Creating a Private Library

David Trammel's picture

Greer has mentioned several times in his writings, that the free public library is only a recent invention. For much of our past, libraries were private things. The high cost of first hand copying, and then manual printing presses and book sellers meant there was a cost to amassing a library. In the last few centuries as printing became cheaper and books became more wide spread, individuals and groups often created small private libraries and reading rooms. These being open to members based on a subscription or as members of a trade or political group.

These private libraries have gotten less and less but with economic costs increasing as our governments have less resources, as well as public libraries trying to reinvent themselves as "media and social centers", the private library will re-emerge as a place of knowledge for the community.

This post and its comments on Ecosopia provides a good outline of the problem as well as ways we could bring these private libraries back.

A Place For Books

Hi, y'all!

I have internet access tonight. I haven't had internet service since April, but I can read the forums on my cell phone. A friend finally showed me how to use the phone to create a hot spot for the laptop. (And at the moment, I am siphoning off Mickey D across the street. They must have upgraded their WiFi, or the full moon is giving me some extra juice. I hopped over to Ecosophia and read the "Place for Books" thing. I don't know when I will stop doing that. As usual I come away with a crashing headache.

Yes, the modern library system is a fairly recent thing compared to monks handcopying books in monasteries. The Illinois Public Library system was voted into existence 147 years ago. I don't know who these library elites are who are ruining the system. I don't think JMG and I live in the same universe anymore. And I can't imagine who among us is going to start a subscription library. I have been downsizing for months and have cut my home library in half. We have a large used book store that is currently establishing Little Free Libraries in all of the city grade schools, and I have been regularly stocking the Little Free Library at the city Transist Center. There may, indeed, come a time when we have subscription libraries and subscription fire service There may, indeed, come a time when the fraternal organizations rise from the ashes and provide life insurance and burial services. But I would be really surprised if Green Wizards are organizing any of them..

mountainmoma's picture

The libraries even admit as much. The stacks are being downsized. The books are chosen by a few professionals who do it for all the branches in the county. When I talked to the local person behind the counter at the library, he said that they have a degree and are the experts, we must trust them. Meanwhile, all books not checked out often are culled, books on how to sew and how to repair other things, just for one example, not to mention classic books. Meawhile, there are a bunch of books with special yellow bands on the spines, that say " lucky day" , so the professional book buyers in the library system buy many copies ( which is why we are lucky, we can all check out at the same time ! ) of the same book, fiction pushed by the book publishers, I have tried a few and have yet to find one with decent writing. So, we can all read the same books. Then, they will cull those and get a new set of the latest, This is absolutely what they are intending and doing.

You are right, I SHOULD be able to downsize and rely on our community library. But, I cant. So, I have to buy, used, often from the library booksales, books on how to do house repair. Books on green sewing. Classic childrens books for my grandchildren. Books on natural building. But, you are right, we shouldnt have to have these ourselves, we should be able to downsize, but we cant. We need to buy them while they are still circulating used, from the library booksale.

The "little free library" kiosks are fun. A good way to share "brain candy" fiction boos and such when done reading. But, they are in no way a substitute ! They only hold a few dozen books, how could they be ? ANd, you cant count on anything coming back or being there. They are Fantastic way to give away and share extra books, and a cheap way to go and find and read a new to you book. They are not a community library. Yes, I live in an area where they are very cool and see them all over.

All new branch libraries built here have more computer tables, per square feet, than book stacks. You can go online and request books, but how to know what you want to read when you cant thumb thru it ? And, the new libraries here are too noisy. They are considering putting a coffee shop in the next new main library. There is nothing wrong with the existing main library, so far as I can see, except they want more media wiring ? It is very hard to combine the types of services they are trying to combine. A library should be a library, and that means, yes, kids can go there to do their homework in a quiet setting, and people who dont have internet should be able to look things up. But, what they are prioritizing out here is the library is an internet cafe, it is an afterschool daycare program, it is a preschool play area, complete with play equipment, it is a teen center with video games, it is a homeless daycenter above all. Oh, yeah, you can request books if you know what you want.

What I am proposing is that these functions conflict. We should have a teen center, and it can be next to the library ! There, they can socialize and play games and hang out, someone could provide snacks. Then they could go into the library when they want to have a quiet spot to do homework or read. We can have a homeless day center ( and we actually do, complete with mail services and laundry and shower facilities and food) but, we should not have people asleep on the library tables and shooting up in the library bathrooms, not to mention leaning up against the outside walls, blocking the walkways to get to the library making deals. They should be asked to leave or the police called, this does not happen, I as a potential library user am not prioritized over the drug users. They should have a couple computers where people can look things up if they need to with time limits, which they do. But, they do not need to provide high bandwidth wi-fi and 1000-sq ft of table space with plugs for people ot just hang out, we have other places for that. We also have a new program in this county at kleast, likely it is nationwide, where comcast provide home internet for $10/month. ANd, we have community centers, and senior centers. The library should be a library.

SO, I totally see what Greer is talking about

I propose that the

ClareBroommaker's picture

There used to be a subscription library in my city. Not sure, but I think it ended around 1990, so before internet was in so many people's homes, workplaces, and schools. I have the impression that the membership was expensive, but I was poor at the time, and even busfare to the public library seemed expensive to me at the time., heh-heh. I'd guess though that memberships started at $500. I only knew one person who subscribed. She did so for the ability to do economic and labor research. I think the library specialized in meeting the needs of finance and business people. I have no idea if they might have included a much broader range of publications.

I don't think too much about whether someone might start an alternative library. I'm surprised all the time both at what people do and what they don't do! I am so slow to join in on anything groupwise, and even slower to be the impetus for a group undertaking. As I've said in another post this week, I am collecting books for a yet to be born grandchild. Obviously that's a private library. I do wonder already, though, where the books will end up.

What became of the books you've given up? I used to always be able to find a homeschooling family who wanted books I had to give away. When giving away books my own young son was completely finished with, I used to mail them USPS book rate to friends across the country. So, one family library to another.

More of us should have home libraries. I know books take up space. A lot of space in our case as we've got something like 5,000 volumes (or more!).

I do generally quite well with the Hershey library and the much larger Dauphin county system. That said, they de-accession all the time. They get rid of old books, unused books, odd books, books that no longer are 'acceptable to someone'', books that don't fit the current narrative; the rational is very strange when I stand at the library sale holding a new reference work (one year old) that must have been $100 new and they're selling it to me for $2.

The reason for extensive home libraries is we don't know what will survive into the future. The internet can't be relied on the way paper can. Writing on paper doesn't change overnight. It also doesn't disappear. It can be read by candlelight.

The more books that we, as individuals, hang on to, the better the chance that 100 years from now, this age won't be so completely misunderstood by our descendants.

It it makes you feel better, remember that old books can be repurposed as fire-starters, toilet paper, radiation barriers, insulation, trade goods, public entertainment (when read aloud to the working crowd) and art projects.

Teresa from Hershey

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I posted several responses on the original Ecosophia. I will put them in here for reference...

I’ve been lucky to have access to and be part of a great public library system here in Cincinnati. Our previous director did push a couple of things that were definitely managerial caste style “initiatives” but nothing that has messed with our core of books. There is also a great collection of upwards of 10,000 classical music titles and almost as much jazz and various folk musics from around the world (along with the usual popular genres). In addition to all the reading, I’ve been able to get a musical education via all the listening opportunities. And they started buying new vinyl again. Tip of the hat to the hipsters for that one! (Something the hipsters and I are in agreement on is vinyl.) If not for the music collection at the public library I would never have been able to do all the community radio I’ve done. While I have my own collection of stuff the library will never buy most likely, I’ve relied on the libraries collection for programming many-many hours of radio shows. I’m very grateful. The Cincinnati area has 42 branches in this system. They do have some trendy stuff like maker spaces, but that is cool, because they provide sewing machines & stuff and encourage people to produce things rather than just consume things.

I’ve been playing librarian in my free time too as the librarian for the Oh-Ky-In Amateur Radio Society. Since we don’t have our own clubhouse and meet in a city hall I have to schlep the books back and forth to the meetings, but it’s great practice in creating a small catalog and circulating these technical books once a month. Anyone who is in a club, such as the Weavers mentioned by @KFish above or the ham club here, can start a library too to get more specialized texts. While my public has some ham books, new and old, there isn’t enough demand for super-specialized texts. They might get 1 copy or 2 of things that are more niche interests. For the club I keep a PDF of all our current titles to give to members or that they can access from our website. While we have close to 200 or so books, I can only physically bring one large plastic tub of them. Members are always free to email or call me and come pick up a volume they might need in-between meetings, or I can bring them a specific book to the next meeting. If you are in a club and don’t have a library consider building one up. See if the board or what-have-you would allocate a certain amount to buying new books each year (The Radio Society of Great Britain seems to have better titles, IMO, than the America Radio Relay League in this instance). And as JMG has said the donations do flow in.

