The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Libraries, Special, Commercial and Industrial

The Encyclopedia Americana
Libraries, Special, Commercial and Industrial

Edition of 1920. See also Library on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LIBRARIES, Special, Commercial and Industrial. — Industrial and commercial libraries are now found in manufacturing and business corporations of all kinds. Their purpose is to supply managers, heads of departments, foremen, clerks and workers with information and suggestions. They are not parts of the equipment for the welfare work (q.v.), which is carried on in many plants for the comfort, convenience and education of employees, though they are sometimes closely allied to that equipment.

These libraries are one of the results of the recent rapid development of certain manufacturing, commercial and financial methods and of extensions and modifications of the use of print in the preservation and distribution of knowledge. They are so recent that they have no history, save as it is suggested in a statement of the factors which brought them into existence.

The movement toward concentration and specialization in production, distribution and allied industries, which began with the invention of the steam engine, has been very rapid in the last few decades. Many industrial leaders have seen the modest businesses they helped to establish grow rapidly into vast organizations, employing thousands of men and handling millions of dollars annually. This has been true in railroading, water transportation, mining, farming, manufacturing of all kinds, finance, insurance, construction and many other industries and occupations. The central offices of these large enterprises have developed many and varied methods, devices and tools to meet their respective needs, and to help to keep under proper control the infinity of details that threaten to consume the time, thought and energy of those creative, inventive and managerial minds whose undisturbed activities are absolutely essential to the continued success of any great enterprise.

The demands from these central offices and from other sources for suggestions and advice in the field of business, — and by business is here meant management of persons and things and not the science or technique of making or transporting things, — led to a rapid increase in the production of books and journals of business, — the first journal specifically devoted to business appearing about 30 years ago.

Before industry had entered on its swift modern development, trade and technical journals were relatively few and unimportant. Expanding industries demanded journals which should tell of that expansion and give to managers, department heads and special workers, who were often men of great native ability but of limited education, all obtainable information and suggestions in the fields of technique, science and management. Trade journals grew rapidly in number and in value. Within each industrial field soon appeared journals devoted, some to labor in that trade, some to production, some to distribution and to consumers. Meanwhile, book production on all aspects of industrialism grew rapidly.

This, then, was the situation about 15 years ago: thousands of industrial and commercial organizations were expanding rapidly and daily meeting new conditions and new problems. They demanded of their creators, managers, experts, salesmen, advertisers, heads of departments, foremen, clerks and laborers greater efficiency, fresh ideas, new devices and broader views. To the offices of these organizations came, almost haphazard, a few books and journals, and these were read by a few and treated at haphazard. They were helpful to some but gave slight assistance to most.

Then came industrial and commercial libraries. Great organizations found that they needed, for their proper growth, all the knowledge, wisdom, technique, science and suggestion anywhere to be found; that they needed to know every day all that all inquirers, in the special field of each organization, had learned the previous day; that they needed to know of all experimentation by others that they might avoid costly experiments for themselves; that they needed, in fact, as complete a collection as could be made of the recent, and of some of the older, books, journals and pamphlets on their activities; that they needed not only to have these at hand, but also to have them so arranged, filed and indexed as to bring out all they contained of value to them; and that they needed to have that part of their contents which particularly fitted their work digested, arranged by topics and presented daily, weekly or monthly to all the directors of special activities in their whole army of workers.

A commercial or industrial library, then, is the resultant of two things, — the great modern growth of organizations and the great modern flood of business, technical and scientific literature; and it is, briefly, a carefully controlled collection of such printed material, relating to the work of the organization which it serves, as a librarian, expert in print, and his assistants can gather, index, digest and present to all its personnel.

The development of these libraries is not an isolated phenomenon. In the same three decades in which they have appeared in large numbers, libraries of the older types have increased in number, size and effectiveness, and have extended their fields of work. The demand of the industrialist for the latest word on his industry was one of the immediate causes of the coming of the industrial library; but other and more general causes were, of course, behind this proximate one. Extension and improvement of public schools; education through newspapers, journals and cheap books, in the use of print and in the habit of learning; growth of the habit of travel, and many other factors, all helped to make over the old type of library and to create new types. About 40 years ago free public libraries ceased to be mere storehouses and began to ask to be used, that is, to advertise. Soon they allied themselves to schools, and vastly widened their fields. High schools awoke to library needs and installed special libraries of their own. College and university libraries began to adopt new and broader methods. State libraries, herein anticipating and in a measure suggesting the industrialists libraries, began to make themselves useful and indispensable to state officers and legislators.

