19th Century Information Use

I’ve finished gathering data on Theophilus Wylie’s personal library and his work as the librarian of Indiana University.  Overall, I think what is interesting, is a clear indication that Wylie seems to have different ideas about what is important to his own work as a scholar and what is important for the library to maintain.

First, some visualization of his personal library.  It contains about 700 books, and thanks to the director of the Wylie House, I have a list of all of the books which are still held at the Wylie House Museum. I went through all of the titles and created some general categories to see what we might say were the most important subjects in the collection.

Wylie_Personal_LibraryReligious subjects are clearly favored with the largest category with near even coverage in Humanistic and Scientific disciplines (with Science having a slight edge), followed by books about education and a few miscellaneous items (like cookbooks).  It seems that Wylie takes his role as a Presbyterian minister quite seriously, and it is likely that many of the religious works helped him prepare his sermons.  Wylie also taught science and languages, with science being his primary subjects in his later career.

There some additional questions though.  Did Wylie collect the same subjects for the Indiana University Library?  If not, how where they different?  Why? There  are a few ways to answer these questions.  Unfortunately no complete catalog of the library exists from Wylie’s tenure as librarian.  The library burned down twice between 1840 and 1880 and many of the records were lost.  There are, however, a few hints.

The first is a catalog that Wylie created of the library in 1842, shortly after he took over as librarian.  It likely does not show much of his collecting interest, but it does show what the subjects of the library were when he took over.  Fortunately there is a dissertation by Mildred Lowell on the History of Indiana University Library which has already done some analysis on this topic.  Instead of re-categorizing the thousands of books held in the library, I mapped her work onto the categories I used for the Wylie’s personal library and this is what the subject categorization looks like.


Clearly there is quite a difference.  The Humanities are very dominant.  The “other” category contains mostly reference works (like dictionaries and encyclopedias of various kinds), and neither science nor religion are particularly well represented.  The question still remains though as to what influence Wylie himself may have had when he collected books for the library.

There are two lists of books Wylie procured for the library both through gift and donation, one of which is available digitally.  Though this is probably not a representative sample containing just over 100 books, it is the best I could find to try and answer this question.  Here is the visualization of that sample.

purchasesAgain there are some interesting difference.  The stress on the humanities seems to be the same.  There is clearly more emphasis on scientific subjects, a slight increase in religious subjects, and some less emphasis on “other” subjects.

In all, it seems like there are some clear differences between what Wylie felt was important for a university library to hold and what it was important for him to use personally.  I am still working through the Indiana University archives which house his papers.  Fortunately there are some existing reports on his activities as librarian and a lecture he gave on books and libraries.  Perhaps there are some hints there about his views on the difference between personal information use and the perceived information needs of the students and faculty of Indiana University.


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