There are several distinctions to be made between college and student library collections from this visualization, but most evident is that the student libraries contained far more robust fiction and literature collections than the college library. This is in line with nineteenth century commentary on the libraries. On early college books, college president Edward Hitchcock wrote:
“But most of them, though excellent for giving instruction in practical piety, were not well adapted for a literary institution” (1).
Besides the relative lack of diversity in the content of the College Library, it was an uncomfortable, relatively inaccessible space—it was only open once a week, and had not fireplace, so the space was freezing in winter months (2).
The above visualization confirms what concurrent textual sources imply—students desired access to a diverse range of texts during their years at Amherst, and were remarkably active in the acquisition of collections that reflected their interests. Where the College Library fell short, the students worked to fill in the gaps themselves.
Students were also much more interested in fiction than is reflected in their coursework or in the College Library. In 1830, student Samuel Gilman Appleton wrote an impassioned defense of the importance of fictional works entitled “Are Works of Fiction Necessary to Give a Proper Cultivation of the Mind?” He writes:
“It were as vain to look for a truly cultivated mind in an individual unacquainted with works of fiction, as to expect it of one ignorant of biography or history, of the languages or the sciences” (3)
Go back to the project homepage, or explore the second visualization, and learn how the College Library compared to the content of the curriculum!
(1) Hitchcock, Edward. Reminiscences of Amherst College. Northampton: Bridgman & Childs, 1863. 115. https://archive.org/details/reminiscencesam02hitcgoog.
(2) Amherst College Library History Collection [Box 2, Folder 3]. Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.
(3) Appleton, Samuel Gilman.“Are Works of Fiction Necessary to Give a Proper Cultivation of the Mind?” Historical Manuscript Collection [Box 7 Folder 4]. Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.