Book Excerpt



[Alexandria, Virginia]: Alexandria Library Company, 2007. 4to. hardcover. xiv, 160 pages. The Alexandria Library Company describes a rare American library in Virginia and the booklovers associated with it through two centuries. Historian William Seale presents the story--through good times and bad--of this historic library company, which has been in business since 1794. Sponsored by the Company, the book is documented from the shelves and boxes of early manuscripts that chronicle the history of the organization..... READ MORE

Price: $50.00  other currencies  Order nr. 93893


Just a few nights ago, I went to the Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library on Queen Street with my eight-year-old son in order to check out a book for him for school. Our visit engendered fond memories for me, as exactly twenty years before I had just moved back to my native Virginia from the cold north and into a row house on Queen Street directly across from the library.

While I had frequented Barrett Library many times over the ensuing years, on this visit I was particularly struck by the major changes that had occurred at that library, not only since its construction over the old Quaker graveyard seventy years before, but just during these past twenty years. As we went to the computer terminal to search for the book title that he wanted, I must admit that I had to pretend like I knew what I was doing, since the last time I had searched for a book in this library, it involved thumbing though a massive file catalog of index cards and having a mastery of the Dewey Decimal System! Looking around, I was also reminded of the journey made by many of the old books in this particular library and the two hundred-plus-year story of how a relative handful of people of this city and the Alexandria Library Company made that journey (and our visit on this particular January night in 2007) possible.

Several years ago, when I attended my first meeting as a newly elected member of the Alexandria Library Company, there was a discussion under "old business" about the possibility of producing some sort of written history of the Company. The idea seemed to have merit. After all, the Alexandria Library Company was over two hundred years old; its founders included such august Alexandrians as Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick, Charles Lee, the Reverend James Muir, and Edward Stabler; and, as old institutions tend to become, it had developed a somewhat mysterious and, frankly, quirky patina. There had to be a good story in its history. In addition, Company members Anne Smith Paul and Ruth Lincoln Kaye had compiled a significant amount of research on the subject. It also became apparent at the meeting that this topic had been discussed, yet had not moved forward, at every annual meeting for many, many years.

Two years ago the outgoing Library Company president, Thomas C. Brown, Jr., asserted that the time had come for the project to move forward. Facilitated by a very generous bequest from a former Company president, the late Robert C. Reed, and the blessings of the Company membership, my predecessor, Oscar P. Fitzgerald, set the wheels in motion to produce in his words "a gem of a book."

Finding the right author was easy. Company member, former Alexandria resident, presidential historian, and author of the Guide to Historic Alexandria, William Seale, was the obvious choice. Fortunately, he agreed to write the history and has produced what I think you will agree is a fascinating story and a true gem.

This year the Alexandria Library Company will host its fiftieth consecutive entry of our "modern" Annual Lecture series. I can think of no more befitting way to celebrate that anniversary than a book... "a gem of a book"... this book.

President, Alexandria Library Company
January 10, 2007