Tuesday, January 31, 2006

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?

1 comment:

Quinn Fullenkamp said...

So far in many of our readings, we have seen that the library has many ideals and purposes. One of these purposes would be to raise up the lowly, give culture to the masses, and make available a type of 'wholesome' education for those who need it most. I don't know enough about the mechanisms and history of ALA to respond to Molly's point about the ALA, but I see tactics taken by the library and ALA every day to get people to use the library . The "READ" campaign has been around for a long time, and I don't see it as a bad thing, but it is a tactic used to get people to use the library. I would like to know more about the ALA's work during this era.