Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gays in Library Land

This article discusses the American Library Association’s the inception of and subsequent activities of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The article is written by a lesbian non-librarian who describes herself as an activist. Barbara Gittings took over as coordinator for the Task Force after its first year and led it for another 15.
Gittings discusses her own realization of sexual identity and her search for literature that represented her. Her activism eventually led her to the ALA and librarians working for change within libraries and the Association itself following the Stonewall riots of 1969. The missions of the Task Force in the beginning were about raising awareness of the Task Force, raising awareness of gay and lesbian patrons’ needs within libraries (and beyond). To that end, they created bibliographies, awards for best gay and lesbian books, workshops, and discussions. In its first year, the Task Force pushed the ALA to adopt a platform of recognition and tolerance of gays and lesbians. As society grew more accepting, so did the publishing and library fields, which offered more literature by and for gays and more accessibility to that literature in libraries. Much of the article describes the actions, accomplishments and failures of the Task Force throughout Gittings’ time with it.
Considering this is written by a non-librarian (a “lay” person, in her words), is there anything missing from this account of the history of gays in librarianship and if so, what? Whose history is this article discussing? How helpful is this history in constructing a broader history of gays and lesbians in librarianship? How are libraries presented in this article? Librarians? Because Gittings is an activist, what do you think of her call to action by librarians? Do you agree? Lastly, since this is the only article about gays we have had to read in class (and may be the only one), why do you think this article was chosen?

Monday, February 27, 2006

"Race issues in Library History" - Wiegand and Davis

Wiegand and Davis’ article, “Race issues in Library History” (1994) focuses on library race issues in relation to the American Library Association (ALA), rather than adopting a broader lens on the history of race in libraries and librarianship as a profession. They state their narrow scope in the opening sentence: “…this article considers the issue of race mostly from the perspective of the history of the American Library Association, the oldest and largest professional library association in the world…”.

Keeping with the stated focus of study, Wiegand and Davis discuss various ALA landmark events concerning race relations in librarianship such as the ALA’s first concern with library service to blacks (1913), ALA’s Round Table on “Work with Negroes” (1922), the 1954 push to create one ALA chapter per state rather than have segregated chapters, and the addition to the Library Bill of Rights stating library use cannot be denied to people because of race, religion, national origins or legal views (1961). All of these events are important when studying race relations in library science; however Wiegand and Davis’ limited study of only the ALA does the issue injustice.

This becomes apparent when comparing the encyclopedia article with “‘The Place to Go’: The 135th Street Branch Library and the Harlem Renaissance” by Anderson. This article offers incite as to true race relations in libraries, instead of simply focusing on the ALA’s response to these racial issues. The fact that the creation of a library “Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints” in 1925 goes unmentioned by Wiegand and Davis illustrates the failure of the article to paint a history of race issues in libraries.

Wiegand and Davis could not have picked this limited scope without reason; why did they choose to focus on the ALA’s response to race issues instead of focusing on occurrences in libraries such as the desegregation of libraries and the hiring history of black librarians?

(P.S. - It has been pointed out to me that this article is by Josey, Weigand and Davis are the eds. Whoops. So, when reading this please mentally insert Josey rather than W&D. Apologies.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"The Place to Go" Anderson Reading

In this article, Anderson explores the role that the 135th St. Branch of the New York Public Library (located in Harlem) played in the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. The Harlem Renaissance represented a period of prolific literary and artistic output by African-Americans. Anderson points out that “many…memoirs and histories of this period hint at the significant role that the library played in the Harlem community, but the mention is often little more than a sentence” (p. 384). In her article, Anderson attempts to examine more fully the relationship between the library and the community around it, as well as looking at the influence of Ernestine Rose, the white head librarian during this time period. Anderson highlights Rose’s progressive views on library management and mission and how this led to the success of the library in the community and the strength of its legacy. The centerpiece of Rose’s leadership style was connecting with the community; she “…understood ‘how vitally important it is that [a librarian] should study people and their interests’ and that by connecting with those interests he or she can make the library ‘ a living, vital force, to touch these interests at as many points as possible, through his book collection, through the personnel of his staff, through his method of approach, his publicity and his activities of all kinds” (p. 387). Throughout the article we see how Rose did all of these things at the 135th St. Branch. In this way, Harlem’s library became an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance. A place where writers, artists and actors could both cultivate their talents and have an audience with whom to share them. It provided a space for voices that had previously been silenced by society to be heard. Finally, Anderson looks at what she feels is the most important legacy of the 135th St. Branch, the history and development of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which today is one of the preeminent collections of information on black history and culture.

A few questions that came out of the reading for me:

How much of the success or the influence of the 135th St. Branch can be attributed to Rose and how much can be attributed to the community’s own initiatives? Was it the library influencing the community or the community influencing the library?

In the article, Anderson talks about the library becoming a “black public sphere” –a place for members of the community to come together and discuss/debate issues that are important to them (p. 409-410). She lists several different places that can fall into the “black public sphere”, but she says that at this time, “…it was the library that proved capable of encompassing the greatest range of voices” (p. 410). Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why or why not?

