government publications relatively more popular last century

Some government publications were borrowed amazingly frequently from the Muncie Public Library in Indiana between 1891 and 1902.  The adult title most frequently borrowed from the Muncie Public Library was Marie Corelli’s novel, The Sorrows of  Satan.  Like recent best-sellers, popular spiritual interests are a central feature of The Sorrows of Satan.  In surviving borrowing records from 1891 to 1902, The Sorrows of Satan was borrowed 342 times.  For comparison, the following publications were borrowed 138, 128, and 111 times, respectively:

  •   The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies
  •   Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution
  •   Report of the tests of metals and other materials for industrial purposes made with the United States testing machine at Watertown Arsenal, Massachusetts

All three of the above are Government Printing Office (GPO) publications.  Almost surely no GPO title today is borrowed anywhere near a third as frequently as popular books like Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.  But in Muncie between 1891 and 1902, these three GPO publications were borrowed about a third as frequently as The Sorrows of Satan.

Government communication today tends to be viewed as a minor sector of the communications industry.  Government communication, however, is likely to grow more important in the future.

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Data note:

The Muncie Public Library circulation data are available via Ball State University’s What Middleton Read website.  The three GPO publications are multivolume sets.  The number of volumes of each title that the Muncie Public Library held isn’t clear.  The library had two copies of The Sorrows of Satan. The circulation statistics above aggregate across instances or volumes of each title.  Some recent U.S. government publications, e.g. the Starr Report, the 9/11 Commission Report, and the Iraq Study Group Report, have attracted considerable popular interest.  But they have sold many fewer copies than best-selling fiction.  No government documents appear in the top-250 more frequently borrowed items in UK public libraries, 2009/10.

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