I think that my project could be a career-making and life-changing experience, so I want to capture as much of it as I can. Today I got the bright idea to start a blog!
For readers who don't know me, my name is Bernadette Lear and I'm a librarian at Penn State's Harrisburg campus. I have been here since 2004 and earned tenure in 2010. In my everyday work, I am coordinator of library instruction and also the subject specialist for Education, Human Development/Family Studies, Nursing, Psychology, and Sociology. But my research and professional service mostly focuses on the history of librarianship. I have a bachelor's degree in History and a master's degree in American Studies, and the late 19th-early 20th century is the era that fascinates me most. I'm interested in intersections between cultural history, labor history, social history, and women's history, and early public libraries are great sites to explore these topics.
Although there are several wonderful books about the history of American public libraries during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era -- especially Dee Garrison's Apostles of Culture and Abigail Van Slyck's Free to All -- I believe Pennsylvania has a unique story to tell. We have a long tradition of "social" libraries -- libraries which were founded by private citizens who paid dues and formed associations in order to purchase and share books. Over the course of the late 19th and early 20th century, such social libraries were "thrown open," made freely accessible to women, children, and all other residents. I believe that social libraries' transformations into public institutions was an important educational, political, and social change.
Thus my sabbatical project continues my 9-year effort to document the history of public libraries in Pennsylvania. I have already used archival materials at the State Library of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Library Association, the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre, and numerous public libraries throughout the state. Along the way, I produced an article about Hannah Packard James, a pioneering librarian in Wilkes-Barre and a founder of PaLA, as well as an article about SLP during the 19th century. From August 2013 through May 2014 I will be finishing my research at some sites, while visiting dozens of new ones. I've created a Google map to show the places I have worked with (blue pins), and will work with (green pins) in the near future. I will be traveling all over Pennsylvania, from Easton to Erie and everywhere in between!
I feel very blessed that Penn State has granted me 9 months' leave to do this work. I have also received a grant from Penn State Harrisburg's Research Council Grant program and Penn State University Libraries' Research Grant Program. Given my everyday workload, it's hard to take time and afford the cost of traveling to other libraries. I can't wait to shift my project into high gear!