From early on in the summer I was very interested in Amherst’s original library–I’d worked in the Archives and Special Collections as a student here, and always thought it was so unique and interesting that Amherst still had its original library intact in the special collections.
When I learned that student literary societies also had extensive early library collections, I was immediately interested in incorporating those into my project as well. I settled on the period approximately between 1830 and 1840, as all three libraries wrote catalogs of their collections during this time. The 1833 Amherst College Library Catalog is in Box 6, Folder 6 of the Amherst College Library Records, and the Alexandrian Society and Athenian Society Catalogs are in the Clubs and Society Collection, in Box 5, Folder 5 and Box 12, Folder 12, respectively.
Since I was interested in comparing the content of the College Library with the content of the curriculum and with student libraries, I had to decide on a single set of subject headings to use to categorize each dataset. Both the Athenian and Alexandrian Society library catalogs organized their collections by subject, and fortunately, their subject headings were quite similar. Though I had to add a few categories that were not represented in student libraries (Natural Sciences and Grammar/Language), for the most part, I adopted the subject headings used by these nineteenth century students.
Once I had an established set of subject headings, I got to work categorizing all books in the 1833 Amherst College Library Catalog by these subjects headings, up until about 1840. Though the catalog I was working with was started in 1833, I noticed annotations in later parts of the catalog that referenced donations not given until the 1850s, which indicated that the catalog was likely continuously added to after the 1833 start date. Thus, the 1840 date for my project is approximate, as I had to draw on other materials in the Amherst College Library Records and Library History Collection to determine the approximate number of volumes in the collection at that time in order to decide when to “stop.” I also used significant donations as date markers.
I imposed the same categorization structure on the college curriculum, which is drawn from the 1838-39 Course Catalog, found on Amherst College Digital Collections. Data from all four sources (the three library catalogs and the college catalog), which tallied the total number of volumes/courses in each subject, were entered into a Google Sheet, and the resulting visualizations were constructed using Tableau Public software.
It should be noted that, while every effort was made to categorize books accurately, it was sometimes challenging to do so, as some texts were ambiguously titled or could fall under more than one category. In the case of ambiguous titles, I researched the text and/or the author briefly to get a sense of the contents or the background of the author.
Further, though I did use a nineteenth-century categorization system, the categories available did obscure the contents in certain ways. For example, though there were a great deal more Classical Greek and Roman texts in the College Library, than in the literary society libraries, this is not apparent in the visualizations, as these texts were either categorized under Poetry and Drama, Government and Politics, Physics, Metaphysics, and Ethics, depending on the content. A different organizational system would be necessary to examine this difference.