Sunday, February 24, 2008
A Florida State University professor has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to write a book exploring the history of public libraries in the United States. Wayne A. Wiegand, the F. William Summers Professor of Library and Information Studies, received a $50,000 fellowship to write his proposed book, A People’s History of the American Public Library, 1850–2000, which will explore the roles the public library has played in the community, in the life of the reader, and as an information provider....
Florida State University, Feb. 14
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Edited to add: Also consider Dan Chudnov's comparison of free and open-source software with Carnegie on the axes of need and philanthropy.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Released: January, 2008
Welcome Stranger: Public Libraries Build the Global Village
“In March 2007, The Urban Libraries Council conducted a survey of its members, gathering data on the ways in which urban public libraries are involved with the transition of immigrants into American life. The findings of the survey, augmented with data collected in another 2003 member survey, are summarized in this report. They show that urban public libraries are in the forefront of the effort to make their cities stronger by welcoming and integrating new residents from all over the world.
Download the full report at:
Monday, February 18, 2008
The readings for this week cover a wide variety of historical documentation. The first article, to get our minds rolling, is by Elaine Fain. She discuses, in great detail, the Americanization Programs of 1900-1925, as well as the impact and formation of social reform and improvement. This was a period in history of rapid growth. This growth spurt came in the form industrialization as well as immigration. Immigration was the building block of early library growth. Fain states that between 1890 and 1910 American public libraries “developed most of the systems and services we take for granted today.” This population explosion of the 19th century included a vast amount of immigrants with little or no “American” education. The library became the means in which to educate and assimilate these new arrivals, especially the children. This idea of educating the non-English speaking community, and the effort that went into it, was an approach that was very successful. Do we, as librarians in the 21st century, see this concept as the corner stone of developing and furthering the strength of our current “system?” (The continuing education of the immigrants and assimilation into “our” society?) Our current government doesn’t seem to think that letting outside individuals into our country is worthy goal. . .
A statement made by the Sons of the American Revolution stated, “This is a great country, may you be worthy of it.” What are your thoughts on that statement?
The increased growth of individuals and outbreak of WWI furthered the development of concerns. Americans soon developed a (greater) distrust of the immigrants within the society during the early 19th century. Thus, the materials that were used to educate and assist immigrants became a means of discussion and concern. In other words, the materials caused problems among the ranks. Do you see the idea of pamphlets for immigrants to understand American culture as being misguided and elitist, or was this actually constructive step in the right direction?
The obviously “elitist” society that had formed and supported the library required a change in order to serve a purpose in modern society. How has social education (reform/improvement) changed now? As history often repeats itself, was this the beginning of an end? Librarians have considered themselves to be “vigorous reformers.” Do librarians still seem to be doing what they, from their egalitarian point of view, see as being the “best” for their customers, or have they demonstrated willingness to conform to a changing society?
Christine Pawley’s article was a very interesting look into a remarkable early reformer within Wisconsin in the character of Lutie Stearns. The impact that her actions had was amazing, as the traveling library seemed to be the early form of the book mobile. Stearn’s dedication and perseverance in getting books to those who needed them was amazing, especially since she had to fight her misconceptions of her gender, petty county boards, the disinterest of her patrons, and the extreme distances she had to travel to get the books where they needed to go. This concept of spreading knowledge and information throughout the country was actually quite revolutionary for the time, especially when we consider that although books where becoming more widely available, they were still expensive and not necessarily considered a priority. Also, since many librarians of the time only paid lip service (rather than practice) to the idea of “the right of citizens to equal information access,” Stearns did actually seemed to accomplish this goal through the sheer force of her strong personality and dedication.
We saw the formation of an early bureaucracy here; as Stearns did keep extensive notes about circulation, book interest, etc. This seemed to be used, in many cases, to show that the library actually was effective. It was interesting to see here that although Stearns had expected people to be interested in books beyond popular fiction, this was often as in every other library not the case. Do you see the travelling libraries as one more idealistic idea of the early library history, or was it actually effective? Was Lutie Stearns a part of the elitist culture of the early library, or do you see her as working against the tide?
