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Charles Evans (librarian)

Charles Evans (November 13, 1850 – February 8, 1935) was an American librarian and bibliographer.

Charles Evans
Born (1850-11-13)November 13, 1850
Boston, Massachusetts
Died February 8, 1935(1935-02-08) (aged 84)
Nationality American
Occupation Librarian
Known for Wrote American Bibliography

Evans was named one of American Libraries' 100 most important library and information science leaders of the 20th century.[1] Evans is most well known as the bibliographer and compiler of the first 12 volumes of his book, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets, and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from the Genesis of Printing in 1639 Down to and Including the Year 1830, with Bibliographical and Biographical Notes. He was also a founder of the American Library Association along with Melvil Dewey.



Early lifeEdit

The son of Irish immigrants Charles Peter and Mary Ewing Evans, Evans was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 13, 1850. Evans' parents both died before he was ten years old, at which point Evans and eventually his older brother, Thomas John, were sent to live and study at the Boston Asylum and Farm School for Indigent Boys on Thompson Island.[2] Evans was so grateful for the education he received here, that decades later he donated two volumes of his American Bibliography to the school, being quoted as saying that because of the Boston Asylum and Farm School, he came to value and live by “obedience, fidelity, individual character and industry. Possessed of these, there is nothing which may not be obtained in life”.[3]

Early stages of Evans' careerEdit

Evans studied under Samuel Eliot – a trustee of the Boston Athenaeum - at the Boston Asylum and Farm School, and made such an impression on him that by the time Evans turned 16, on June 12, 1866, Eliot had hired him as assistant librarian at the Boston Athenaeum.[2] Evans did not have formal training of the scholars, bibliographers, and librarians who surrounded him. Because of this, library scholars were reluctant to aid him in his bibliography project. [4] It was here that Evans met William Frederick Poole, the librarian who would make the biggest impact on Evans’ life when it came to his knowledge and appreciation for the organization and classification in libraries. Years later into his career, Evans would recommend Poole join the American Library Association.[2]

Career TimelineEdit

Controversy surrounding EvansEdit

Evans was known to oppose the relocation of libraries and was more than once consequently asked to submit his resignation due to the fuss he caused. In 1892, he was fired from the Indianapolis Public Library for publicly disagreeing with the board’s plans to open a new building, which Evans believed would too-soon be congested with an influx of books.[2] In 1901, Evans was dismissed from his post as librarian at the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago due to his quarreling over which classification to use – the committee wished to use Charles Cutter’s system (which organized books by subject), while Evans demanded that they use the classification system he was both used to and fond of. Around the same time, Evans compiled his Charter, Constitution, By-laws, Roll of Membership, MDCCCLVI-MDCCCCI: List of Officers and Members, MDCCCCI (Chicago, 1901, printed for the society) with several glaring factual errors, but when he refused to republish it correctly, they fired him.[2]

American Library AssociationEdit

In 1876, Evans, along with Melvil Dewey of the Dewey Decimal Classification system, co-founded the American Library Association. Evans recommended other integral members - renowned librarians he'd met along the way - to become a part of the association.[2] These members then came together at a conference held in Philadelphia, where Evans would give a speech on his "The Sizes of Printed Books" paper, which was published in ALA's first volume of the Library Journal. In 1877, he became the American Library Association’s first treasurer.[2] Evans continued to contribute to the Library Journal.

American BibliographyEdit

Evans officially began working on American Bibliography - his lifelong goal - in 1901 and compiled it over a course of years through 1934.[6] Originally, Evans stored his notecards in corset boxes with the dates contained within written on the illustration's waistline.[7] Publication took a few hiatuses during WWII in between volumes, but eventually, all desired volumes were published, including some that were published posthumously by outsiders eager to continue Evans' work, particularly Roger Bristol.[5][8] The first volume was published by Evans himself and covered the span of 1639-1740.[2] All succeeding volumes were published on borrowed money for both publication purposes and travel purposes, as Evans preferred to travel around the United States in order to actually see the books he was including in his work, though when he wasn’t able to travel, he was known to include “ghost” titles,[2] as well as skip publications altogether due to the amount of space, and therefore money, they would take up in his printed book. It is said that American Bibliography lacks a proper representation of Harvard dissertations and broadsides.[2]

Charles Evans (1903–59). American Bibliography. Chicago: Blakely Press.
Volume From To Year Fulltext  
v.1 1639 (1) 1729 (3244) 1903 Internet Archive
v.2 1730 (3245) 1750 (6623) 1904 Internet Archive
v.3 1751 (6624) 1764 (9890) 1905 Internet Archive
v.4 1765 (9891) 1773 (13091) 1907 Internet Archive
v.5 1774 (13092) 1778 (16176) 1909 Internet Archive
v.6 1779 (16177) 1785 (19448) 1910 Internet Archive
v.7 1786 (19449) 1789 (22297) 1912 Internet Archive
v.8 1790 (22298) 1792 (25074) 1914 Internet Archive
v.9 HathiTrust
v.10 HathiTrust
v.11 1796 1797 HathiTrust
v.12 HathiTrust
v.13 1799 1800 HathiTrust
v.14 Index HathiTrust

The entire Evans Collection was eventually photographed and put onto microfilm, and is available at many research libraries. A paywalled fully searchable digital edition titled Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1980 is for sale from Readex, as part of its Archive of Americana.

Other writingsEdit

Evans was also actively involved in both Library Journal and Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, and he was known to write for them from time to time, as well.[3]

Marriage and childrenEdit

Evans married Lena Young, who supported and encouraged his work efforts, on April 8, 1883.[3]

  • Gertrude, born in 1884[3]
  • Eliot Howland, born in 1886[3]
  • Charles Sumner, born in 1888, who became a well-known golfer later in life[3]
  • Constance Evans, born in 1889[3]


Charles and Lena remained married until her death on October 5, 1933. Charles Evans died of a stroke on February 8, 1935.[2]

Honors, awards and membershipsEdit


  1. ^ Kniffel, L., Sullivan, P., & McCormick, E. (1999, December). 100 of the most important leaders we had in the 20th century. American Libraries , p. 38.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 187, American Book Collectors and Bibliographers, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997, pp. 92-102.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Charles Evans." Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2004. Web. 18 Sept. 2009.
  4. ^ O'Hagan Hardy, M. (2017). Bibliographic enterprise and the digital age: Charles Evans and the making of early American literature. American Literary History, 29(2), 31-351.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h “Charles Evans.” Dictionary of American Biography, Supplements 1-2: To 1940. American Council of Learned Societies, 1944-1958. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2009.
  6. ^ William S. Reese (1990), The First Hundred Years of Printing in British North America: Printers and Collectors, American Antiquarian Society, archived from the original on 2015-01-19
  7. ^ O'Hagan Hardy, M. (2017). Bibliographic enterprise and the digital age: Charles Evans and the making of early American literature. American Literary History, 29(2), 31-351.
  8. ^ Readex page on Evans Collection