Dr. Joel Shrock, professor of history at Anderson University, recently presented on one of his passions, juvenile literature, at the Print Culture Histories Beyond the Metropolis Conference. The conference was sponsored by the Center for Middletown Studies in Muncie, Ind.
In the early 1920s, Muncie was one of the most studied areas in America due to its central location. It was given the title “Middle America,” which later became Middletown. The Center for Middletown Studies was established to study the past and to continue the work set forth by researchers in two published books.
This year’s conference, which drew researchers from around the world, offered the right opportunity for Shrock to participate. “This was my one-time shot,” said Shrock. “They usually do presentations on urban studies, but this time it focused on print, which is more of my expertise.”
Shrock’s work was based on a unique set of reading records he found. They showed the books that were checked out from the Muncie Public Library at the turn of the 20th century. “Something like this is very rare to find intact,” said Shrock. “Most of these records have long since been destroyed.”
The Center for Middletown Studies and the Muncie Public Library received a grant to create an interactive website where anyone can view works that were checked out in any time period. Shrock researched what types of works were being read and if that changed any previous thoughts and assumptions that were made about what people read during that specific period. He also looked at crossover reading, which is reading books outside of what people would expect you to read.
“The most checked out books were books aimed at young males,” said Shrock. “The top two books are works for boys, and the third place book is thousands of times behind (concerning the amount of check-outs at the library).” In his presentation, Shrock highlighted the reading habits of one family.
Bruce Geelhoed, interim director of the Center for Middletown Studies, recognizes the work that went into Shrock’s research. “I believe that one of the important contributions that Dr. Shrock’s paper makes is to highlight the reading interests of the Burt family and to show how central the Muncie Public Library was to the education of young people in the later years of the 19th century,” said Geelhoed.
Geelhoed said Shrock’s research will be an excellent addition to other historical research about Muncie, Ind. “By discussing the interests of the Burts, Dr. Shrock provides a glimpse into the centrality of the library and how it was the access point for so much of Muncie’s citizenry at a time when the city itself was showing rapid growth,” said Geelhoed. “While I believe that Dr. Shrock would agree that the disciplined reading habits of Carrie Burt and her three sons were the exception to the reading habits of most citizens at the time, he does show how the Muncie Public Library became the focus of education, enlightenment, and even entertainment for this family.”
— Cody Poor is a 2013 graduate of Anderson University, majoring in communication arts and minoring in marketing. Poor is an associate with Fifth Street Communications®, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of about 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.