ALA-Recommended Books for 2500-Book Prison Library in 1933

face of a prisoner

Title counts and shares and total prices by Dewey book class for American Library Association (ALA) list of books recommended for prison libraries in 1933. Book price data for individual non-fiction volumes by Dewey class.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, U.S. correctional education experts formulated lists of recommended books for prison libraries. The Prison Association of New York pioneered prison library book recommendations with a list of about 1200 books formulated in 1877. In 1916, the New York State Library declared that an inspection of books in New York State prisons and reformatories had revealed shortcomings:

It was everywhere apparent that far too little attention has been given either to intrinsic merit in the choice of books or to selecting books adapted to the exceptional constituencies found in these institutions. … It is essential not only to know books so intimately as to be able surely to separate the fit from the unfit, but to be able to sense the therapeutic qualities which shall particularly adapt them to such readers.^

The New York State Library published of list of 480 general fiction books recommended for prison libraries.^ It promised a similar-sized list of non-fiction books, but apparently never produced it. In 1933, under the auspices of the Committee on Libraries in Correctional Institutions of the American Library Association (ALA) and the Committee on Education of the American Prison Association, Perrie Jones selected a list of 2500 books for libraries.^ In 1939, Mildred Methven and the Committee on Institutional Libraries of the American Prison Association issued a list of 1000 books for prison libraries. The 1933 and 1939 lists of recommended books for prison libraries include a price for each book. These lists thus provide considerable book price data.

This dataset provides the book subject/type (class) for each recommended book and the book’s price from the 1933 list. The authors and titles of the books haven’t been transcribed. The distribution of recommended books by class indicates how the distribution of prison library books has changed over time.

Dataset sheets:

  • title distribution: titles, title share, price, cost shares for recommended books aggregated by Dewey class
  • non-fiction titles: book prices for individual titles described by Dewey class

Related datasets:

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