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What Middletown Read

It may be because I’m a librarian-in-training, but I find the “What Middletown Read” project absolutely fascinating.

The database and search engine are built upon the circulation records of the Muncie (Indiana) Public Library from November 5, 1891 to December 3, 1902. Apart from a gap from May 28, 1892 to November 5, 1894, it documents every book that every library patron borrowed in the 11 year period. From the “What Middletown Read” website:

The project began when Frank Felsenstein, Reed D. Voran Honors Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Ball State University, came across a collection of dusty ledgers that had been uncovered when the present Muncie Public Library, opened with Carnegie funding in 1904, was refurbished in 2003 in anticipation of its centenary. These volumes, pertaining to the old library that was housed in Muncie’s City Building, list all of its patrons, books, and circulation transactions for a period that begins on November 5, 1891 and ends on December 3, 1902, with one interruption (May 28, 1892 to November 5, 1894). Felsenstein enlisted the Center for Middletown Studies and Ball State University Libraries in constructing a searchable digital version of these handwritten records, which are now freely available to the public. This collaboration between Ball State and the Muncie Public Library provides an unprecedented level of detail about reading choices in one American community at the turn of the twentieth century.

The library records give a fascinating insight into what people were reading at the turn of the century – the project’s blog shows the most read book was Louisa May Alcott’s Under the Lilacs, borrowed 478 times by 397 borrowers.

I wonder what people in 2100 will surmise from looking at our library records?