Have you heard of Charles Wesley Smith? Neither have I. He was some obscure librarian in Seattle around the 1900s. He contributed a piece to the Papers and Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh General Meeting of the American Library Association titled ”Library Conditions in the Northwest.” The meeting was held in Portland, Oregon on July 4–7, 1905.
He talks, predictably, about libraries in the American Northwest: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the then territory of Alaska, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. The piece starts off rather flowery, with phrases like “To this conference on the Pacific many of its members and most of its officers have come as far westward as Columbus sailed westward from the Pillars of Hercules” and quotations of the poems “Columbus” by Joaquin Miller and “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant. He eventually gets into the nitty gritty of numbers, libraries at universities, laws regarding libraries, and so on.
The final section of his piece, “The future,” returns to the puffy language of the introduction. And while he does eventually talk about the future of building libraries in the Northwest, he begins with a paean of libraries as “man’s crowning effort to fulfill that ‘higher law’ of human evolution which bids each individual begin where all his predecessors left off.” I thought it was a pretty powerful statement; the public library is one of our noblest and most important ideas, ever.
Here are all ten paragraphs of that section, courtesy of Google Books: