Monday, February 11, 2008

Manners and morals in the public library

In Elaine Fain's article, we see the somewhat contradictory statements made by Harris and Garrison; on the one hand we see the library as being cold, elite, and institutional, on the other, we see it as "too homey, passive, and suppliant." Since it is difficult to believe that the same libraries were two such opposite places. In her examination, Fain revisits much of the library history that Harris and Garrison do, going over the desire of the upper classes to "crusade against ignorance, vice, subversion, and possible revolution." She especially emphasizes Harris's attempt to trace library history along with the history of public schools, in that both created a myth about their humanitarian mission that reinforced their existence in society. Fain felt that the big difference lay in the fact that children could be forced to school, while libraries were generally institutions for "self development." Because of this need to attract, as Fain put it a "clientele," libraries developed along the lines of a service and hospitality organization. The conceptions of the time (in addition to a willingness to work for low pay) made it seem almost natural then that women would work in this capacity. Fain seemed to think that both Harris and Garrison picked and choose what literature and history was used as evidence, which is how their conflicting views of the library were formed. Despite this, Fain seemed to come to the conclusion that the articles were valuable in conjunction with each other, as they both raised new questions and examined ideas and pictures of the institution that had not been done before. On an interesting note, her final sentence seemed almost a reproof of the scholar’s studies, which we see when she states, “The new moralists may prove as hide-bound as the old.”

No comments: