Tuesday, January 31, 2006

J.P. Quincy, "Free Libraries"

In his chapter entitled “Free Libraries,” (1876) J.P. Quincy’s argument has two main components. First of all, he posits that the library, as “the one secular institution which encourages self-development as an aim should be especially favored in the times upon which we have fallen” (390). Clearly, he is referring to the important role the library can play in the “Americanization” and education of the growing immigrant population.

The second part of his argument is that libraries should use discretion, and censorship, in order to supply their patrons (who obviously, at least in the opinion of the “intellectual elite,” are unable to make this choice for themselves) with materials which will teach them morals and how to be better citizens, thus making the country more democratic, more economically productive, and just an all around better place to live.

I am curious about this shift in the role of the public librarian and library from the late 19th century to the present. It seems as though a complete turnaround has occurred. Today the attitude is more along the lines that reading of virtually any material is better than none at all. Public librarians, though they are expected to be knowledgeable and helpful, would most certainly be overstepping their boundaries if they behaved in the way Mr. William Kite, librarian of the Germantown, PA public library advised his employees to.

While using local factory girls as an example of the lower, uneducated population, most interested in reading these “baser” forms of fiction, he said, “According to our gauge of their mental caliber, we offer to select an interesting book for them. They seem often like children learning to walk; they must be led awhile, but they soon cater for themselves; we have thought but few leave because they cannot procure works of fiction.” (394)

What were the prevalent attitudes at the time that allowed, and even urged librarians to treat their patrons in such a condescending manner? What changing ideological frameworks have changed the role of librarian from a custodian of knowledge, doling out reading materials according to perceived mental capacity, to an objective reference source? Why is it that Quincy’s hope that public libraries would be “the centre of the higher life of its community, and will successfully appeal to private liberality for an increasing attractiveness” (401) is no longer seen as the ultimate goal for public libraries today? I would argue that academic libraries have instead taken over this role, and public libraries have turned largely to popular fiction and other forms of popular media as their main draws for the average American. What are some possible explanations for these changing attitudes?

Sidney Ditzon Readings

In his chapter "The Humanitarian Idea," Ditzion states that the "humanitarian spirit" was prevalent during the depression eras between 1850 and 1900, as humanitarians worked to "combat ignorance, poverty, prostitution, crime, and drunkenness" (98). He suggests that the public library was an easy pet of the humanitarians because the library was seen as a potential for self-education and moral self-improvement. Interestingly, Ditzion notes that the moral, intellectual, and social "benefits" of libraries were not often publicly promoted by the librarians, but rather the trustees or those seeking assistance for the library. "For library interests humanitariansim was too often a tactical approach to the sympathies of persons of influence" (109).

Ditzon also states:
"The American Library association was quick to seize upon the humanitarian rationale as campaign material for more and better supported libraries. Whether the underlying motive was idealistic or selfish is not of great importance" (108).

Do you agree or disagree that ALA's underlying motive is not of great importance? Do you think that an understanding of ALA's motives and the motives of librarians during that time would reveal whether or not the humanitarian interest was merely tactical? The "library idea" as Ditzion calls it, is still used to promote libraries today. Is this still merely tactical? If not, what changed? Going back to ALA & librarian motives during the late 1800s humanitarian zeal, would an understanding of their motives help us to understand this change from library support tactic to implementation (that is, if library motives today are no longer tactical)?

In Ditzion's conclusions, he suggest that the "urban wage-earner and his children seem to have been the focus of ideas expressed in behalf of free public libraries" (193). He goes on to say that the humanitarian wanted to socially and morally uplift the disadvantaged, the educator wanted to offer education for those not continuing on in school, the democrat wanted greater participation in politics through an informed community, the "common man" wanted to rise up in his situation, and the conservative wanted a stable society (meaning that there would be no revolution from the "bottom" classes).

Is this the purpose of the library, or was it the purpose during 1850-1900? Ditzon's article was published in 1947. Do Ditzion's ideas and conclusions reflect a particular historical lens that differs from the viewpoint presented by earlier and later writers on the topic (such as in the other articles we read for this week)? If so, how?