In terms of its service to the community around it, do you think the 135th St. Branch was unique in comparison to other libraries in predominantly black neighborhoods around the U.S. at this time or was it representative of such libraries? How representative is it of libraries today in neighborhoods with large minority populations?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

sort-of-related to library architecture lecture

Just as an aside from what we talked about on this blog about architecture and the sense of welcoming space for all people, I saw that there's going to be an art lecture on "Architecture and the Politics of Race" by Martin Berger of UC-Santa Cruz, on Thursday, March 2 at 6 p.m. in the Chazen Museum, Room L140. Seen as how we'll be talking about race in libraries in the coming weeks, it might be relavent to our discussion. The full blurb is below:

Berger's work is concerned with the ways in which whiteness is reinforced in various visual mediums, including historical landscape photography and architectural forms. Berger arrives in Madison soon after the publication of his new book: Sight Unseen: Whiteness and American Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, November 2005). Berger's lecture will specifically address the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1871-6), built by George Hewitt and Frank Furness: that it drew from a range of design elements that period audiences consciously understood to be the products of racially inferior peoples principally Jews, but also Muslims, and Italian Catholics), yet was accepted by Protestant European-American audiences as the epitome of whites' highest cultural aspirations. Berger will illustrate how forms originally designed by so-called inferior peoples were recombined by European-Americans to express the character of an art academy that was popularly conceived as being modern, American, and uniquely white.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Architecture and the library experience

Much of Van Slyck’s article focused on the physical space of libraries, and how designs changed over time to reflect the changing goals of both philanthropists and librarians. Early libraries had a lot in common with medieval buildings—distinct rooms that sharply defined the hierarchy of library users. Large, ornate buildings were meant to memorialize the donor’s generosity. Buildings were designed so that librarians would control patron access to the books—and in some cases, patrons were segregated by gender. As librarians gained greater footing in the professional world and Carnegie’s philanthropy dictated costs, the control they had over library design increased as well. Libraries began to consist of open stacks, and separate areas for children’s collections. The nature of access to library collections had changed, and libraries became less showplaces for the wealth of the donor. Within the forty years that Van Slyck surveys, the experience of librarians, patrons and trustees was transformed.

Do you agree with Van Slyck’s argument that the power of library boards was diminished by their physical location in the library? By the end of the article, Van Slyck suggests that the new architecture of libraries put librarians in a role similar to the factory supervisor, central to all activities, presiding over an ordered environment. She also makes the claim that as architecture became less grandiose, patrons found the library to be less intimidating. Do you agree with these assessments?

Reformed Philanthropy in Van slack

In the beginning of the chapter, Van slack explains the late nineteenth-century practice of "“patriarchy philanthropy." This type of philanthropy was practiced by men who had gained considerable wealth during the Civil War and wanted to give back to society in a way that "“promoted individual development from within" (p2). They often chose to support the building of libraries. The philanthropist saw himself as the patriarch of the library, while the community receiving the donation became his extended family, who constantly had to thank the patron for his generosity.

Initially, Carnegie operated in this same paternalistic manner, and his first library in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, reflects that. However, there was a backlash to this type of philanthropy that began with Gladden's article "“Tainted Money" which argued that the money given by these millionaires was "“earned by illegal or unethical means" and thus could not be accepted by "“institutions of cultural and moral enlighpawment" (p19).

In response to the Tainted Money scandal, Carnegie reshaped his philanthropic practices. Carnegie increased the number of libraries he chose to sponsor and instead of choosing towns that he had a connection with and simply giving them money, he made his philanthropic efforts more business-oriented. A town needed to apply for the donation, and, after receiving their donation, they were in charge of finding a location, setting up taxes and budgeting their donation properly.

In this chslack, Van Slyck makes Carnegie out to be a philanthropic reformer; one of the sections is titled "Carnegie's Reform of American Philanthropy."” Ultimately, did Carnegie truly reform American library philanthropy? Were Carnegie'’s so-called reforms really solutions to the issues brought up by Gladden and others? Was the money any less "“tainted"” (according to Gladden's argument)? And more specifically, did it need to be reformed in the first place?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Funding Game: Can libraries overcome the capitalist business cycle?

In looking at Swain’s WPA article and Van Slyck’s article about Carnegie, some interesting similarities and differences are apparent. Both articles examine how the American library has been shaped by the type of funding it receives. Clearly the Carnegie philanthropy follows a very capitalistic model while the WPA is government funded and the outcome is very different in each case. For example, the Carnegie philanthropy places a strong emphasis on the building and architecture of libraries, sometimes with little regard for the services offered, although the issue of children’s services and open stacks did eventually begin to make a difference. Whereas Swain’s article shows that the WPA prioritizes the collection, services and job creation. This shifting of an emphasis on facilities to services/outreach could be the result of many different factors, particularly within a time span that includes several wars, a developing capitalist nation and the professionalization of librarians. Still, both methods of library funding left the financing of upkeep, maintenance and materials to state and local entities (with the WPA only funding workers and Carnegie only funding buildings), thus in some ways determining the priorities of libraries within the American culture.

