Charles Coffin Jewett

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Charles Coffin Jewett, Smithsonian's first librarian (1846 – 1855) and Boston Public Library's first superintendent
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See also Important librarians in history | History of medicine portal‎ | Eugene Garfield | Frederick G. Kilgour | Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan

Charles Coffin Jewett (1816 — 1868), academic librarian, administrator and professor of languages, had a prominent career in librarianship and was known for resource-sharing and building union catalogues. Jewett studied at Dartmouth and Brown and after periods of teaching continued his studies at Andover's Theological Seminary in philology, Oriental Languages and Eastern Antiquities. In 1840, he graduated and decided to study abroad but was unable to do so due to literally missing his boat (for the journey). He subsequently returned to teaching at Day’s Academy in Massachusetts. By 1841, the Library Committee at Brown employed him "to make out a new and improved catalogue" which he completed in 1843. Jewett's vision of a union catalogue of American libraries and stereotyped plates (before Library of Congress' printed cards) were two of his major contributions to librarianship. In 1843, he went to Europe to buy books and returned with seven thousand titles in French, German and Italian. While in England, he became friends with the British Museum's librarian, Antonio Panizzi. He became librarian of the Smithsonian in 1846, and began to build its collections but left in 1855 after a disagreement. Jewett left for the Boston Public Library where he remained for the rest of his career.

Jewett died in 1868 after suffering an attack of apoplexy while working at his desk in the Boston Public Library. Michael H. Harris, writing in the Dictionary of American Library Biography, said this about Jewett: "[He] was the pivotal figure in American librarianship. He was the first man to hold a full-time post as an academic librarian, the first librarian of what very nearly became the national library of the United States, the president of the first formal conference of librarians in 1853, and the first superintendent of the country's premier nineteenth century public library."

Jewett's idea for a national library & union catalogue

Jewett's vision for a national library extended to creating a union catalog of holdings in US public. Such a massive undertaking would nonetheless provide scholars with an idea of where important books could be found and which library had particular collection strengths. Further, the idea of a union catalogue would be an aid to knowledge creation, while making his institution of the time, the Smithsonian, the preeminent centre for scholarly research. He spent the greater part of his life developing guidelines toward this end. Jewett was also an advocate of alphabetical catalogues due to their convenience and user-friendliness. He believed catalogues should be more than mere lists of titles, and should contain bibliographic and biographical information. Individual printed cards kept the costs of printing the catalogue down. Jewett's idea of the union catalogue included using “stereotyped plates,” a set of mass-produced titles that were created according to a set of strict rules. He was concerned with uniformity and believed strict rules were the way to avoid bibliographic confusion.


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