Board Rejects Library Plan - Badger Herald Article

Link: http://badgerherald.com/news/2006/01/30/board_rejects_librar.php

Board rejects library plan
by Lynn Heidmann
Monday, January 30, 2006

The Madison Library Board overwhelmingly rejected a proposal in a 7-1 vote to rebuild the city library last Thursday. The plans to renovate the West Mifflin Street library also included the construction of some 200 units of private housing.

The estimated $20 million project included a new library for the first few floors, with additional housing on higher floors.

Project Developer Kenton Peters said he felt his plan was presented with a negative and pessimistic approach by the city, although board members were more receptive to it despite their eventual rejection.

According to David Wallner, Madison Library Board vice president, the rejection of the proposal was a clash of priorities between the city and a private company.

But, he said, Peters’ plan does merit another study.

“I think we basically blew [Peters] off, and I think there might be a way for the city to sit down and look at the numbers again,” Wallner said. “My fear is we will sit here talking about building another library and it just won’t get done.”

Wallner, the only member to vote in approval for the proposal, said members found the development creative, but wanted to see further study and plans for more secured funding. The board felt the project was “risky,” he added.

Members also expressed concern with relocating the library three times over the course of 18 months, Wallner said.

However, Peters said his plan only required the entire library to move once.

“The board thought the library would have to shut down and be essentially out of business for almost two years,” Peters said. “Personally, I don’t think our plan had the proper representation from the city.”

Peters said Madison is in great need of a new library, and without a plan, officials are getting nowhere.

“The current library is 40 years old and not up to standards for the City of Madison, which deserves a state-of-the-art library,” Peters said.

While members wanted to see increased research in regard to funding, Peters said his failed approach would have actually created the money necessary.

“[The city has] been trying to build a library for almost seven years, and they are looking for a big donor to come in and cover the costs,” Peters said.

According to Peters, the money from leasing “air rights,” or the space above the site, would eventually pay for more than $12 million of the project. He said the plan would require a 50- to 90-year lease.

“If the taxpayers knew it was paying for itself, they would wonder why [the proposal] was being turned down,” Peters said.

Wallner added future action is dependent on whether the project garners support from large donors. He said the board would have to find $10 million to $15 million in private money to fund the project.

“There’s only a limited amount of [city] money for all the projects,” Wallner said. “But I also think that if you have a plan, it’s easier to get money. That’s just how it is.”

Thoughts anyone?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Collection of library-related links

This does not have much to do with the history of American librarianship, but I wanted to share anyway. :)

Last semester in Organization of Information, the "Seven Samurai" team worked on a big project to organize and index a collection of about 900 library-related Web links that had been submitted by the class. You can see the fruits of our labor here:


Click on any of the index terms on the right side of the screen to bring up a list of all links tagged with that term. For example, clicking on "archives" will bring up all the archives-related links in the collection. There are a lot of informative, interesting, or just plain wacky links in the collection, so have fun exploring!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Rural Public lib.- week 1

Rather than re-cap what we discussed in class about this article (D. Marcum, "The rural public library..."), I thought I'd use this space to raise a broad theoretical issue. We talked about how the voices of the actual rural patrons who used the Hagerstown, MD, library and/or bookmobile in the early 1900's were very difficult to find. To me, a connected issue to this is, how do we find the voices of non-readers or writers in a history of libraries? In other words, we are doing a history of reading, so how can this history include people who are not literate, or are from oral cultures (either older cultures such as Am. Indian or current cultures like the Hmong)? I think this is an important part of history, and can be very difficult to find. By definition, a culture or people who are oral, or for whom a written language is very new, are going to be hard to include in histories which rely on the written word. But I think it is very important for historians and librarians to seek out these voices. One way libraries can do this now is to seek out elders in cultures such as the Hmong and record oral histories, folk tales, stories, etc. and thus include their voices in the current record. Any other thoughts on this?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Fain, "Books for new citizens, 1900-1925"

Until the Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, millions of immigrants from Europe and elsewhere entered the United States each year. (Although it should be noted that these supposed "boom years" of immigration are easily outstripped by recent statistics; the year in which the single greatest number of immigrants came to America was 2002). Elaine Fain talks about the response of many urban librarians and their efforts--some hotly nativist and aggressive, others more soft-pedal and merely laughable--to "Americanize" the newcomers.

