Being a lover of books, I'm often intrigued by old books. Deep within the pages, between the dust and the type, untold stories linger: Who owned this book? Did the reader like it, cherish it, recommend it to others? Would the original reader's reactions be similar to mine? Did the author ever imagine that someone might read it 50, 100, 125 years later?
Thanks to some library serendipity, library record books from 1894 - 1902 belonging to the Muncie Public Library have been re-discovered and are now the focus of a research project of the Center for Middletown Studies of Ball State University. While the project won't uncover what an individual reader thought of a book, it will provide analysis of reading habits and book-borrowing in a Midwestern town at the turn of the century.
"Middletown" was a sociological study of a 'typical' American town conducted in the 1920's in the East-Central Indiana town of Muncie. In the years since, additional studies have been done, making Muncie one of the most studied towns in the country. How fitting it is, then, that these records have been found and can provide researchers with information on reading habits 100 years ago.
For more information, check out the Center for Middletown Studies and read Professor Frank Felsenstein's article What Middletown Read recently published in the Ball State Alumnus magazine. It was Felsenstein's discovery that lead to this project which intends to digitize the library ledgers and create a database for further study.