Sunday, February 03, 2008

Public Libraries in the United States

While reading this article, although I was glad that Quincy understood how amazing it was for the common man to be able to access all sorts of books, I was saddened how this was dampened by his paternalistic outlook. While it could be true that a reader can get more from a book of non-fiction book than a fiction one, it seemed very silly when he stated that physicians have found that romantic literature is the "fruitful cause of evil to youth of both sexes." Not only do I find it hard to believe that they could know this with any degree of certainty, but I have also read a lot of fiction that made me think about things in entirely new ways- and I'm pretty sure that fiction did not lead me to evil.
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.

1 comment:

Greg Downey said...

That statement about a library being more useful as its book circulation decreases seems like it would have been seen as absurd even to the writer's contemporaries. More likely it was an attempt to change the arguments about funding libraries from "must meet specific empirical measures of value" to more philosophical justifications. We still face such questions of "proving" a library's value through empirical measurement (collection size, gate counts, circulation figures, private donations, web site hits) today.