Check out these Web sites:
The last article is rich in history, as well. Written, in part, by Phyllis Dain, it touches upon several historical timeframes and the concurrent problems within those timeframes. One major concern was, and still may be, the formation of collections. Does one collect for popular demand or does one “aim for diffusion of knowledge?” Perhaps not so much of a concern in the 21st century, but as discussed later in the article, one has to take into consideration the “matching the acquisitions of library materials to the lifestyles and occupations of clientele.” This concern does continue with a constantly changing society.
The authors discussed in great detail the comparison of public librarians of being in a position of a “Scylla and Charybdis” situation. This is often true in many aspects of daily life, and with this article one can include the library culture as well, as one never can fully realize the implications that this situation holds for one in the library infrastructure. For example, what are the dangers of growing too comfortable in doing things in one set in stone way? What should libraries ban, what should they not to ban? And, if libraries do ban books, we know if people want something bad enough, they WILL find a way to get it. This being true, is it the public library’s job to provide it? How does one impose certain view on the dissemination of knowledge when there is such a large multitude of individuals to serve? One danger leads to another. . .
Historically, as we all know, libraries have gone through times of great efficacy and times of difficulty in doing so, which the authors emphasize. They mention the formation of committees and structural integration of strategies that have/had impact on what we call “library systems,” as well as the idea of marketing the library to fight trends of deteriorating user value. How does one successfully market library services? We also saw the attempt to determine exactly what the mission of the library should be going into the future. This started in the 70’s and continued through the decades. Does it seem like a cohesive purpose was really ever created? Who actually utilizes (greatest use) libraries today? Should the library become like a business (such as Barnes and Noble) that is a “private enterprise serving only those who can afford to pay?” On a related note, the idea of the McLibrary seems to represent a response to our “need it now” culture. Are you offended by this representation of the library, or is this one of the necessary facets of the library for it to survive in our culture?
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Garrison’s first job in re-creating the landscape of the 1870’s was to show the reader the class dynamics occurring in that period. For the first time, it was possible for a person to have money without being raised in an upper class family. Thus, there formed two classes: the gentry elite and the business elite. Garrison says that the gentry elite’s response to this shift was to “cling to literary idealism (p 13),” so rather than make any changes, they preferred to try and order the universe around how their sense of things was. The general slowing of religious behavior and less rigid rules about sexuality were just the beginning of cultural changes that completely threw them off balance. The library then seemed to be an attempt to stave off the gentry elite’s feeling that most of the world, and the people in it, were out of control.
With a few exceptions, most of the early librarians were part of this class. Most notable about the early librarians then was a seeming “inability to settle down into their life work (p 18).” Main players included Justin Winsor, William Frederick Poole, and Charles Cutter. These men were the early leaders in libraries, and while they set the tone for a while, already heading into their forties, they were immediately almost a part of the old guard. On the whole, this meant that although they were somewhat innovative at the time for their more passionate attitude toward librarianship and their efforts to increase circulation and organization in the library, they did not seem to accept Melville Dewey’s call to move forward. Garrioson said that Winsor, for example, couldn’t understand Dewey’s “bustling adoration for technical solutions (p 27),” and Poole refused to implement the idea of fixed location books (p 29).
In contrast from these almost shiftless, although well educated early librarians, Dewey made librarianship his life’s work. He was obsessed with not wasting time, and before he had even finished his junior year in college at Amherst, Dewey had created and implemented a new library classification system (p 115). Despite Dewey’s growing reputation as a librarian with novel, useful ideas, Dewey’s business, professional, and personal affairs seemed to be led by one frustrating guiding principle-
“his ability to work mightily for his own advancement while genuinely believing he cared only for the good of others (p 116).”