I finished this article with a few observations:

1.) Fain quoted Joseph Foster Carr of the Immigrant Publication Society saying, "...Rigorous and 'Prussian' methods of Americanization accomplished nothing but bitterness, stirring incredible resentment and antagonism among our foreign born. They directly nourish the Bolshevism that we fear."

My own wonder is how much the 'Americanization' drive was propelled by fear of communism? If there had been no communism, would the early twentieth-century immigrant wave have remained less assimilated and thus not been subsumed under the general grouping of "white" Americans?

My own feeling is that, yes, it might have at least cut down on the conscious efforts to Americanize immigrants--i.e. the outreach efforts by librarians.

2.) After the immigration restriction laws of the 20's, Fain says that the same librarians who did so much work with immigrants tried to change gears and begin work with other groups, but, "An attempt in 1935 to set up a "Section for Inter-Racial Service" was denied by the ALA Council because a majority feared that the word "inter-racial" might be offensive in some parts of the country."

That to me seems like the huge blind spot of all this: That the librarians were willing, eager, and able to to so much work with these populations of new Americans while essentially neglecting a population of Americans that had been "on-site" since the beginning.

Still, there's a pretty mendacious argument peddled by anti-immigrant groups today that if we allow in more immigrants, it will only undercut the status of existing groups like African-Americans and poor whites. I'm not inclined to take this argument seriously, not only because I don't think it's true on its face, but also because anti-immigrant groups haven't ever made much of an impression on me as people with a deep and abiding concern for any group of poor people.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Library funding evolution

Seavey's article "Public Libraries," yes, very creative title, focuses on the evolution of library funding and structure (not physical structure but system structure) in multiple countries such as the United States, UK and China. As he says, in both countries, "Trends in population, economy, and political and social reform lead to the emergence of public libraries in the middle of the 19th century." While speaking of the development of library funding, he talks of subscription based libraries in which people had to pay a fee to belong and also talks of circulating libraries in which individual books or small collections could be rented out for a fee. Later he goes on to explain how statewide government legislation eventually allowed local governments to establish taxes to fund public libraries and this ultimately evolved into the funding systems we have in place today.

The original funding plans which the social and circulation libraries operated under, failed because:

1.) They both had limitations on how many people they could reach with their library services due to both lack of locations outside of large cities and class discrimination because only people with a good amount of disposable income could use the library.

2.) Financially they were both based on direct payment from the readers who, in times of economic trouble, were unable to provide a steady stream of $ for the libraries.

What I want to ask is: Despite their downfalls, is it possible these early funding systems had a good idea? With the lack of funding given to public libraries today, is it too much to ask for library users to give something in return? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe libraries should be solely for upper-class elites, but what exactly IS the role of a library: should it be to educate the people looking for education who probably have the money to do so, or is it more to educate people who don't have the means to educate themselves otherwise and probably also don't have the money to pay for using the library?

There are very few things in the world today that remain ‘free.’ Should the library be one of them?

School Media Centers

In all regions, Europe, U.S., Asia and Africa, there are similarities between successful media centers. Malaysia and Tanzania were interesting exceptions because their independence had a serious positive affect on the flourishing of their school libraries. The role of the librarian was documented in this article. Some as teacher/librarian with more emphasis on teaching and less attention to keeping the libraries hours or developing a school library. In Beijing (pg. 567), "many schools had up to five librarians or teachers interested in promoting the library". So here the librarian promotes the library. In the West, many school libraries were very dependent on public libraries either being started/supported by public libraries. ex. pg 565 the public library and school libraries developed a cooperative agreement in 1987. Most school libraries were governed first by local authorities like town councils, and then school boards, and then legislation and national boards like the National Board of Education.

Question: What elements make a successful school library center?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Academic Libraries-What and Who are they for???

Academic Libraries- What and who are they really for?

As I read through the article by Wiegand I could not help but wonder, did Ranganathan have to do the Kitchen Classification Project to become a librarian?

