Made Free and Thrown Open to the Public by Bernadette A. Lear

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Made Free and Thrown Open to the Public
Community Libraries in Pennsylvania from the Colonial Era through World War II
by Bernadette A. Lear
University of Pittsburgh Press, 368 pp., hardcover $60

Most people are familiar with public libraries and may know about current challenges they face, such as censorship, neutrality and equity, and their role in response to national crises. Those topics have antecedents framed in Made Free and Thrown Open to the Public through the laws, people and institutions that influenced the development of public libraries in Pennsylvania. The author, Bernadette Lear, is the behavioral sciences and education librarian at Penn State Harrisburg and is coeditor of the journal Libraries: Culture, History, and Society.

Lear’s research explores the history and growth of libraries in the commonwealth from the Colonial Era through the mid-1940s. The book describes unique factors that impacted the advancement of libraries, including the geography of the state, legislation and transportation. Innovations in professional practice in libraries through the period highlight changes in the content of collections, services provided, who had access, outreach to partners and users, and response to national emergencies. Considered attention is given to how the community — users, donors, trustees, volunteers, librarians and civic organizations — collaborated to found, fund and shape libraries and their services. The importance of women in those roles is detailed.

From the first circulating library in the United States, The Library Company of Philadelphia, to the library buildings donated by Andrew Carnegie, to participation in national initiatives such as the Books for Soldiers Campaign (World War I), the Works Progress Administration, and the Library War Bond Campaign (World War II), the story of libraries in Pennsylvania is intertwined with the history of the state and nation. Much more though, the history is the story of how everyday citizens came together to create libraries through community action to provide access to information and books, regardless of the ability to pay. Consider borrowing the book from your local library.

Marilyn Harhai
Clarion University of Pennsylvania