Displaying items by tag: Library

Thursday, 09 May 2019 19:04

A very literary county

Rumors of the death of the book have been greatly exaggerated. Hardcover sales are strong and audiobooks are increasing in popularity. People frequently like to share what they're  reading and their thoughts about books on Goodreads, Litsy, and LibraryThing. Book clubs abound, and there’s a whole world within a world on Instagram known as “Bookstagram.”

In many ways this is a continuation (though in different form) of previous centuries' literary clubs and societies. As schooling became universal at the end of the 19th century, many people wanted to continue their education into their adult years. This coincided with a time when Americans liked joining clubs, and many of the clubs were based around reading and learning.

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The Reading Circle in the early 1960's.

The Norristown Reading Circle was founded in 1910 by six women. The original plan was to read and review popular fiction, but it soon expanded to include history and current events. The meetings were held every other week at a member’s home. The membership was capped at 20. The club got a surprising amount of newspaper coverage.

reading cirle

We have two minute books for the Reading Circle, which was clearly more formal than a modern book club. The minutes from fall of 1923 illustrate how varied the topics were: on September 11 Mrs. Hunsberger talked about her trip to California, on the 25th Mrs. Anders gave an account of the Summer School for Working Girls at Bryn Mawr, on October 9 they discussed a novel called Spinster of This Parish, and on October 25, they all gathered at Mrs. Gotwals house to see her daughter’s wedding gifts.

In the late 19th century, Towamencin had the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association, whose object was “mutual improvement of Self Culture and to become familiar with Literature in general.” The members were all men, apparently young men from the minutes. The society also aimed to start a library. At meetings members practiced spelling and debated topics related to the club (should members be fined for not attending meetings?) or current events (the Civil War comes up a lot in the early years).


"Then spelling was practised a short time with deep interest."

These sorts of organizations were so common that in 1881, the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association merged with the Oxonia Literary Society and the Young Folks Literary Society.


A page from the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association acknowledging the assassination of President Garfield.

We have records of even more, in Gwynedd, Conshohocken, Upper Merion, and a few more in Norristown. These are probably just a sampling. Other societies were perhaps less formal and didn’t keep records, or didn’t last for as many decades as these clubs did. The idea that one can self-educate is inspiring, and the truly social aspects of these clubs seems so much more significant in the age of selfies and 144 character tweets.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 22 February 2018 21:40

Norristown Public Library

Today, the Montgomery County-Norristown Library consists of the central library in Norristown, four branches, and a bookmobile.  Like thousands of libraries across the country, it is a public library, supported by taxes.  But this was not the original model of the Norristown Library or the many libraries across the county.

Lending libraries began in the 18th century as private enterprises, more along the lines of a video store (if anyone remembers those).  They were funded through the subscriptions of individuals.  In 1794, ninety families in the central part of Montgomery County decided to start the Norristown Library Company. 

Nor lib

The library had several different homes until 1824 when a building was built by the trustees at a cost of $153.43. 

To become a member of the library, a person had to buy a share.  In 1912, shares were $5 each.  A shareholder still paid $1 per year to borrow books from the library and non-shareholders could borrow books for $2 per year.  Browsing was free.

lib stock

The Historical Society of Montgomery County has many stock certificates from the Norristown Library Company.  Most of them were donated by William F. Slingluff in 1930.  The library company was still a subscription library at that time, and it looks as though Mr. Slingluff actually transferred the stock to the historical society.

We also have a printed catalogue from 1853, which is also the year the library moved from the small building above, to a new building at DeKalb at Penn Streets.


From looking over the catalogue as well as the bills from Wanamaker’s, it looks like the subscribers read more non-fiction than fiction.

Here’s one of the bills (notice the $2 charge for a copy of Huckleberry Finn).

book bill

The Norristown Library Company remained a private subscription library well into the 20th century.  However, in 1937, the McCann Library, a public library run by the Norristown School District closed its doors.  Many in the community wanted to see the library company become a public library open to all for free.  In 1942, with the backing of the borough, the Norristown Library did just that. 

Published in Found in Collection