Yet both types of funding are a direct result of their respective eras, as “late nineteenth-century library buildings were the product of local philanthropy, gifts of men grown wealthy during the war” (1,Van Slyck) and the WPA stems from the US government creating jobs to aid local entities following the Great Depression.

What other similarities or differences do you see between these two very different funding programs? How can libraries develop a mission dependent from financial influence?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Noveau Riche vs. Shabby Gentility

From Free to All: Carnegie Libraries and American Culture, pp. 1-2:

"While middle-class contemporaries [of late-nineteenth century library philanthropists] continued to support moral reform movements (like the YMCA) as a means of encouraging social cohesion, very wealthy men who had pulled themselves up the social ladder tended to be less enthusiastic about social constraints imposed from above. Instead, these self-made millionaires were attracted to libraries and other cultural institutions as a means for promoting individual development from within."

This seems a little bit in contradiction to the description given in the first five chapters of Apostles of Culture in which the stable-but-not-prosperous middle class focused on public library as the institution that would keep their social position "safe" insofar as it rounded the sharp edges off the new commercial world they did not understand.

Actually it might not be too contradictory. Carnegie after all was one of the very people that the late-nineteenth-century middle class saw themselves as creating: a new American crafted out of European immigrant stock and made a prosperous believer in America--an America free of class conflict, mind you.

This paragraph also represents something of the distance traveled in the past century. The American noveau riche of today, excepting maybe computer entrepreneurs or people involved in scientific research, tend to be knee-jerk social conservatives with a deep-rooted suspicion of all culture and education as being first and foremost a source of higher taxes.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Morality of books in higher education today

Think the debates over "racy French novels" and the like of 1876 are over? Think again. From the online academic news site Inside Higher Ed comes an article on a bill under consideration by the Arizona legislature which would chill academic speech in public universities in that state:

When faculty leaders talk about the various versions of the Academic Bill of Rights circulating among state legislators, many single out a bill in Arizona as the worst of all.

The legislation there would require public colleges to provide students with “alternative coursework” if a student finds the assigned material “personally offensive,” which is defined as something that “conflicts with the student’s beliefs or practices in sex, morality or religion.” On Wednesday, the bill starting moving, with the Senate Committee on Higher Education approving the measure — much to the dismay of professors in the state.

The Arizona bill goes beyond the measures that have been pushed in other states — in fact it goes so far that David Horowitz, the ’60s radical turned conservative activist who has pushed the Academic Bill of Rights, opposes the measure. “It doesn’t respect the authority of the professor in the classroom,” he said. “This authority does not include the right to indoctrinate students or deny them access to texts with points of view that differ from the professor’s. But it does include the right to assign texts that make students feel uncomfortable.”

Horowitz’s opposition to the bill is of little comfort to professors in Arizona. Although the legislation has a long way to go before it could become law, the idea that the Senate committee charged with overseeing colleges would approve the measure is upsetting to academics. They are also angry because the evidence cited by lawmakers to support the bill appears to be based on a misreading of an acclaimed novel.

The sponsors of the bill did not respond to messages seeking comment. But local news coverage of the session at which the bill won committee approval quoted Sen. Thayer Verschoor as citing complaints he had received about The Ice Storm, a novel by Rick Moody that was turned into a film directed by Ang Lee. “There’s no defense of this book. I can’t believe that anyone would come up here and try to defend that kind of material,” Verschoor said at the hearing, according to The Arizona Star. Other senators spoke at the hearing, the newspaper reported, against colleges teaching “pornography and smut.”

Actually, there are plenty who would defend teaching The Ice Storm, including the professor whose course appears to have set off Verschoor. The course — at Chandler-Gilbert Community College — was “Currents of American Life,” a team-taught course in the history and literature of the modern United States. The literature that students read is selected to reflect broad themes of different eras, according to Bill Mullaney, a literature professor. For example, students read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

The Ice Storm was a logical choice for teaching about the 1970s, Mullaney said, because the novel looks at suburban life at a crucial point in that decade: the collapse of the Nixon administration. While two families’ lives are dissected, Watergate is always in the background and the relationship between private morality and public scandal is an important theme.

Adultery is central to the novel and one of its most famous scenes involves a “key party,” in which couples throw their car keys in bowl, and then pull out keys to decide which wife will sleep with which husband (not her own) after the party. From comments at the Senate markup of the bill, it seems clear that lawmakers had heard about the wife swapping, but Mullaney and others doubt that they actually read the book. If they had, they might have realized that Moody’s portrayal of ’70s culture is far from admiring.

