Monday, February 11, 2008

The humanitarian idea

In Sidney Ditzion’s article, the purpose of the library seemed to be in the main to “save” the poor and idle from the multiple evils that preyed on their uneducated minds. Young unmarried girls were meant to have a sanctuary, intellectuals an “escape to culture,” and “livelier scenes of a brighter world” for the poor working man. How these were to exist in one public library is unclear, because we assume the moralist who wanted to eradicate the menace of pernicious literature and distribute temperance literature to the masses would not want all these people to mingle, but of course the vision presented here is somewhat idealist (which is a good reflection of the hopeful mood of the time), and was never really realized.
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.

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