Industrial and commercial libraries can be well understood, their quite inevitable character and purpose clearly visualized and their short history easily grasped, in the light of the broad movements thus briefly noted.

These libraries have grown in number so rapidly and so quietly in recent years that a census of them would be difficult to make and would be inaccurate the day after its completion. Those who were in charge of a few of the more important ones formed, 10 years ago, a Special Libraries Association, using the word “special” because their work is in most cases confined to a special field, that of the operations of the corporations which respectively employ them. In 1910 this association founded a modest journal, called Special Libraries, whose nine volumes contain most of the published literature on the subject of this article.

Large and small corporations engaged in the following, and many other, industries and businesses, have established libraries of the kind under consideration: Banking, insurance, public utilities, manufacturing in many lines, department stores, wholesale houses, statistical establishments, engineering experts, electrical experts, bureaus of standards and economics, civic and commercial bodies.

The list can he extended. But it is long enough to show that the movement toward gathering special knowledge for the special needs of special groups of workers is as broad as are industry and commerce themselves.

These libraries collect anything printed or in manuscript which is proper to their respective purposes. Some consist almost entirely of typed, written and printed sheets and leaflets, kept in filing cabinets. Some are made up almost solely of pamphlets and of articles clipped from papers, journals, all classified and indexed.

Some are composed chiefly of journals and proceedings, and some contain little save books. Most of them adjust both collections and methods of handling to the fact that to-day the majority of the more valuable contributions to human knowledge, — and knowledge is here used in its widest sense — appear first in journals and publications of societies and are unbound. These, being clipped or pulled apart, form a collection of leaflets and pamphlets, capable of being closely classified and compactly and conveniently stored in filing cabinets, with manuscript and typed notes and data added as the corporation activities and needs suggest. That is, the industrial or commercial library tends more and more to the method, in its acquisitions, of taking from a vast annual mass of print only so much as is quite specifically related to the activities of the corporation which maintains it.

These libraries are usually located close to the central offices of their respective corporations. They are, in many cases, put in charge of experts in the art of mastering printed material. Under general instructions from a manager, the expert studies the field of print; gathers what is proper for the corporation's needs; puts it in systematic form by classifying and indexing processes; and, each week or each month, makes brief abstract sheets of such articles or books or parts of books as his knowledge of his corporation's activities leads him to think will be useful, and places these sheets in the hands of such executives, experts, foremen and heads of departments as may find them of value.


The following list of references is not in any sense intended to be inclusive even of larger industrial and commercial libraries. Only those mentioned several times by authorities are listed. The list merely suggests the application made in these days of the library idea to all branches of industry and business, and will serve as a directory to those seeking information on the subject.

A list of special libraries appears each year in the ‘American Library Annual,’ $5, R. R. Bowker Company, 241 West 37th street, New York city. Gives brief statement about each library.

New York Special Libraries Association maintains an employment registry and a permanent exhibit of forms and methods used by members of association at the Municipal Reference Library, Room 512, Municipal Building, New York city.

References On The Theory, Policies And Methods Of Commercial Libraries.

Business number of Library Journal, April 1917. $4 year, single copy 35 cents. R. R. Bowker Company, 241 West 37th street, New York City. Consult index to Library Journal for individual articles.

Lee, G. W., “Commercial Research” (1909). Stone and Webster, Milk street, Boston. Pamphlet sent on request.

Johnson, E. M., “Training of the Business Librarian” (in Special Libraries, November 1917, p. 141-144).

Buell, D. C, “Sources of Information for Business Men” (in Special Libraries, October 1916, p. 142-144).

Lapp, J. A., “Organized Information in the Uses of Business” (in Special Libraries, April 1915, p. 57-61).

Gifford, W. S., “Suggestions for Making a Business Library Practical” (in Special Libraries, June 1915, p. 100-104).

Johnson, E. M., “Special Library and Some of Its Problems” (in Special Libraries, December 1915, p. 157-161).

