Who are readers? (Was: ACAT “What are readers?”)

On 8/19/2015 6:11 PM, Beartooth wrote:
> I am looking for a working definition of what libraries classify as > “READERS.” I’ve see a few records of this type, but believe the call > numbers could be more specific that what they are. Any common practices > would be helpful.
> I can’t lay my hand on my own copy at the moment, but you might be > interested in reading the foreword to Joos & Whitesell’s Middle High > German Courtly Reader. (LC classes it in PF.)

When I first saw this question, I originally thought it was “WHO do libraries classify as readers”? My interest in library history immediately made me think of the term “library readers” and how it has changed. This was the older term for the people who actually use libraries. I found something that may interest others.

I used Google n-gram to search for “library users” “library readers” and “library patrons”. Here is from 1800-1900: http://bit.ly/1gXUomh

We find that the overwhelming usage until the late 1890s was for “library readers”. In fact, the terms “library users” and “library patrons” didn’t even come into use until the early 1880s, but became popular immediately.

Switching to 1900-2000 (http://bit.ly/1hpvP2A),

All three forms seemed to used interchangeably until the late 1930s, and then “library users” took off, but also “library patrons” was more widely used than both “readers” and “users” until around 1940, when library users took off and library readers was almost not used at all. Probably the decline of “library readers” reflected the death of our 19th century colleagues. “Library patrons” declined from the 1940s but went through a short Renaissance from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s when it started to go down.

The final graph is from 2000-2008 (the latest that the tool has) http://bit.ly/1K6f9rM

It shows a slight decline in all terms. Is there some new term more popular today? The decline is not noticed for “library readers”, which is almost dead. I think I may be the only one who uses it!

James Weinheimer weinheimer.jim.l@gmail.com
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  1. Ron Murray said:

    Try adding the word “literacy” to the 1800-1900 time span. There is an interesting fewquency parallelism to be observed. For the other years, the relative frequencies of the words are too different to be able to identify parallelisms n a grapg.

    But if you or your colleagues are in the mood to perform a “time-series” analysis, you may see relationships among the words describing what library ____ *do* and the differing names that have been given them.

    September 18, 2015

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