Monday, January 28, 2008

Questions for reading-Week 2

Here are the questions and comments group 2 came up with for the readings for class on Tuesday, Jan. 29.


Theresa and Emily

J. P. Quincy, Free Libraries

Quincy’s article entitled Free Libraries appeared in Public Libraries in the United States of America: their History, Condition, and Management which Dee Garrison writes “was a summation of the knowledge and experience gained in libraries during the period since 1853” (Garrison, 4). The report was commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Education and “mainly addressed itself to the librarians moral responsibilities,” (Garrison, 4) along with providing practical advice. Quincy discusses issues such as the use of public funds to finance libraries and to provide books that are morally questionable. He also asserts that libraries will benefit public education and that they provide access to people of all economic backgrounds education. Quincy argues that the libraries main goal should be to create a more literate and moral society. Garrison writes that the report became “an indispensable library manual for several years to come” (Garrison, 4). How did these ideas transform the early years of the public library and translate into what we now expect of the public library? Do these issues have any relevance to today’s libraries and if so how?

Quincy believed “We cannot evade a responsibility which has been placed upon us of the passing generation. One of the most promising institutions yet born into the world must be bequeathed to our successors as an instrument always working in the direction of moral and social developments” (Quincy, 399). What are the perceived responsibilities of today’s library? How do librarians fulfill the duties associated with the library’s responsibilities? Quincy concludes “Unlike all other public charities, the free library is equally generous to those who have and to those who lack. It cares as tenderly for the many as for the few, and removes some of those painful contrasts in human opportunity which all good men are anxious to rectify” (Quincy, 402). Was this statement true during Quincy’s time and is it true today?

Jesse Shera, Causal factors in public library development

In this article, Shera discusses what he considers the main forces that contributed to the early development of the public library. These forces include economic ability; scholarship, historical research and the urge for conservation; local pride; universal public education; self-education; vocational influence; and various others. Shera implies that the economic ability of a community was the primary factor in the development of a public library. However, he is reluctant to say that this is the most important factor. Besides economic ability, Shera does not state which factors had greater influence. Shera concludes by saying the underlying factors were “the people themselves-countless individuals in innumerable towns who had faith in the public library and believed implicitly in social value” (Shera 243-244).

As we read this article, we wondered how these factors apply to modern day libraries. When a village/city/town forms a new public library, what are the factors? Is it simply based on community desire? Does economic ability still play a primary role in whether or not a community decides to create a new library?

How “public” were these public libraries? In the development of libraries, did Shera consider the communities or groups that were blatantly ignored?

After reading the articles by Shera and Williams, do you think Williams’ critique of Shera is valid? Why or why not?

Between Quincy’s article and Shera’s, how has the view of the public library changed?

Shera writes “The belief was widely held that reading was a ‘good’ thing in itself and that the act of reading tended to elevate the reader, and this faith in the printed word as an instrument for the building of character is often expressed by the proprietors of corporation libraries” (238). Based on Quincy’s article, would he agree with this assessment of the power of reading?

Robert V. Williams, The Public Library as the Dependent Variable: Historically Oriented Theories and Hypotheses of Pubic Library Development

Williams writes that library historians need combine an idiographic approach which he defines as “statements [that] can be made only about specific time and place” with a nomothetic approach which he defines as “attempts to make universal generalizations about phenomena” (Williams, 329-330). Williams goes on to discuss different theories of how historians have approached library history. He reviews the main theories regarding the development of the public library including: the social conditions theory, democratic tradition theory, and social control theory. In reviewing these theories, he provides benefits and critiques of each. He writes, “the central weaknesses are the lack of specification about the relationships between the variables and the failure to include casually oriented statement that explains the why of public library development” (Williams, 339). He ultimately argues that in the end both approaches, the idiographic and nomothetic, are needed.

Williams gives us the main theories and shows us how they fail and provides us an alternative, but where do we start? Especially given the fact that “our community of scholars is small and the issues so diverse” (Williams, 330). Do you believe that one of these theories provides us with a better starting point? Williams writes “The three candidate theoretical explanations of public library development considered thus far have all treated the library as a dependent variable, subject to factors within the social system but having no direct effect on the social system or, indirectly, on itself” (Williams, 338). How does this tie in with Quincy’s view of libraries as a moral center in the community? If the initial expectation of libraries was to have a specific effect on the community, what are the implications of overlooking this effect in historical research? How would one study the impact of the library on its community?

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