Handy, D. N., “The Library as a Business Asset — when and how” (in Special Libraries, October 1912, p. 162-165).

Marion, G. E., “The Special Library Field” (in Special Libraries, March 1918, p. 59-64).

Kerr, E., “Building up the Special Library” (in Special Libraries, April 1918, p. 95-96).

Lapp, J. A., “Growth of a Big Idea” (in Special Libraries, September-October 1918, p. 157-159).


“Bibliography of Library Economy for Business Librarians” (in Powers, R. L., ‘Boston's Special Libraries,’ p. 121-127. $1. Prentice-Hall, Inc., New York).

“Bibliography of Articles Relating to Industrial Libraries” (in Special Libraries, February 1911, p. 12).

Meyer, H. H. B., “Select List of References on Special Libraries” (in Special Libraries, October 1912, p. 172-176).

“List of Descriptions of Special Libraries Appearing in Special Libraries, 1914” (in Special Libraries, November 1914, p. 133-134).

Meyer, H. H. B., “List of References on Business Libraries, and the Relation of the Business Library to the Business Man” (in Special Libraries, November 1917, p. 147-149).

Special Libraries, published by the Special Libraries Association, monthly, 1910 to date, 70 Fifth avenue, New York City. Subscription, 10 issues, $2.50; single copies, 25 cents. Principal source of information.

Public Affairs Information Service. H. W. Wilson Company, 958 University avenue, New York. Indexes articles and books about industrial and commercial libraries and announces establishment of new libraries, etc.

Some Leading Firms and Institutions Maintaining Commercial Libraries.

Financial. — American Bankers Association, New York; National City Bank, New York; Guaranty Trust Company, New York; Fisk and Robinson, New York; Farmers' Loan and Trust Company, New York, etc.

Public Utilities. — American Telephone and Telegraph Company, New York; Stone and Webster, Boston; H. M. Byllesby Company, Chicago; Boston Consolidated Gas Company; Boston Elevated Railway Company, etc.

Manufacturing. — Brighton Mills, Passaic, N. J.; B. F. Goodrich Company, Akron, Ohio; Studebaker Corporation, South Bend, Ind.; General Electric Company, Schenectady, N. Y.; National Cloak and Suit Company, New York; Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Akron, Ohio; National Cash Register Company, Dayton, Ohio; Winchester Repeating Arms Company, New Haven, Conn.; Robert H. Ingersoll and Brothers, Brooklyn, N. Y., etc.

Dry Goods Stores. — Marshall Field and Company, Chicago; William Filene's Sons Company, Boston, etc.

Commercial Organisations. — Philadelphia Commercial Museum; Merchants Association, New York; National Automobile Chamber of Commerce, New York; Chamber of Commerce of the United States, Washington, D. C, etc.

Government Departments. — Bureau of Standards; Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce; Bureau of Railway Economics; Library of Congress; United States Forest Service; Federal Trade Commission, etc.

Special Departments in Public Libraries. — Technology department, Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh; business branches of public libraries in Newark, N. J., Saint Paul, Minn., Indianapolis, Rochester, etc.

Miscellaneous. — Sears-Roebuck Company, Chicago (mail order); Curtis Publishing Company, Philadelphia (advertising); McGraw Publishing Company, New York; Retail Credit Company, Atlanta; Youth's Companion, Boston (editorial); Price, Waterhouse and Company, New York (accountants); Arthur D. Little, Inc., Boston (chemists); Detroit News (newspaper); Harvard College, School of Business Administration; A. W. Shaw Company, Chicago, etc.

Consult also following journals: Library Journal, 241 West 37th street, New York, monthly, $4 a year. Public Libraries, 6 North Michigan avenue, Chicago, monthly except August and September, $2 a year. Library World, 8 Coptic street, Bloomsbury, W., London, England, 6d. Library, 32 George street, Hanover Square West, London, England, 3s. Library Assistant, Shepherds Hill Library, Highgate, North, London, England, 4s. Library Association Record, Caxton Hall, Westminster, London, England, 2s. Special Libraries, 70 Fifth avenue, New York, monthly except July and August, $2 a year.

Librarian, Public Library, Newark, N. J.