Dewey’s high moral standards were shared (at least on the surface) by many of his upper class, educated contemporaries. While Dewey did seem to be sincere in his beliefs, the educated elite’s objections on the whole to fiction on the basis of immorality Garrison saw as something more sinister than religiosity alone. There was at the time a population of “religious rabble that challenged established patterns of distribution,” and most literature that the upper class objected to on moral grounds seemed to challenge this as well. Rather than reading this trash, upholders of the status quo were convinced that if unsatisfied labor workers everywhere would just read about business and capitalism, they would suddenly understand “the intricacies of efficient moneymaking (p 47),” and stop striking and forming unions to ask for more money.
In my favorite part of the book, Garrison outlined some of the plots of the objectionable literature of the time. Many of these authors wrote chiefly for women, and their theme centered around “rejection of traditional authority, particularly in domestic life, in religious life, and in matters concerning class distinction (p 75).” These characters- voluptuous, head strong Belinda, dauntless, man subduing May, and Edna Earl, who takes on education and then man with a fervor nearing religious (p 77), all seem a little silly, but for the woman who functioned essentially as a second class citizen, they must have been a breath of fresh air. Moreover, Garrison’s depictions of these heroines demonstrated exactly what most real women of the time were not-especially in the library world.
While Dewey continued to take on libraries with mechanical efficiency, simultaneously endearing and antagonizing library boards with his presumptuousness, Garrison says that he also “openly recruited cultured and educated women to library service (p 128).” This, perhaps equal with the Dewey Decimal System, seems to be have been Dewey’s dubious legacy. Not only did he set the tone for women as the main purveyors of library culture, he also began the trend to pay women less than half of what men made. Even past the middle of the century, women were supposed to feel almost lucky to work, and recognize that their real compensation- the good they were doing, could “never be measured by salary scales…she knows…of that satisfaction which comes of being needed and used (p 228).”
This summary barely scrapes the barrel of the library’s relatively short history. In just under 250 pages, Dee Garrison was able to show her reader not only what she felt where the main motivations of the early library, but also who the main players where, and how the library evolved to eventually come to become what seems very laissez-fair in comparison. Perhaps most importantly was what female librarians accomplished, almost in spite of their low value, which was the eventual creation of vibrant children’s libraries. By the end of the book, I really felt I had a good picture of the best and worst sides of the library, with a dose of thoughtful social commentary to really round it off.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Nonetheless, Ditzion believed that the statistics relating to the library and crime were favorable, such that in one city, arrests decreased by 142 in the same year that a library opened. These statistics are perhaps a little suspect, but although Ditzion mentioned that it was thought that the library could be used to encourage temperance, he noted that this was somewhat hard to do in practice, partly because of lack of funding, and what appeared to be a lack of interest.
Ditzion also mentioned that in general librarians did not take much initiative to create the mission of the library- rather, this was more often left to the trustees. Overall, Ditzion stated that this “humanitarian rationale [was] campaign material for more and better supported libraries.” He did not seem to regard this as necessarily a bad thing, but he did admit that while democratic principles were generally striven for, as often as not, different groups did try to force their ideas onto others.
This service of entertaining reading seemed a bit conflicting to Perkins though. Although he felt the habit of easy reading must be formed by reading books one wants to read, he also felt there were some books a person just must NOT read. While I can understand this, the list he provided made the line very thin- how can one say yes to some things and no to others, and in doing this, who exactly is meant to be the final judge on what is and isn’t a “proper subject for contemplation by all”?
Going back to the business aspect of the library, I thought the detail Perkins went into shows a lot about how fledgling and open to interpretation the library was. While things like a catalogue or a record and delivery and return of books might seem like common sense, the basics had to be laid down first for us to get to that point. His minute descriptions of the library give a lot of credence to the idea that early library science focused to a very large degree on the practical side of cataloguing, policing, etc. I think Perkins did recognize that a librarian was meant to serve the public too though, as we see when he states it is the librarian’s duty “not only to give out and take back books, but it ought to keep its friends and to make new ones.” While this makes sense, I feel as though the burden of pressure to be both friendly and efficient at the same time must have been overwhelming at times.
This idea is somewhat questionable to me, as there was no way he could force people to go to the library, and even if they did go, there is no guarantee that they would read the “right” material that would force them around to his way of thinking.
