What Middletown Read

It is a notable fact that as a library grows the public grows up to it.
Muncie Daily News, July 6, 1897

Our public libraries are plainly destined to be a leading feature of the civilization of the future.
Muncie Daily News, July 6, 1897

The condition of its library is the intellectual pulse of a community.
Muncie Daily News, June 29, 1897

BL ConnollyThrough the 1920s and 1930s Muncie was the subject of sociological studies by Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd.  During that time the moniker “Middletown” was created to describe the study with the connotation of it representing average Americans.  The Center for Middletown Studies has recently drawn national attention again with the release of the book, What Middletown Read: Print Culture in an American Small City.

This book was a collaboration between Dr. Jim Connolly and Dr. Frank MiddletownFelsenstein (Department of English), who gave the Muncie community the chance to purchase the first copies at their presentation on September 29th at the Carnegie Branch of the Muncie Public Library.  Earlier that day, they had received a letter from the National Endowment for the Humanities that this work would be recognized as one of the top 50 most important works done since the inception for the NEH in 1965.

Book SigningIn 2003, a large amount of circulation records were located in the attic of the Carnegie Library.  By comparing these records to the library card holder, not only were they able to identify what people were reading, but who was reading different works.  The What Middletown Read Project Database allows users to select specific books and compare them to different types of patrons.  For example, if you enter “Louisa May Alcott” as an author to gender “Male” the result is 34 books, 353 Male patrons, and a total of 849 transactions.

The Most Borrowed Books, 1891-1902:

Author Title No. Times Borrowed No. of  Borrowers
Louisa May Alcott Under the Lilacs 478 397
Horatio Alger The Young Adventurer 422 341
Martha Finley Elsie Dinsmore 421 393
L.T. Meade A World of Girls 373 271
Horatio Alger The Telegraph Boy 364 321
Charles Fosdick Frank on a Gunboat 363 319
Horatio Alger The Young Circus Rider 359 269
Charles Fosdick George at the Fort 349 305
Martha Finley Holiday at Roselands 342 311
Marie Corelli The Sorrows of Satan 342 280

If you wish to learn more, there will be another presentation at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center on Tuesday, November 10th from 6:30-8 pm.  It is free but you must RSVP to ebball@bsu.edu.  There will be a reception and book signing following the program.

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