When reading this section of this weeks reading you probably quickly realized that this was really a section of reading that was straight up history, hard core facts. One of the main things that stuck out to me in this particular section, “Academic Libraries” was the idea of who are the Academic Libraries for really? We can take this one step further and ask ourselves what is the role of the Academic Librarian? Are they teachers, gate-keepers, or just the common man who is willing to fill the position?

I really got a kick out of the section in the reading where Weigand touches on the idea of how Librarians are “viewed”. He talks about Germany and how they wanted to hire the best and brightest to run their librarians. I mean if they have intelligent librarians who know what they are doing then they are able to assist the researchers and better that outcome is for the further advancement of society. Yet he then comments on the idea of the American view of the librarian and this notion of; well we decided to hire the janitors because they don’t really have high academic aspirations, and they are reliable. Realize I’m being a bit extreme but I hope the point is taken.

I couldn’t help but think in this day and age how do “we” view the academic librarian? Does the “everyday common man” even know there is a difference between the public librarian and the academic librarian? Is there a difference? I personally plan to spend the rest of my life in upper education and I have to wonder what role will the academic librarian play in my life? Will this person be the person who holds my hand and helps me decipher all the information I have to dig through for my latest and greatest project? Will this academic librarian come to me and offer assistance, or will I have to muster up the gumption in my hour of need to go to this academic librarian and beg for help? Will this academic librarian even have prior knowledge of my topic, or will they just be wearing their homogenized belt of library research tools they use for every other research topic that comes across their plate? Will I be the academic librarian and how will I fit this role? I really would like to think of the academic librarian as my friend and colleague when it comes to furthering myself in my academic career as a teacher an artist. But I ponder this, if the role of the academic librarian is to help me advance, then what do they get out of it? Maybe I will be the academic librarian and I question will there be room to grow, or will I play the role of catalyst and assistant?

So once again I want to ask these two questions:

Who are academic librarians and what is the role of the academic library?

Special Libraries

Special Libraries are depended on to bring "all available resources" to researcher for highly specialized projects. Specialized libraries started overseas with 3/4 dealing in humanities and the rest with science and technology. Special libraries in N. America came later. The Special Libraries Association, founded 1909 by John Cotton Dana, and the Association of Special Libraries and Information Bureaux, established 1924 in Britian, helped network special librarians. How? I am not very sure. Another useful thing that came after these two associations were created were the special library directories. The directories showed that by the 1980's there were 56,000 special libraries worldwide of which 14,000 were outside the UK and N. America.
Question: What does the sentence on page 598, second column mean. "Beginning with 56 charter members, by 1990 the association claimed about 13,000 members, the vast majority of whom were individuals." Specifically the part about the individuals. Individuals as opposed to businesses? What were they most likely researching?

Reading on "High Culture, Low Culture..." week 2

This week I am focusing on the reading by Aikin entitled "High Culture, Low Culture..." on the Library of Congress. This article focuses on the early work of the Library of Congress as both the "storehouse of American knowledge", and its role in the "transmission of culture". Aikin discusses the formation of national collections, and in part focuses on the music collecting undertaken by the LC. It is interesting (at least to me) to note the steps taken by the LC to collect, and weed, the vast music collections as those in charge saw fit and proper. Along with this information, we find a seemingly contrasting piece on the collecting of folk culture in the national collections. There seems to be quite a difference between the tactics and thought processes of those involved with the folk collections as compared to those involved with the main music collections at the LC.

Is Aikin's statement, "the library made possible, in theory, the study and perusal of any part of that [American] civilization" correct? Can we really make this type of grand statement about the work of the LC?
To me, this article puts forth the idea about the LC as a definitive agent of culture in the US. Am I correct? Are libraries in general agents of culture?
Blog on!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Space to discuss Passet, Wiegand readings for first week

Since we didn't have time to discuss the "extra" readings for week 1 in class, I thought I'd open up some space on the weblog for students to provide feedback or ask questions on those readings. In particular, if you have anything to say about Joanne E. Passet's encyclopedia article on “United States of America [library history]” or Wayne Wiegand's article, “American library history literature, 1947-1997: Theoretical perspectives," please leave comments below.