Although Ticknor did believe in “healthy general reading,” on the whole his aristocratic beliefs were reflected in the people that ran the libraries, which not only offended many patrons, but their belief that they knew best left them “totally unfamiliar with the needs, capabilities, and aspirations of the common man.”
This effort to educate the uniformed and unwashed continued to prove unsuccessful mostly due to continuing holier than thou attitudes, until finally librarians began to question just what their mission was supposed to be. Some seemed to feel providing people with the popular literature that they seemed to want was enough, others felt it was time to admit that the library’s real audience were middle class people- but Harris says that continuing endowment of libraries by millionaires like Andrew Carnegie let the idea of library as social improver of the masses continue for a long time despite evidence to the contrary.
This idea was generally let go in favor of the idea of the library as upholder of democracy and “people’s right to know,” but in general this went hand in hand with the final acceptance that the library’s real audience were people of a position similar to the librarians running the institutions. Overall, Harris took a very cynical outlook, going so far as to say that libraries are no longer considered important, and may be facing extinction if a better expression of purpose is not devised.
Dain too mentions Ticknor and other’s wish “the lower classes could be integrated into society through education,” she also states that it makes sense that people with money would create libraries. After all, as she said, who else would have the time or capital to do so in the days before tax supported libraries? In further discussion, Dain also brings up Harris’s point that most librarians were middle class. While she agrees it is possible the middle class attitude had a certain effect on the patrons, she again says, who else could have done the job, because “bookish people, like intellectuals generally, seldom came from the unpropertied and poorly educated masses.”
In relation to whether to give popular fiction to patrons, Dain characterized the problem to be largely one of maintaing credibility- for if the library was intended to uplift and educate, it was hard to imagine that “they abandon cannons of literary taste to cater to the less sophisticated,” which she believes we are still dealing with in modern libraries.
Monday, February 04, 2008
In her analysis of Garrison, Fain quotes: "librarians tended to 'serve' the reader, rather than to help ... [they] felt a a strong obligation to meet the needs of the public and were self-consciously sensitive to requests and complaints of the client," (Garrison quote by Fain, 103).
F. B. Perkins suggests the following: "... a perfect librarian is bound to be courteous and kind, attentive and accommodating, not only to the polite and considerate, but also to the evil and the unthankful," (Perkins, 427). Perkins goes on to say, "so far as circumstances permit, the library should do whatever is asked of it," (Perkins, 428).
Questions: To what degree are public service roles the same today? How do they differ? Does the public dictate the actions of the public library, or does the public librarian dictate the actions of the patron? Is there a balance? Is the public library of today (21st century) more involved with the community, inside and outside the structure of the library itself?
In F. B. Perkins "how-to" the public library is compared to a small business in its function for a small town - regarding this small business management, he states "a small library ... depends, if not even from month to month, certainly from year to year, upon the continual watchfulness, tact, and alertness with which not the wishes of learned men, but the public demand for entertaining reading is understood and met and gratified and managed," (Perkins, 420).
Questions: To what degree does the public library still refrain from functioning for the scholar, and rather exist for the public at large, the community, the working person? Is the public library of today still generally concerned with the "stuff in it" (i.e. books over the people), or do the people (staff included!) play a larger role in todays efforts within the library system?
In Michael Harris' revisionist historical interpretation, he mentions the taboo nature of censorship in libraries, and how in the libraries developmental stages, censorship was indeed "frequently used in the pages of professional literature ... [and] the librarian was responsible for keeping certain books from the public," (Harris, 2511).
Questions: To what degree does censorship play a role in libraries today (think about the library of the future scandal in San Fransisco), and how does a library guard against censorship, if it is as taboo as Harris mentions? Is there a difference in book "censorship" in public verses academic libraries (consider the function of a locked case in a library)? What about banned books, and how they are kept out of public schools, and to what degree out of public libraries?
