The Newark Museum @ 110 Part I: Dana on Libraries and Museums

February 1, 2019 at 8:58 am Leave a comment

In celebration of the 110th anniversary of the Newark Museum – and in celebration of the 130th anniversary of the Newark Public Library – the two institutions are collaborating on a joint exhibition entitled Promoting Books and Objects: Empowering Newarkers. It will be on view on the third floor of the Newark Public Library through August 31, 2019. Over the course of this exhibition, the Newark Museum will present a series of blogs highlighting some of its central themes. Today, we begin with a brief overview of John Cotton Dana’s tenure as the second director of the Newark Public Library and as the first director of the Newark Museum.

Ruzicka color

Rudolph Ruzicka, “The River Bank,” from Newark: A Series of Engravings on Wood by Rudolph Ruzicka, 1917

Dana once wrote: “A city should adorn itself. It should not only keep its streets neat and clean, supply itself with good water and construct ample sewers, set up beautiful parks, build plenty of attractive schools, and wear always that air, hospitable to learning, wisdom, and art, which has distinguished the world’s best cities; it should also take on certain material indications of culture and refinement, such as libraries and museums.”

NPL ca.1902

The Newark Public Library, ca.1902

Public libraries, in Dana’s opinion, were “a means for elevating and refining … tastes, for giving greater efficiency to every worker, for diffusing sound principles of social and political action, and for furnishing intellectual culture to all.” Museums were designed “to give pleasure, to make manners seem more important, to promote skill, to exalt handwork, and to increase the zest of life by adding to it new interests.” Both institutions were indispensable for an advanced industrial democracy because some people learned through books – hence, the need for libraries – and others learned through objects – hence, the need for museums.

TNM Exterior 1926 2909

The Newark Museum, ca.1926

At the Newark Public Library, Dana proceeded to develop ways to make information more accessible to all Newarkers. He purchased books for all citizens, including foreign language materials for immigrants, illustrated stories for children, and special books for the blind. He increased the borrowing period from two weeks to one month, established a system of interlibrary loans, developed a special color-coded filing system, and opened the first business library in the country in 1904. Dana assiduously advocated for new ways to make the Library more useful. He did so by printing bookplates, broadsides, booklists, and pamphlets, as well as by writing numerous articles in library periodicals and Newark newspapers.

JCD Bookplate

John Cotton Dana bookplate in Japanese style

In 1909 Dana founded the Newark Museum as a compliment to the Library’s educational mission. He mounted innovative exhibitions, built outstanding collections, and served the community through a variety of programs designed to meet the needs and interests of the public. “A good museum attracts, entertains, arouses curiosity, leads to questioning – and thus promotes learning,” Dana wrote, and a century later, the Newark Museum is still proud to be carrying on that tradition.

-William A. Peniston, Ph.D., Librarian/Archivist

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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