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Calling Alaskan Library Historians

We’re continuing to convert our legacy finding aids into a more standardized form and in doing so with some trading post records (Wiseman Trading Company) recently, I came across a neat little ledger.

Can't judge this book by its cover

Can’t judge this book by its cover

The original collection guide said it was an undated checkout register from a “Pioneer Public Library.” Nothing in our provenance, processing, or other documentation indicated why it was mixed in with the records of a general merchandise store in Wiseman, Alaska. It was indeed dated, 1918-1922, but since those dates certainly didn’t match up with the time frame of the business records which started in 1925, nor did the register match up with the type of records found in the business records, I chose to move it out into its own collection.

The book contains a list that was pasted into the inside of the front cover. That list is an index of book titles, pointing to the ledger page number for each book. They’re grouped by genre: 58 classical, 16 miscellaneous (the archivist starts to shake uncontrollably), 50 fiction, and 21 at the end, some tagged with names (the local donors, perhaps?) The classical titles include Cicero’s Orations to the Divine Comedy, the Nibelunglied, and not surprisingly, Democracy in America. The miscellaneous (it’s difficult for me to type that word!) section is heavy on the mathematics, with a few history, astronomy and one “Manual of Practical Assaying” thrown in for good measure. The fiction includes a few better-known items like Pilgrim’s Progress and the Scarlet Pimpernel, but also various lesser-known novels and, for some reason, a book called Character Building Thought Power, which upon a quick peek into Google Books, didn’t look like the author would have appreciated that classification.

It doesn’t look like too many of these books were checked out often. I’m pleased to announce that of the 16 books in the “miscellanous” category, only two of the books were ever checked out: Manual of Astronomy and Universal History. (Vindication that miscellanous never did anybody any favors descriptively.)  The novels seemed a little more popular than non-fiction in general, with a book entitled Maid of the Whispering Hills by Vingie E. Roe taking the prize for most number of checkouts (3). Out of curiosity, I looked it up on Google Books. You might want to take a glance. The illustration and caption on the page facing the title page might help explain its popularity in comparison to Demosthenes Orations (0 checkouts).

It appears Charlotte Brontë wasn't all that popular in Wiseman.

It appears Charlotte Brontë wasn’t all that popular in Wiseman.

One other thing I noticed: all the checkout names are signatures–evidence, perhaps, of a self-checkout system in a library in Alaska as early as 1918? Easier to do, perhaps, in a small town.

We don’t have anything in the collection that indicates what became of the Pioneer Public Library or the books in it, or even anything to confirm it was located in Wiseman, but if you’re of a mind to take a look to see what reading matter you might have had at your disposal in 1920 in small-town Alaska, you’re welcome to come in and take a look. Perhaps you’ll find some tastes in common with some of the residents there!

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