The question for the class is: Should library and information professionals react to such efforts? If so, how? (How have they historically?)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

UW-Madison is open for business in the snowstorm today, but since many grade schools and preschools are closed, and since more snow is coming later today, I will understand if students have to miss class today. I'll be there, though, so we'll work through this week's readings with whatever group is able to show up. Then we'll all go out and make Snow Librarians on the H C White plaza ...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mary Niles Maack, Gender Issues in librarianship
Encyclopedia of library history

The focus of Maack’s article is what she terms the ‘female-intensive’ characteristic of librarianship. A female-intensive occupation is one that is defined in which women comprise a majority of workers in a field but do not hold many leadership or other positions of power. She examines this trend over time and across cultures. Maack describes how this trend began in the US at about the mid-19th century. Until this time mostly men were employed by libraries. After Dewey had established his school and the first class, which consisted mostly of women students, graduated women came to dominate the field. They were considered to be especially well suited for library employment due to various perceived personality traits the possessed. Their perceived physical, mental, and emotional limitations, however, justified to many library leaders the low wages routinely paid to female employees. Winsor and Dewey enthusiastically supported this system. Female library workers were not only discriminated against in terms of the wages but also because regarding the types of positions they held. Higher status library jobs were simply off-limits to them. Maack defines the segregation of female workers to the lower level positions as hierarchical discrimination. Women have also been concentrated in certain types of libraries and specialties. Maack terms this territorial discrimination.
She extends to examination of the feminization of librarianship to several European, Asian, and African countries. She found hierarchical discrimination in Great Britain, France, and Germany and the attitude that women are especially suited for library work had been common. In various Asian and African countries she found the same situation.
Maack concludes with a discussion about the necessity of more extensive research on the role that gender has played in the history and development of librarianship.

The Amherst Method

This article describes the debate that has surrounded Dewey's Decimal Classification System for some time. In this article, Wiegand attempts to describe Dewey's state of mind, and the forces that impacted him when he created this system. Wiegand also evaluates Dewey's thought process based on his education and experience at Amherst, and specifically cites instances where faculty members had an impact on the ordering of his system.

At the end of the article, Wiegand asserted that the Anglo-Saxonism inherent in Dewey's system has made it resistant to change over the years. He goes on to say "the scheme itself has quietly - almost invisibly-occupied an influential position as one of the forces sustaining the discursive formations of a Eurocentric patriarchy." If the DDC is so "tightly wound" how can it be updated to reveal a more diverse view of society today? Can it even be done?

Melinda Schroeder, "I never wanted to be a librarian."

Schroeder's piece is an engaging account of her time in library school, and her struggle, during the late 1960s and very early 1970s, to find her place in the professional world. It is funny, candid and a bit depressing for this confused, aspiring librarian. Judging from the spot illustrations, typeface, etc., it seems to have been originally published as a zine or at least in an "underground" publication of some sort. In tone and content, though, it could easily be a blog post from yesterday (minus a few phrases about consciousness-raising sessions and so on). The more things change, the more they stay the same. As a collection of anecdotes, this piece resists the kind of critical attention we have been giving to other, more scholarly articles. It does, however, touch on many of the issues we've been discussing- feminization, professionalization, librarians as "failures" in other fields. It also highlights the importance of primary sources in determining the motives of historical actors. Schroeder's peregrinations as a librarian can be partly blamed on poor working environments, moronic administrators, political and economic forces, and a host of other fairly obvious factors. Without her personal account, however, we might never guess how much her relationships with boyfriends influenced her professional life (and yes, of course, those relationships in turn were shaped as well by social norms and expectations, as Schroeder points out). The point is, without the equivalent of a private diary, it is extremely difficult to pin down the motivations for the actions of individuals. It seems to me that without finding writing of this level of intimacy, arguments such as those engendered (!) by Dee Garrison's "Apostles of Culture" will never be truly resolved. Question for consideration: being brutally honest, how many of us in the SLIS program feel as though they have "failed" in a previous profession or occupation? What does this say about the vitality of libraries if they are province of also-rans and academic second-raters? We all live lives of quiet desperation, but exactly how demoralized are librarians (if at all)? Does it need to be this way (if it is)?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

F. B. Perkins, “How to make town libraries successful”

This article is a lovely slice of the 1870's view on public library management. It covers almost all the issues we've already discussed in class and more. From proper reading to females in the workforce to funding and access to problem patrons. Some of the issues remain valid ones, how to maintain funding, while others have changed drastically, not letting patrons into the stacks and the need for a classification scheme. I was especially surprised at how modern some of the ideas were about fiction and its place in libraries, or at least libraries where the patrons don't know any better.

As to the issue of funding, I thought there were two interesting concepts that still really apply. The first was the idea that a library should be thought of like a business, in which you need to find out what will make patrons frequent your library rather than another place. The second was the concept of making the citizens take ownership in their local library. The following passage expressed that idea well I felt:
"...it is desirable that a fair sum should be raised yearly for the support of a public circulating library by the community which uses it; for this recurring exertion will keep the public attentive, will incite the tax-payers to get some reading for their money, and will in every way maintain the inestimable American practice of making the individual citizen mind his own (public) business, by watching, managing, and using what he owns and pays for."

