Monday, March 31, 2014

New York's School-district Public Libraries

New York's school-district libraries were a forerunner of the free public library. A law passed by New York's state legislature in 1835 authorized the creation of libraries in school districts which were intended to serve the general population and not just school pupils. Education reformer James S. Wadsworth (1768-1844) is considered to be the father of New York's school-district libraries. The initial law enabled school districts to tax themselves $20 the first year and $10 in succeeding years for the purpose of creating a library. New York revised its law in 1838 to provide a greater incentive for school districts to create libraries. I recently acquired a very interesting letter (see above) related to school-district libraries in New York. The letter was written on June 15, 1842 by a school-district library trustee for Moreau, NY complaining about his treatment on the library board. The trustee writes: "As respects the library of this district, I had made up my mind not to do anything about it, as there is time enough to answer the law when new trustees are chosen. I have two reasons: one is I never thought the library but little consequence, and another is I have been blamed very much since I have been a trustee, for doing what I thought was best for the district." He ends with: "My time will be out in about 5 1/2 months and I know that I shall be as glad as anyone in the district." New York was the first of a number of states to create school-district libraries.

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