends, the Library Company of Philadelphia is the oldest continuing library not affiliated with an academic institution in the United States. Today is the 190th anniversary of the birth of Lloyd Pearsall Smith (1822-1886), one of its longtime librarians. Smith followed his father, John Jay Smith, as Librarian of the Library Company in 1851 and served in that capacity until his death in 1886. Smith attended the first national meeting of librarians in the United States in 1853 and was on the planning committee for the conference of librarians that met in Philadelphia in 1876 which esulted in the formation of the American Library Association. Although the Library Company of Philadelphia is rightly considered to be a forerunner of the free public library, it's librarians including Lloyd P. Smith often had a conservative approach to library service. Sandra Roscoe the author of Smith's entry in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) notes that, "Smith did not believe in open shelves; he advocated locked cases for all books with the exception of recent fiction and commonly used reference books." Edward G. Holley in Raking The Historic Coals (Beta Phi Mu, 1967) recounts a visit by Melvil Dewey with Smith at the Library Company's Ridgeway Branch in Philadelphia in preparation for the 1876 conference. Dewey expected to see two or three hundred library users, but instead there were only three or four. When asked if this was an average attendance, Smith responded, "Dewey, there is scarcely a day that somebody doesn't come into this library." In spite of his conservative approach to librarianship Smith was thought highly of by the library community. He attended every conference of the American Library Association except one from its founding until his death in 1886. In addition to his role as Librarian, Smith served as the Treasurer and as a Trustee of the Library Company. The annual statement of dues from Smith as Treasurer dated April, 1864 which is shown above is from my collection. I have a page on my Library History Buff website devoted to the Library Company of Philadelphia.

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