Thoughts on this and other ideas raised by the article? What concepts do you think still hold true? If you were to manage or work in a small town library today, do you think you could gain useful insight from this article?

Passet - "Men in a Feminized Profession: The Male Librarian 1887-1921"

Passet's article looks at the period of library history that saw great changes in the composition, purpose, and goals of libraries. She offers a cross-section of the male librarians and library students of the time, generally fitting them into the stereotype of "genteel scholar" or "broken-down man." Factors contributing to the low numbers of male library students included the changing perception of manhood, of the work place, and the increased presence of women in the workforce. She quotes Peter G. Filene as summarizing "success was being equated with riches, but more and more...[19th century men] found that the economic heights were already occupied." Passet also provides some interesting statistics about the composition and backgrounds of male library students during this time. An amazing stat is the fact that in 1870, 80% of library workers were male, while by 1900, 80% were female (which, I would guess is similar to what we have today).

Few men entered library school, or finished once they started, because it was not viewed as completely necessary to perform the mechanical functions of daily library operations. It was seen as a mechanical pursuit (more suited for women) instead of an intellectual pursuit (more suited for men of the era). Passet talks a good deal about the recruiting efforts of library schools to attract male students, seeing them as the best candidates for quick progression through the program and upper level positions. And since the young men who entered library school at the time were expecting the chance for upward mobility, the system kept pushing them through, helping solidify the lower salary structures and gender problems that we are still discussing today. The UW Library School even created the Public Service Training Course in 1913, aimed at male library students, to "fast-track" them for adminstrative positions without the bother of such small areas as cataloguing and classification. Also more important to men than women was the title of their position, apparently almost as much as salary.

Some of the men who did complete library programs and got jobs in libraries eventually left the field anyway, drawn by careers offering more prestige or money. Women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not have access to such careers, and thus, stayed in the library, where they became an overwhelming majority.

Some things to think about...
How many male librarians can you think of from your childhood? or even from college? Were they "genteel" or "broken-down?" Were they old or young? (really another issue, but you really don't see too many young librarians).
The notion of actively recruiting male students for library schools in an interesting one. Are library schools still doing it, to some extent? If not, should they be? What benefit would it be to have more male librarians?
If, as Passet concludes, the men of 1887-1921 got the top jobs and salaries because they had more intellectual/educational backgrounds and were "above" rote clerical work, why have we not seen a shift in percentage of female library employees? Women have definitely equalled (and in many cases) surpassed men as far as knowledge, aptitude, ability, etc, so why is there still the disparity?
And finally, a fun fact to illustrate the point. Madison Public Library currently has 62 librarians or library assistants working at the Central Library (in Reference & User Services, Technical Services, and Youth Services) and at the 8 branches. How many are male? Nine. That's 14.5%

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Madison Public Library hiring policies: Should MLS be required?

A recent column in the business section of the Capital Times described the mini-furor over the Madison Public Library hiring two new employees who lack MLS degrees:

Recently, the Madison Public Library hired two youth librarians who didn't have master's of library science (MLS) degrees. Veteran librarians were puzzled, since this hasn't happened in over 16 years, and since they all have MLS degrees.

On the other hand, since the library is just like any other city department, it follows Madison's human resources department guidelines in hiring procedures. Under the Civil Rights Act, Madison tries to attract candidates of minority and disabled groups who might not have the same access to MLS degrees as others.

The full column provides more detail, but I wonder if this isn't another recent news story that in some ways echoes Garrison's themes of professionalization and sex-typing coupled with low wages and low status ...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More Libary News in the (Independent) Media

In the latest edition of the Madison Warming Campaign's street newspaper Homeless Cooperative, Jeff Alexander expresses his thoughts on the Madison Public Library in relationship to the development of the Overture Center and changes downtown, in "Goodbye State Street, Hello Overturetopia."

"Me? I'd make a brand new library out of it [money used to create the Overture Center]. Before it's too late. I mean a real library, state of the art. I'd rip out all the wealthy people and replace them with reality, that and all the high-tech gizmos you could think of.
This library we got, downtown Madison by god, supposedly a progressive city, is ancient. It thinks it's high-tech just because it has a self-checkout. Imagine.
I don't know much about all this internet thing and all that comes with it but I do understand one thing: with that same amount of money [as for the Overture Center] we coulda' made the library of the future, for generations. A truly interactive, a learning, a self-empowering environment-one that helps people help themselves. Something truly progressive, not passive, not like the Jail [his term for the Overture Center]. Not like where you and sit and be entertained for forty bucks a pop. Did you know many of the plays at the Jail have centered around homeless issues? Here we all go to be entertained by plays and their genres dealing with homelessness, romanticizing it, but many still cannot accept its reality once they leave the Jail's doors...
A library, you know, is community. It's a connection for all people. That's what we really need. And now..."

