Small Press Life posts this intriguing advertisement from 1901.

librarian-wantedAs the ad says, despite Andrew Carnegie’s gifts establishing public libraries around the country, many towns found themselves unable to fund a building to house a library. The Parmelee Company aimed to fill this void. “The Parmelee Library wishes to extend the service until there is a Parmelee New Book Home Delivery Station organized in every city and village in the United States. The adaptability of the system to the needs of even the greatest cities having the best of public library facilities, as well to the community with inferior public service, is shown through the registered circulation in Boston and Chicago since November of last year of over 25,000 volumes of the popular new books.” They advertise for “Ladies of the highest social standing” who will sign up their well-connected friends, receive a weekly shipment from Parmelee, and distribute the books to the customers, who will have selected books and magazines from a 250 page catalog, “itself a work of typographical excellence”. Customers are allowed to keep the books for “as long as desired. No fines. No red tape”, which sounds like a risky offer for a circulating library. As examples of their comprehensive, up-to-date collections they boast of having copies of Bertha Runkle: The Helmet of Navarre, Winston Churchill: The Crisis, Frank Norris: The Octopus, George Barr McCutcheon: Graustark, and Harold McGrath: The Puppet Crown. These were all bestsellers of 1901 which almost nobody today has heard of. They are all available for $0.00 at Amazon.

The H. Parmelee Company is featured at the Lucile Project. This piece makes the history of the company clearer. It evolved out of the traveling library business. In this system a collection of 50 or so books was sent to a town, being housed often in the post office. The books would stay there for about three months before being packed up and sent on elsewhere. The illustration shown at the Lucile Project site presumably dates from this stage in the company’s evolution. At this time apparently members were required to replenish stock by purchasing a new book for the library collection each year, and were fined for keeping a book too long. The company’s 1901/1902 attempt to move upmarket with “ladies of the highest social standing” appears to have failed. They went out of business in 1902 and the company was declared bankrupt in 1903. According to Library History Buff Blog they subsequently transmogrified into the Plymouth Libraries.

See also Circulating libraries.