Wednesday, February 08, 2006

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.


Bethany said...

To address the question of "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?" I think this is a question that was even answered after initial efforts to "protect children" since, on page 213 it describes the "exhaustion" on the part of librarians to not give out certain kinds of fiction to children when they a) didn't see what harm it did anyway and b) could just borrow or buy the books they wished to, having no obligation to HAVE to check out books at the library. My opinion here, which is of course, totally open to discussion, is that it is not the library's job to protect children from fiction, as well as any attempt in doing so has (and will, especially in this technological age) fail. I say this for several reasons, I think there is a goodly amount of evidence that supports the fact that children are affected differently by different things, as well as the fact that it is up to parents to aid their children in selecting books, if they wish to do the selecting for their children. I see the librarian as a resource, rather than any kind of effective surrogate mother. The fact of the matter is that the library relies on tax dollars, and needs public support, and if they aren't carrying the kinds of books that children as a whole are reading, they are risking the alienation of an entire patronage, not to mention the children's parents (or caregivers), potentially.
Conversely, however, I am in support of filters on the internet for children, since I think the likelihood that children will be confronted with graphic imagery or sites not intended for children simply by stumbling on them is much higher than "stumbling" onto the Kama Sutra in the children's wing, for an extreme example- something that with supervision should never happen, or infrequently. Additionally, and as I feel that the librarians of 1916 discovered, "contraband" literature (ie: books that have been banned in the past) often becomes more enticing to children due to that very label. What is forbidden is desired, so to speak. I think that, while in the past, it may have had a bit more to do with class status rather than now, with more of a moral/religious emphasis on shielding children from corrupting books, I think that librarians both now, and then, are wise to resist playing parents to children. The library is a service, not a daycare, and not a stand-in mother, not to mention that any kind of guidelines of what is and isn't appropriate are entirely ambigious and controversial (one of the great unanswerable questions, I would argue) and actually probably depend a great deal on the individual, rather than the material itself.

Kelly said...

It is funny to think of the Victorians expecting librarians to protect children from scandalous dime novels when such reading material was readily available at newstands, drug stores, train stations, and of course book shops. Of course, some parents still object to scandalous books in libraries today, even though their kids could see worse on television any night of the week.

If, as Garrison argues, the early American librarian was supposed to be a genteel, civilizing, and traditionally feminine influence on her lowly patrons, I suppose shielding children from immoral fiction might be fairly considered a part of her job. But that's not the kind of librarian most patrons want today, and it's certainly not the kind of librarian that contemporary librarians want to be! If parents insist upon controlling their children's reading material they should do it themselves and not expect librarians to enforce their rules for them.

Deanna Olson said...

I liked your comment, Kelly, about the immoral literature being widely available outside of the library. There was no way that the librarian could have protected children from all the immoral literature. I can also see, however, the view of the librarian in that time period as wanting to provide at least one venue where adults did not need to worry about children being corrupted. This image of the library as a “safe place” is a prominent theme throughout library history. It extends beyond censorship of immoral literature to the actual welcoming atmosphere of the library. I think that because of the huge movement of feminization in the field of librarianship the presence of female librarians helped to convey this message of the library as a “safe place” sort of like a home away from home. Garrison repeatedly refers to the fact that women as librarians were viewed as not completely leaving their posts in the home but extending their services to the library. I wonder if the image that many people have today of the library would be the same without the influence of women as librarians?