In combination with what we have read in Apostles of Culture and other readings, how do you all see the library in terms of its relationship to the poor? Do you think that service to the poor has changed throughout library history? How would you compare the mission of the library throughout time with other establishments, such as the Overture Center and museums or archives in general? I think museums provide a valuable contrast to libraries, in that most do charge a fee for admittance and often surround the housed work with literal guards and have a fairly present code of standards and behaviors. Do we want to be more like museums and close the library off from the poor, or should we strive to create a broader sense of community within the library? Who are we serving when we say that we are open to the public, and how can a librarian effect (positively or negatively) issues such as poverty?
Do any of you read this paper? Would you collect it in your public libary?

Apostles of Culture: Dewey, Oh-so-OCD!

Dee Garison paints a dark, but vivid picture of Melvil Dewey in Apostles of Culture. Known mostly for the creation of the decimal system that revolutionized library organization, he is also remembered as a nervous man afflicted with what is now known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His megalomania, in addition to his unorthodox way of conducting business, made for numerous enemies and critics, and put him in the middle of a few scandals. Despite his polarizing personality and debilitating neurosis, Dewey is given credit in reshaping the library profession by opening its doors to women. What did Dewey see in this new workforce pool that had previously been dismissed or unnoticed by others? Two of his most devoted employees were women, one who stayed on for 18 years and another, until her death 34 years later. Why did these women, and many others, stand by Dewey, especially after the scandal of 1906? It is thought that the role Dewey offered women in libraries "gave them new power but did not challenge the traditional boundaries placed on their activities." What does this mean for women in libraries at this time?

Apostles of Culture Part 4 (chapters 11, 12, & 13)

In this final section of Apostles of Culture, Garrison demonstrates how societal beliefs and attitudes amplified the feminization of libraries in its early years of growth and how the history of women in libraries have impacted, and in some ways hindered, the occupation’s attempts at professionalization. She elaborates further by comparing a parallel history of the early years of the social work profession.

In Garrison’s discussion of the professionalization of library work, she focuses systematically on the impact the development of library work as a feminized profession. In this chapter, Garrison points out many aspects of the librarian profession that fall short of standard professional occupations.

Using a modern assessment of the characteristics of professionalization Garrison gives us(service orientation, knowledge base, and degree of autonomy), do you foresee librarians being recognized as professionals in the near future, if ever? Why or why not? Furthermore, had “Apostles of Culture” been written today, what would and wouldn’t be different about Garrison’s analysis of the library profession in its struggle with the question of professionalization?

Apostles of Culture; Chapters 14 and 15

Dee Garrison describes the period between the early 1890s to the World War I as progressive years for American libraries. This period saw a change in the uses of the public library to a community center, a place for community activites or "library extension" work, and as a place for children. What makes the change to encouraging the patronage of children so interesting is the fact that "as late as 1893 children under the age of twelve were barred from almost half the large public libraries in the nation" (Garrison, 207). Children's reading rooms became very popular quite quickly, however, and Garrison sees this as an extension of the image of the librarian as a nurturing, maternal figure. The early years of welcoming children into the library were not easy, however, as librarians struggled to both mold and discipline their charges. The fact that librarians had to act as educators, disciplinarians, and as moral leaders really ties into the argument of an elitist class working in the librarians. I find myself more sympathetic to the tendencies of these librarians to censor the reading materials and steer children towards 'wanting to read what we want them to read' because the librarians were indeed working with children and often trying to protect them. As ridiculous as it might seem that historically adults were worried about reading material corrupting youth, its an idea that exists today and is still quite strong. Is is really possible to protect people from corrupting literature? And how did librarians historically draw the line between classical readings that had both violent and sexual themes and more 'modern' literature that feautured disobedient children?
The final chapter of Garrison's book discusses the decline of librarianship as a career. Garrison talks about the discouraging factors of the profession as not only low paying, but also as a way station on the way to marriage. Could being a librarian really be called a career if most librarians were women (who were not thought of as having careers) and the fact that one was expected to leave one's job after marriage, therefore dramatically shortening one's career? The issue of marriage is also very interesting because Garrison noted that a few libraries demanded a woman to resign after her marriage. This slowly began to change after World War II as librarians sometimes decided to work even if they were, in fact, married.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Apostles of Culture, Part 2

In part two of her book, Dee Garison takes on the thorny marriage of fiction and the library from 1876-1920's, in particular looking at the gulf between the rhetoric that fiction was bad and the fact that most libraries over time began carrying it while simultaneously arguing that it was bad. She explores the hypocrisy there, but also the pragmatism of stocking things people actually wanted to read.

I think most of us got a kick out of Section 2, laughing at the Victorian notions of what was scandalous and inappropriate. But I think it is also important to note the ways that appropriate and inappropriate fiction were gendered. What kinds of things were immoral or inappropriate and for whom? How did these ideas change over time, and what external factors influenced this change? How does this all tie into the genteel female library hostess role? (FYI keep these questions in mind for class, I'm working on an activity using passages from some of these actual books)

She also discussed the way libraries used fiction to lure patrons in, with the hopes of steering them towards more worthy works. Why was or was this not successful? Why would certain novels appeal more to people of differing classes or genders or social status then others? And in the context of Victorian culture, what was so appealing about scandalous novels in the first place?

