Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Libraries to the People!

Sanford Berman, can you dig him? In Libraries to the People, Berman, clearly identifying with some part of the revolutionary movement, tells us what exactly is wrong with libraries. I'm not going to do alot of summary- the article was short and I think one of the more engaging ones we've read. So, published in 1972 by the Bootlegger Press, Berman's style is extraordinarily different from anything we've read this semester. Take a minute to glance over it again (its short) and first, for class tommorow jot in the margins some ways this style is different then, quickly, take a highlighter, and mark phrases or words within the piece that serve to mark his style. Berman writes that the library is sorely lacking in its promise to provide materials for everyone. (Though the article was written in 72, let's be thinking of the ways this perhaps, holds true today). Freely offering ideas of magazines and journals that could be added to balance out the library collection, Berman sees some hope in the state of libraries as they were. However, even if each patron made a wish list for their library, and this list was implemented, would that be enough? Or, is it the library always inherently going to fall short of pleasing every patron. Berman concludes with commentary about the card catalogue.-" chances are overwhelming that it contains an unbelievable pile of crap" Berman touches on what we discussed a few weeks ago, regarding the inadequacies of the card catalogue, just a little more forcefully than in previous weks. So, what do we think of Berman? Is he saying what we're all thinking? How do we view this article in relation to being a part of Library History? To play devil's advocate, is Berman only preaching to the choir in this article? Or, is the library not as useful to certain groups of people? Who is supposed to care after reading this? Would a more "professional" piece (what does that mean, anyway) speak louder to librarians, or are they already on the same page as Berman? Is there a widening gap in patronage today- the "straight-lacers" and the "hip" and if , what can libraries do about this- keeping budgets in mind, and other factors?

5 comments:

Quinn Fullenkamp said...

I rather enjoyed Berman's no-nonesense and no b.s. approach to the article. Who should grab hold of this article and embrace it? Well, I certainly hope that we as librarians grab onto the ideas and energy of the piece. I have to think that Berman is writing at a time when he thought he was not preaching to the choir;rather he was taking aim at a few 'straights', to open their narrow minds, and maybe even tilting at a few windmills as well. How many pieces of today's counterculture do we find in our libraries today? Do we even have a counterculture now? If we are to be progressive librarians and build progressive collections, should we build collections that rival Jim Danky's work at the Wis. Historical Society to show our devotion to the cause of equal time for all? I wonder if we could even begin to scratch the surface of what is available out there in the information dimension to offer to our patrons. Still (after this brief diversion) I feel that this article is a call for librarians to get their acts together and practice what they preach.

Kristin said...

Who is Berman's audience is a good question. The article seems to be directed at members of the community, whose interests are not currently served by the library. Yet, I could not help wondering the following as I read the article: If there is nothing in the library to attract those members of the community to it, how likely are they to care enough about the library to fight to change it?

Molly said...

One thing that is interesting to consider regarding Berman's library catalog critique is the way terms change over time. In the "The Place to Go" article we find Langston Hughes referring to the 1920's "Negro Renaissance" (384) and Du Bois talking about "Negro actors before Negro audiences as depicted by Negro artists (406). Perhaps at this time "Negro" could have acceptable catalog term. In 1972 Berman calls for use of the more acceptable term "Afro-American," which is the LC Subject Heading still in use today. However, today there are many that say "Afro-American" is no longer the acceptable term and that "African-American" should be the Subject Heading used. I think that this is a situation that holds true for many subject headings. It is interesting to consider the time it takes for an old subject heading to be replaced by a new one, and then the time it will take for that subject heading to be considered out of date.

When one thinks about the sheer mass of subject headings in a classification system it is easy to imagine the bureaucracy involved in and incredibly slow pace of subject heading updates. However, it is astonishing to think that it would take decades for a heading to be brought up-to-date. Berman in correct in asserting that the library’s subject headings should reflect the current time and nomenclature. It is obvious today that many information professionals are taking Berman’s suggestions to heart and no longer wait for the LC or the DDC to update their headings, and use Berman’s headings instead. For example, the popular database NoveList uses Berman headings instead of DDC or LC.

Deanna Olson said...

I have to agree with you Molly that it is difficult to update subject terms in a catalog to be politically correct because chances are you will have to keep updating the catalog because what is considered politically correct today does not necessarily mean that it will be correct in the future. When Berman was discussing the card catalog I couldn’t help but relate it to an exercise I did in LIS 450. As a group we were asked to respond to a parent’s concern about her child reading Huckleberry Finn because the book contains racial terms such as “Negro”. The question to the group was whether the book should be removed from the shelf because it contained terms that are offensive. The general consensus of my group was that the book should remain on the shelf. When reading a book set in a historical time period it is important to understand the context of that period. I feel this is the way we should approach the subject terms in the card catalogue. People should understand the historical context in which the card catalogue was created. I am an advocate for new subject terms but I also think that an understanding of the card catalogues historical context would be a more immediate solution.

Kelly said...

This article reminded me of when Jim Danky visited my 571 class and talked about going to libraries around the country and NOT finding local newspapers, ethnic or non-English language periodicals, etc.

I guess not much has changed since Berman's article. Many of the authors and topics he mentions are now included in mainstream library collections, but doesn't this just mean that libraries now include material that would have been considered radical thirty years ago?