Welcome the Davies Project at Princeton University

Research into the History of University Libraries in the United States and the History of their Collections


Press release: September 8, 2004

ALB1876: American Libraries before 1876

Researchers at Princeton University have created a database of 10,000 libraries of all sorts in existence in the United States before the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

The keyword searchable, interactive tool now available to the public is supplemented by an electronic file of the original cards, some of which contain additional information.  The researcher can look up a library by name, get a list of libraries by city or state, and obtain, for example, a list of “ladies libraries” or a list according to date of founding. In addition to searching by these and other fields, it is possible to execute, for example, a search that will bring up all law libraries founded before 1860 in New York State. Furthermore, users are encouraged to contribute information that can be added to the records.

For decades these data existed on punched cards, which were stored in boxes in the office of the compiler, Haynes McMullen, a historian and professor of library science at the University of North Carolina,Chapel Hill.  McMullen recognized that the earliest comprehensive survey of all types of libraries was the U S Bureau of Education’s  1,222 page report published in 1876.  This report provided information about libraries existing in that year, but lacked comprehensive information about all libraries in existence prior to 1876.   McMullen examined more than 580 sources over a forty year period in order to fill the gap.    He presented an overview of his work in American Libraries before 1876 (Westport,CT: Greenwood Press, 2000). 

Library historian Kenneth Carpenter notes, “The database is an extraordinary resource that will continue to stimulate and answer questions about institutions of reading in the era of print.  It will also enrich the scholarship of historians of many varieties working outside the field of book history.”

ALB1876 is part of a larger effort to increase knowledge about American university libraries and their collections. Called the Davies Project, the larger endeavor was begun by President emeritus and Professor of Economics and Public Affairs Harold T. Shapiro in the spring of 2000.  His collaborator is Stephen Ferguson, Curator of Rare Books at the Princeton University Library.

The database and further information is available at the website for the Davies Project <daviesproject.princeton.edu>


Harold T. Shapiro
Vivian B. Shapiro
Project Associate: Stephen Ferguson

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Last update 20 August 2004