I have been a member of Cincinnati’s subscription library in the past, The Mercantile Library, but found its collection not very useful to me. I did enjoy their programs. However, while it was started as a way for working men in the 1800s as a way to educate and better themselves (women were allowed admittance at a later date) at some time, I’m guessing when the Public Library gained ascendancy in the 50’s or so, it became more of a place not for the working class but for the moneyed and cultural elite. I enjoyed a poetry club I was part of there for about three years, but there was a lot of pretension (yes, no shale you might be thinking, it’s poetry so of course its fracking pretentious). No, the poetry club was very welcoming, even to an autodidact like myself. Especially from the other, shall I say, working/middle class poets who were there. I met some fine people, but there other events, while they did bring in good authors and speakers, were very elitist. To attend their big annual event where people like Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood, and Seamus Heaney and many other literati had spoken in the past was a high price for many… so it had really lost touch with its working class roots. I got busy with a new position at work and didn’t have time for the poetry club anymore and subsequently let my membership lapse. I’m not opposed to joining again… but to go into this place as a working or middle class reader, you immediately get that sense of judgment from the soi distant. At least that’s how I felt. Even some of the librarians who worked there felt that way, at least the ones I knew a bit.

In a small town outside of Cincinnati, Milford to give its name, there is also a library above a shop dedicated just to mystery novels and thrillers. Perhaps SF/Fantasy? Deindustrial fiction libraries for small groups could emerge out of the D&D resurgence?

One last thing: my Public buys quite a few indie and small press publications. If you have a way to suggest purchases for things you would like, do so. If you have local friends who share your reading tastes or books, get them to suggest the same titles. That’s been a good way to get my institution to buy certain books. Also in this regard, you could hit them up at the end of the year when they are usually more willing to buy stuff not on their lists as they may need to spend whats left of their annual purchase budget.

@Beneaththesurface. Thanks for the link to the book on the Politics of Professionalism. It wasn’t until the 70s from what I’ve heard in this line of work, that librarians were required to have an MLS to be an actual “Librarian”. That would seem to fall in line with this article:

Which says at first there was a B.S. in Library Science (nothing to do with Bull Shale I don’t think) but that in the 1960s it moved to a 2-year masters program. Anything I’ve ever done here I have learned on the job. Library work could benefit from some schooling, even in-house. But this is the kind of work where you could progress from shelver to librarian by serving an apprenticeship, journeyman, master, in other words a guild.

The only degree I have is a highschool diploma. I’ve been lucky to work my way up to the catalog department where I’m a “copy cataloger”. It’s taken 19 years, but I wouldn’t have wanted to work anywhere else anyway. The next position up requires the MLS.

One of the political/economic philosophies I’m interested in is distributism. It seems like many professions could benefit by going back to being organized along guild or trade school lines instead of the university snafu. Maybe the reorganization will occur as the unhallowed halls of higher ed unravel.

Certainly it could be set up in a new subscription library. Being a private business the people organizing could set it up how they like -no MLS required.

P.S. to all Ecosophians… If I could post my article “The Library Angel & Her Oracle” online I would, but it is currently still in print with Fulgur in issue four of Abraxas. Issue four happens to be on sale at a greatly reduced price though. It might be of interest to the more occult minded of you. It’s available here:

I almost forgot about -momentary lapse of reason- of the other libraries in Cincinnati. One that has quite a few alchemical texts, collections on homeopathy, and ample plant and herb lore. The Lloyd library established by John Uri Lloyd and his brothers. A home for the archives of Eclectic Medicine as well. I’ve been to a few events there, most notably the launch of a new edition of the New Art Tarot by Augustus J. Knapp and Manly P. Hall.

“The Lloyd Library and Museum is a world renowned independent research library and exhibit space devoted to bringing science, art and history to life.

Considered one of Cincinnati’s hidden treasures, the Lloyd Library and Museum was established by three brothers, John Uri, Nelson Ashley, and Curtis Gates Lloyd, pharmacists who manufactured botanical drugs in Cincinnati beginning in the late 19th century. The Library holds, acquires, preserves, and provides access to both historic and current books and journals, as well as archival materials, on a wide variety of disciplines, including:

natural history
scientific history
visual arts

The Lloyd Library and Museum is a privately funded not-for-profit institution, open to the public and free of charge.”

It really is a treasure, and if I ever get more into the study of herbs and homeopathy I’ll know where to go for deeper research. Matthew Wood mentions the Lloyd in on of his books.


I could write a lot more about this, and might in time. ... but that's it for now.