And how was the library as an institution (I'm speaking very broadly here) shaped by this gendered and classed debate over moral and immoral fiction? Can we even draw broad claims here?

Apostles of Culture, Part I

In Part I of "Apostles of Culture," Garrison portrays the American public library in the late 1800s as attempting to be an arbiter of culture, one of the last bastions of the gentry elite. She also offers a sort-of Marxist critique of the library as a social agent or "safety valve" for the unwashed masses. Librarians and library leaders are characterized as misfits in the new Industrial Age; they were at odds with both the growing socio-economic elite and with the proletariat. Garrison profiles the librarians who formed the model of the American public library as out-of-touch with the patrons they aimed to serve. How and why did this disconnect lead to the marginalization of the library and its failure to become a grand social and academic institution in the U.S.?

In chapter two, Garrison draws many conclusions and generalization from the profile of thirty-six library leaders in 1885 (I found this small sample size to be a bit problematic). Here and throughout the text, Garrison's second wave feminist critique (I know, she was writing it in the 1970s) could stand the infusion of some third wave feminism and queer theory. Of those thirty-six library leaders, there were eight women, five of whom never married and two of whom married late in life. Garrison takes their "spinster" status at face value: "One can safely assume that they chose an active life of work because their intellectual power and advanced education alienated them from the traditional feminine role of domesticity" (21). However, I would like to read into the margins--is it possible that these women were lesbians? Is it possible that library work afforded them some escape from the a patriarchal and heterosexual-dominated culture? And who are the other educated, single women who clamored to become librarians from 1876 to 1920?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Are public libraries free? A modern journalist's take.

I found a newspaper column online that I felt seemed keeping right in theme with what we've been studying. A journalist was shocked to find DVD's of popular TV shows and movies at his local library. Interesting to see a modern none librarian's thoughts on the subject.

Wikis and academics

The following message was posted to an online discussion forum that I'm involved in, called H-Sci-Med-Tech (for "history of science, medicine, and technology"). It concerns the contradictory place of Wikipedia in academic publication and teaching, and I think it makes some productive suggestions:

List members with concerns about or active interest in Wikipedia may be interested in WikiProject History of Science, an effort to organize and improve the history of science, technology and medicine content on Wikipedia.

A small number of historians of science are already active editors on Wikipedia, but there is much more work to do.

Project page:

Share your thoughts on the discussion page:

As Wikipedia becomes more sophisticated, undergraduates will increasingly rely on it as a starting point (and ideally only a starting point, but often more) for writing papers. So even if you have no desire to contribute to Wikipedia, it pays as an historian to familiarize yourself with it.

At least one historian (T. Mills Kelly) has begun to use Wikipedia as the focus of assignments, having students correct shoddy articles or write new ones. As you might expect, students gained more of an appreciation of the potential pitfalls of using Wikipedia as a source after trying their hands at editing material with which they were familiar.

See Kelly's blog:

I think Wikipedia has the potential to be an extremely effective way to promote our discipline, especially by the creation of many high quality ("Feature" quality) articles, which can be promoted on the main page (and and thus read by thousands of people).


Sage Ross
Graduate Student
Yale University
Program in History of Medicine and Science

As we work through our own Wiki on library history, we might consider what's available on Wikipedia on the topic, and whether it meets the standards we would wish for our field.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

What was considered suitable reading?

There's been a lot in our reading about 19th century librarians disapproving of popular fiction, discouraging people from reading it, or even refusing to carry it in their libraries. What I want to know is, what sort of books did these librarians want people to read? I mentioned this question in class today, but we didn't really have time for it.

Part II of Apostles of Culture has detailed summaries of some of the popular but "immoral" novels of the late 19th century, books that librarians disapproved of, but doesn't say what they recommended instead. According to Quincy, Dickens and Hawthorne were suitable fiction, but that can't be all that was in the library. What sort of thing did the kindly ladies of the library encourage poor factory girls to read? Shakespeare? Plato? The Bible? I'm really curious to know.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

“Ambivalence and Paradox: The social bonds of the public library”

In the article “Ambivalence and Paradox: The social bonds of the public library” the author, Phyllis Dain challenges the conclusions of Michael Harris, author of “The Purpose of the American Public Library: A revisionist Interpretation of History.”
Although both she and Harris deem the amount of useful historically supported facts pertaining to the creation, growth, and maintenance of the public library insufficient neither is shy in stating their interpretation of these scant facts. Her analysis of the founders and the trustees of the public library system is nonexistent; she merely states that there is a chance that Harris is incorrect in his assumptions and does not have enough corroborating evidence to support his “interpretation”.
The whole of her article is in the same vein and while she offers little or no evidence to support her stance she does ask several important questions that, if there were correlated evidentiary support for, would substantially damage the conclusions that Harris drew within his article. But it is unlikely that long work hours, manual labor and demographic instability, while historically accurate and supported, will ever be adequately linked to low library usage; very few people left written evidence as to why they chose not to make use of their libraries.

