For example, they discovered that fewer than 38 percent of Muncie patrons were blue-collar, though more than 60 percent of Muncie’s families were blue-collar. They also discovered that blue-collar families were significantly more likely to have multiple library cards than white-collar families. With little spare cash to buy books—and with few forms of affordable daily entertainment—the single book permitted out on each card frequently was not enough for a blue-collar family with several avid readers. Blue-collar borrowers were also more likely to borrow classics, or older books, while white-collar readers gravitated to the latest fashionable books: Felsenstein and Connolly speculate this may reflect the availability of older books in the houses of wealthier patrons.
When I jumped into the numbers game myself, the first thing I noticed was the incredible popularity of fiction in the library. Of the 175,218 transactions (that works out to about 39 per patron over a 10-year period, though there were quite a few wildly voracious patrons who borrowed hundreds of books) 137,188 (78 percent) were works of fiction. Of the 4,008 active patrons, all but 185 had borrowed at least one novel.
Who were they reading? Herman Melville barely registered (68 loans; the library did not even own Moby-Dick), Charles Dickens (587) and James Fenimore Cooper (691) did surprisingly poorly given their 19th-century reputations. Twain was a solid shower (877). When it came to authors I truly admire, only Louisa May Alcott (2,962) and Frances Hodgson Burnett (1,462) cracked the top 15, which is instead filled out with the syrupy Rosa Carey (1,922) and run-of-the-mill Hardy Boys forerunners like Oliver Optic (5,208) and Charles Fosdick (7,399).
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