In the introduction to this
online exhibition, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) notes that
libraries have historically been viewed as a central part of democracy:
"The ability to access free information has become a core ideal of what it
means to be an American citizen, despite periods of historic inequality."
This tension between the democratic ideal of public libraries and the realities
of ongoing inequality in the United States is the center of this exhibition
about the history of libraries in the United States. This exhibition is
organized into seven thematic sections, such as Beginnings (which features a
digitized copy of the Library Company of Philadelphia's 1754 charter); A
Profession for Women (which includes numerous photographs from the late
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including a snapshot of a "packhorse
library carrier" from Kentucky); and Segregated Libraries (which
highlights a recorded interview with librarian and activist Annie L.
McPheeters, who worked for the Atlanta Public Library between 1934 and 1966 and
ran an adult education program at the Auburn branch library). Collectively, the
thoughtfully annotated items in this collection illustrate the diversity of
libraries throughout American history and the role that American citizens have
played to ensure that libraries meet the needs of their communities.