Monday, February 18, 2008

2/18 Articles and Discussion

Group 4- Cindy and Val
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?

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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?

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