In Elaine Fain's article the matter of user retention appears - as it does in the Harris article - and the issue if tossed around with unknown results. She emphasizes that "one could entice or browbeat an adult into entering a public library, but there was no way to force him to stick ... public libraries were faced with the problem of attracting and keeping clientele," (Fain, 102). Similarly, but more dramatically, Harris 'sweepingly' states at the end of his article that "people no longer see the library as important," (Harris, 2514).
Questions: What methods of retention are in place for the public libraries of today? Is keeping the community in the library still a problem? In cities where academic libraries are more prevalent, does the public library suffer? What "marketing" strategies are utilized for public libraries today, and how do some of these strategies crossover into other types of libraries, or other public institutions?
Regarding the Dain article:
Dain (263) notes that "generalizations about attitudes and motives of the early librarians must be limited due to the lack of substantive studies upon which to base such assessments". In a field populated by experts with history and\or English backgrounds why has so little been written about the field of librarianship?
Dain (262): How has the historically "conservative motives" and "ameliorative means" of early library leaders such as Ticknor affected the way we ask for funding and position ourselves in the past and in the present?
Dain (264) suggests that there was a desire for libraries to be taken seriously in early librarianship. Serious books and a scholarly disposition was a hallmark of the orientation of the day. To what degree did this affect the materials collected and the populations served?
Dain (266): According to Amitai Etzioni "low effectiveness in achieving institutional goals is characteristic of organizations". In what ways have libraries achieved their goals or failed to meet them? In what way have the goals changed?
Kristina and Petey (group 3).
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Williams also described the democratic tradition theory as a myth used by librarians partially because the plea for a library in the name of democracy was the most likely to succeed. While this makes sense, I can see why this idea has endured, because it is rather noble sounding.
In discussing the theory of social control in the creation of libraries, Williams again highlighted the lack of real evidence in support of this. While there were certain, as he called it “typologies” that described the phenomenon, the case of the libraries endowed by Andrew Carnegie seemed to be in opposition to this, because he took very little interest in directing the mission of the libraries.Overall, while I can understand Williams assertion that we need concrete evidence to make theories about the development of the library, it doesn’t seem quite that simple. Especially if we try to go back to the very beginning days of the library, much of that evidence is hard to find now, and generalities now almost seem like it would be the closest we can come to any real understanding. Where he certainly did seem to get it right was in saying that a library is the summation of many different causes, all of which probably did have a big impact on how the library developed.
I think it is worth some thought then that the first libraries had a lot more to do with rich white men leaving their mark on the world and cities achieving national distinction rather than people actually wanting read. Perhaps this had something to do with the decreased literacy and lack of free time of the time period?
One quote that I really enjoyed was George Ticknor's statement in a letter, "in its main department and purpose should differ from all free libraries yet attempted...one in which popular books...should be furnished in such numbers of copies that many persons, if they desired it, could be reading the same book at the same time." This idea seems a very revolutionary one for the time, in that previous to the library, it would have been impossible for this occurrence to even happen. Ticknor's idea is especially novel in relation to Quincy's seeming desire to legislate what people could and could not read.
Finally, it was really cool to read about when people first actually did take a vested interest in the public library, as it seemed to coincide with the very beginning of the industrial revolution, when people had some (if somewhat small at the time) way to better themselves with a large proliferation of jobs. While Shera raised the possibility that the library was a way for rich white men to get control over the lower classes, it seems as though the availability of books became a way for them to "raise...out of the ranks of the day laborer and into the middle class."
His statement that some people felt it "to be the duty of the State to supply boys and girls with dime novels," was interesting also, because although perhaps dime novels are not the best choice of reading material, at least it serves as a segueway into reading, which would perhaps lead to more worthwhile material. Without that initial spark, perhaps some people never would have taken an interest in reading for pleasure at all.
Finally, I have to wonder what Quincy meant when he said that when he stated that "the usefullness of a free library may increase in inverse ratio to the circulation of its books." Again, while he may have had opinions about quality of literature, I'm not sure I agree that it should be his and other "educated" men's responsibility to decide which books are useful and which are not.