What Middletown Read

Print Culture in an American Small City
A revealing portrait of reading in the quintessential American town

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Description
The discovery of a large cache of circulation records from the Muncie, Indiana, Public Library in 2003 offers unprecedented detail about American reading behavior at the turn of the twentieth century. Frank Felsenstein and James J. Connolly have mined these records to produce an in-depth account of print culture in Muncie, the city featured in the famed “Middletown” studies conducted by Robert and Helen Lynd almost a century ago. Using the data assembled and made public through the What Middletown Read Database (www.bsu.edu/libraries/wmr), a celebrated new resource the authors helped launch, Felsenstein and Connolly analyze the borrowing choices and reading culture of social groups and individuals.

What Middletown Read is much more than a statistical study. Felsenstein and Connolly dig into diaries, meeting minutes, newspaper reports, and local histories to trace the library’s development in relation to the city’s cosmopolitan aspirations, to profile individual readers, and to explore such topics as the relationship between children’s reading and their schooling and what books were discussed by local women’s clubs. The authors situate borrowing patterns and reading behavior within the contexts of a rapidly growing, culturally ambitious small city, an evolving public library, an expanding market for print, and the broad social changes that accompanied industrialization in the United States. The result is a rich, revealing portrait of the place of reading in an emblematic American community.

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