Collection Spotlight: The Historic Library Catalog

Recently the Archives stumbled across a forgotten treasure. While inventorying a row that had become a bit disheveled, I found a stack of seven large bound books that said “Accessions” on the outside. At first, I was a bit confused. “Accessioning” is the first step in processing a new archival collection in which the donor officially transfers the material to the archives and the archives makes an initial brief inventory of the collection. However, these books were clearly old and hand-written, and Northern’s archives did not start until the 1980s.

As soon as I opened the ledgers, however, it became clear—they were actually Olson Library’s handwritten (and later typewriter-written) catalog that recorded all books in the library from 1899 to 1958!

The ledgers themselves shed interesting light on library science at the time. They are American Library Association Standard Accession-books which many libraries throughout the country used at the time. In the front was a manual about how to accession library books. It included acceptable standard abbreviations as well as the colors to be used on the bindings of books of various languages (a feature probably not much used at Northern).

The ledgers also shed light on what sorts of books Northern sought to collect in its first years. As a normal school, Northern’s primary function in its early years was to train teachers. Consequently, its early books included math, psychology, and physics textbooks, children’s books for the training school, and books on education.

first page

The first entry into the catalog: a translation of Histoire de la pédagogie by Gabriel Compayré.

last page

The last entry in the catalog: The Study of War, Volume II by Q. Wright.

These early years of the library’s catalog also record the receipt of what is now Olson Library’s Moses Coit Tyler Collection. Moses Coit Tyler was a professor of rhetoric and English literature at the University of Michigan during the second half of the nineteenth century. Tyler was interested in examining the historical contexts of works of literature, and he was perhaps best known for being one of the first scholars to write about the history of American literature. He also helped to found the American Historical Association, where he promoted a more critical form of American history.


Moses Coit Tyler, 1835-1900

His personal library of over three thousand books focused on American history and politics, language and grammar, literature, and theology. In his will, he requested that his library be sold to some public institution. In 1904, four Marquette citizens: attorney Albert Miller, banker Nathan Kaufman, mining engineer Edward Breitung, and businessman Peter White learned that Tyler’s personal collection of books was up for sale. They purchased them in order to grow Northern State Normal School’s still quite small library.

Eventually, the Tyler collection was separated from the general library and put into Special Collections. Though still part of the library’s collections, the books are housed at the Archives’ Records Center in a climate controlled environment.

Interested in the Tyler collection or the library catalog? The catalog can be viewed at the Archives, and brochures about Tyler are available at the front desk. A catalog of Tyler’s books can be found in Olson Library.

Written by Annika Peterson


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