The purpose of the paper is to describe the development of American academic libraries in terms of the emergence and evolution of decentralization from the end of the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, and to determine what effect the changes in American higher education during these years had on organizational patterns of academic libraries.
First, the growth of higher education is discussed on the basis of statistical data of academic institutions, student enro1ment, and faculty staff. The emergence of graduate education, the diversification of professional education, and the change in methods of instruction are subsequently considered as distinctive features of academic reforms in the period, which had affected the process of decentralization.
Secondly, the early organizational patterns of decentralization are identified in some college and university libraries. These are: (1) seminar library and laboratory collection; (2) reserved book system; and (3) departmental library. Then, two basic types are educed by examining some cases of decentralization: (1) seminar libraries and departmental libraries diverged from a college library (mainly in the case of universities which had developed from traditional colleges), and (2) departmental libraries which had developed parallel to a central library since the founding of a university (mainly in the case of research-oriented universities modeled after German universities). Among them, there are many variations, including professional school libraries and quasi-departmental libraries.
Finally, based on the results of several surveys, the state of departmental libraries in the 1920’s and 1930’s are presented in terms of collection, administration, staff, service, acquisition and processing.
To conclude, the author suggests taking into account the historical perspective in dealing with the issue of centralization vs. decentralization in academic library systems.