What is the minimum of historical documents needed to make an interpretation of past events? What type of documents should a historian use? Is it possible to make an accurate interpretation of any historical event or movement since we are all limited in perspective to our place, time, our moral and/or religious systems, our political and our social understandings?

Philosophies of Librarianship

Through the invention of print, books became numerous enough to warrant personal collections. Through these collections, there came opinions on what should be collected, how it should be arranged, and the “conceptions of purpose, obligations and techniques of a good librarian.” From the 17th century to folks like Shera and Ranganathan, this article gives a brief look into the historic philosophies that were dominant in librarianship up to ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and Broadfield’s ideas of freedom of choice. In terms of the United States, McCrimmon describes, “The philosophy of American librarianship, therefore, gradually developed as an aspect of the national philosophy, centering on intellectual freedom, the infinite possibility of progress, public support of education as a necessary part of responsible citizenship in a democracy, and the value of continuing education throughout life” (495).

What, if anything, has been added to the philosophies of librarianship after this piece leaves off around 1950?
What do you feel was not mentioned in this article? What other philosophies do you feel are missing? Where does the user, or different types of users, fit into these philosophies?
Do you feel like you can relate your library life to any of these outlooks?

Michael Harris, "The Purpose of the American Public Library: A Revisionist Interpretation of History"

Michael Harris writes that his intent at publishing this work was to “emancipat[e] the library profession, at least for a moment, from its dependence on an idealized history” (2514), and to question the “public library myth.” Certainly he has accomplished this goal in that all of the articles that we have read for this class (that were written after 1973) have made reference to Harris’ work. Wayne Weigand writes in “American Library History Literature...” that Harris “set on edge the world of American library history, until then so used to celebrating itself,” (4) and that until the publication of Harris’ article in 1973, the library profession didn’t take itself very seriously (6).

Intentionally representing library history in a less than glorious light, Harris presents four stages of history within the public library. The first, that of the founders, which happened around the establishment of the Boston Public Library in the 1850’s. The main goal of the founders was to open a library that would be free to all people, and Harris argues that the founders were aristocrats whose role in this process was one that would assimilate library users into the founders’ own image and ideals. The second phase of the public library was that of the technicians, who “civilized” the profession, holding out the carrot of fiction in order to attract patrons who could then read “better” works that had been chosen by librarians (who had no qualms about censorship), and who made libraries inflexible through bureaucracy and abandoned the more theoretical goals of the founders. Third was the phase of rampant immigration in the 1890’s in which Harris cites that financial woes made librarians cut popular programming to fund services for scholars, and at this time librarians increased their role as elitists via these decisions and also through the philanthropy of wealthy and controlling Americans such as Andrew Carnegie, despite the fact that they still held onto a smokescreen of egalitarianism. The final phase of librarianship came after World War II when Harris asserts that librarians further abandoned their theoretical background and stressed services over library philosophy. In light of the propaganda and suppression of thought in WWII, librarians became advocates of a “right to know” and abandoned their mission to attempt to tell patrons what information was valuable and what was not. Harris argues that this mission was one that backed the status quo of librarians as passive persons and placed the responsibility of use on library patrons, and that this self-selecting group of middle-class citizens is one that agrees with the librarians sensibility of a constructive user, and thus they do not challenge the librarian to become actual advocates of a “right to know” on a large scale of demographics, but still back a elitist and small group of patrons who self-determine their library use.

Thus far in our readings there has been a great deal of discussion of the revisionists, and as a library student, I have responded more fondly to the criticisms of Weigand and Harris due to their willingness to see fault in libraries, and I think I am willing to agree with their perspective in order to attempt to make libraries better, or to avoid what they describe. I see a clear difference, but how do all of you see the works of the revisionists in comparison to those written by librarians in support of a celebratory history of librarianship? Do you feel that there is a different relationship between a historian telling the history of librarianship vs. a library professional, and does this difference, if there is any, play into your reading of texts like Harris’ or Garrison’s? Are Weigand or Harris right that librarians have created merely a congratulatory history to date and that the revisionists offer a more realistic perspective?

Do you think that library founders and philanthropists were attempting to control lower, immigrant or common classes through libraries? If so, why? What threat exists within these groups that would require control via the channels of the library (information, reading, etc.)? Is the library capable of this type of social control (especially in light of the fact that Harris asserts that patrons are self-selecting)?

At the end of his article, Harris feels that there “the very existence of the public library is in jeopardy.” Do you believe that this was true in 1973? Do you think that this is still the case, or what other reasons or context do you see for Harris to make this assertion?

What is your reaction to the way that Harris treats librarians’ devotion to intellectual freedom and neutrality?

Has there been a “public library myth” where ideals have differed far from practice?