January 11, 2012

Treasures from the Library Collections at MHS

In 1886 the citizens of Helena established a free public library and in 1891 created a published catalog of their holdings. The earliest library catalogs in the United States date to the mid-1880s in Philadelphia. Prior to the advent of the card catalog patrons located books on the shelves using a printed catalog in book form. Books classified as History, Philosophy, and Science filled the shelves of early public libraries in Montana and across the nation. The images below depict these early catalogs.

Catalogue of the Helena Free Public Library.

In 1890 a wealthy mining man by the name of Charles Larrabee donated $10,000 to establish a lending library in Butte. By the date of this publication, the library advertised a collection of over 15,000 books. The catalog contained an alphabetical listing of authors with book titles and the Dewey Decimal number location. The Butte librarian, John F. Davies, explained that advertising was sold for the printed catalog to defray its cost and to build an acquisitions fund. The Butte Free Public Library also maintained a card catalog, and 3100 copies of the catalog were printed for distribution in the community.
Catalogue of Books in the Butte Free Public Library,
July 15, 1894. Published in Butte by T.E. Butler, 1894.