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?

3 comments:

Eileen H. said...

One similarity I saw in both funding programs was gender discrimination. Similar to what we have discussed in terms of the feminization of librarianship, women in WPA projects often were given the positions with lower pay. As Swain points out, "Local administrators often defied or side-stepped federal stipulations that men and women were to draw the same pay for the same job; because pay scales were based upon job classifications defined for each project, men were simply assigned the better paid tasks in many work activities" (p. 278). Van Slyck also mentions when talking about the design of the Allegheny Carnegie library how the men's toilet is right next to the librarian's office. "Since both the library commission and the architects assumed that librarianship would remain a male profession, these last two rooms communicated directly with one another..."(p. 15).

I also think it is interesting to look at who was coordinating the funding in both instances. The Carnegie philanthropy is administered mainly by males. With the WPA, women headed the overall Division of Women's and Professional Projects, but in order to avoid having an "exclusively feminine Washington staff" (p. 278), a male was hired to oversee the library division of WPA projects.

Heather said...

I think Eileen makes an interesting point in mentioning that the WPA efforts were largely carried out by women, wheareas Carnegie's was administered by men. WPA required a lot of fairly self-less work, as was demonstrated by the lengths that library workers went to deliver services to a far-flung population. I immediately thought back to earlier discussions of women as librarians... the stereotypes of gentle nurturers. I wonder if this at all factors into the equation....

Deanna Olson said...

I think women as nurturers and working with the WPA as an extension of the home was definitely a factor in the equation. Who else would go to such great lengths such as wading knee deep in water and continuing on foot when their car breaks down to deliver books to patrons? There workers were determined to provide this opportunity of learning and reading to all individuals despite where the patrons lived and what social class they came from. The improvement of society was central to their determination. I also found it interesting how quickly the mission of the WPA shifted at the onset of WWII. The focus of the program shifted to the soldiers and providing them with reading materials instead of individuals in rural areas. The WPA’s days of conquering the elements to reach patrons in rural areas were over and the priority shifted to national defense.