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.)

6 comments:

SarahStumpf said...

I found this article to be very poorly written because it is not about race issues in library history. It is about African American issues in the ALA, which is a whole different ball of wax. There is nothing in this article about actual on the ground experiances of librarians of color, and nothing about other races besides black people. What was librarianship and libraries like for Asian or Arabic or Hispanic or Native American people? Did they just not exist in the library system as users or librarians? Did schools that refused to admitt blacks admitt persons of other races besides white? What about the experiances of people who might have had more then just racial stumbling blocks to overcome, like gay librarians of color or women library users of color. The whole thing is extremely narrowly focused, and kinda disingenious because it does not live up to its topic.

Katie Hanson said...

I, too, was dissatisfied with this article. Perhaps Josey was just too overwhelmed with the complexities of the issue or just had too little space with which to work, and thus only decided to look at the ALA race issues. But it's so maddening to have the knowledge that there is so much going on at this time in regards to race (the segregated branches, the access to and content of collections, etc.) and have it entirely ignored in an article purporting to be about race in library history. Even the bibliography appears to be limited to race within the profession. Although I think Josey made a good start in addressing some of the issues within the librarianship, but I would have liked to have seen an article that takes more of the 'user in the life of the library' stance, and gives the topic of race in libraries its proper due.

Alycia said...

Well, I think the first thing to consider is that E.J. Josey is the author of this piece, and not Weigand and Davis, and I got the impression that Weigand and Davis as editors seem to have chosen Josey to write this piece because of his own first-person experiences fighting to be a part of ALA as a librarian of color and as someone who became the president of the organization. I think that given Josey's protests and struggles within ALA, the most prominent face of librarianship, we can vicariously imagine that the struggles of individual librarians of color in hiring processes and their professional lives would be similarly or even more daunting.
I agree with Nancy that basing this piece on one aspect of librarianship (ALA) is strange, (unless it is intended to represent the same struggles that other librarians went through elsewhere) and also with Sarah that basing this entry predominently on one race is problematic (unless it is meant to represent the experiences of other minorities). Further, even though I understand why Weigand and Davis may have chosen Josey to write this piece, I do wonder as well why it is written in the first person? I think that this made it more intriguing for me, and made me want to find out more about the author, but does this style work as an authoritative encyclopedia-style entry? Should the author of a reference work make himself known, is this inevitable/unavoidable inherently, and is there something problematic about writing encyclopedias in the first person?

Nancy S. said...

Whoops. It is by Josey. I take back all the ill feelings I expressed towards Wiegand and Davis. (Or on second thought maybe I don't considering they approved Josey's writing of the article).

kristen said...

Well I hesitate to to post this blog based on what everyone else has written but here it is anyway...
Perhaps Prof. Josey’s aim was to demonstrate how deeply rooted racism was in American librarianship by discussing the reluctance of the ostensibly progressive ALA to aggressively address the issues of racial segregation within it’s own organization. Libraries wishing to integrate probably could not get direction or instruction from the ALA for due to its passive attitude. It would be necessary for the ALA the set the ideal example of racial integration before any real progress could be made elsewhere in librarianship.
For more information about Prof. Josey see: www2.sis.pitt.edu/ejjosey/

Kelly said...

I was also surprised to see an encyclopedia article suddenly turn into a first-person account. I found Josey's personal stories interesting, but this piece probably would have been better if he'd written it as an essay about his own experiences.