“The 1893 Woman’s Building Library Database: Out of the Ashes, Onto the Internet.”

Sarah Wadsworth shared the stories of the women and the books that were united in the Woman’s Building Library, a collection of over 8,000 volumes written by women that were displayed as an attraction at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago beginning on May 1, 1893.  The exhibit provided an international showcase of women’s perspectives in the public sphere at a time of debate over women’s rights.  Although there was not direct access for users to pull books directly from the shelves, the exhibits were arranged artistically, and Candace Wheeler wanted visitors feel at home in this literary space.  The books that comprised the collection were donated from around the United States and around the world.  The works of African American women were few in this collection, although the works of author and poet Frances E. W. Harper were found.

Melodie Fox provided an online introduction to the list of book titles was created at the exhibit in 1893 based on the books received at the library.  This book list was used as the basis of the 1893 Woman’s Building Library Database of bibliographic records.   The abstract explains, “With support from a Carnegie-Whitney grant from the American Library Association, Dr. Wayne A. Wiegand initiated work on the database at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies, where research assistants used OCLC records to complete, as far as possible, the bibliographic data for each item. Work on the database then passed to Dr. Sarah Wadsworth, who later enlisted the help of Melodie Fox, [Doctoral Student] at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who made substantial improvements.”  Ms. Fox described how the arrangement of books by state and national category limits the ability to see the power of the topics women were writing about during the late nineteenth century.  By sorting the items in the database, it is possible to view a listing of books that were written about medicine and science, for example.  There are opportunities for researchers to interact with the data and build on the knowledge gathered about the 1893 Woman’s Building Library.

Additional information from the database abstract: “The database was an important source for the collaborative book Right Here I See My Own Books: The Woman’s Building Library of the World’s Columbian Exposition (University of Massachusetts, 2012), coauthored by Wadsworth and Wiegand.  A separate foreign titles project revolving around the non-US content in the Woman’s Building Library is currently being developed at Rutgers University, under the direction of Dr. Marija Dalbello.”

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