Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dee Garrison’s Apostles of Culture is an engaging look at the development of librarianship in America. It provides an unflinching view of the luminaries of the library and explores the way in which their own history, combined with their place in history has affected the work we do today. From the very beginning the leaders of the library sought to advance culture, education and social status. In many ways those struggles and our role in them as professionals is the focus of great debate to this day.

From the establishment of the earliest American libraries, the motivations of culture, morality and literacy have been bound together. At once part of the social reform movements of Temperance Unions, at times leaders such as Dewey were themselves in need of social reform, being driven more by personal habits than by the desire for progress.

Coming into being at the end of the Victorian era, the library became the last stronghold of the gentry. Their social standing greatly diminished with the rise of industry, they sought to maintain influence and relevance by exerting control over the affairs of culture. As is the case today, many in this social class sought leadership within the world of the library to express their social and cultural leadership.

While men of industry would build great libraries, and impose their vision upon them, others would come to positions of leadership within the profession itself. Just as Andrew Carnegie was instrumental in constructing many of America’s libraries, leaders such as Samuel Swett Green lead movements to encourage reading amongst school children and laborers. Men such as Dewey and Cutter developed classification systems that allowed for easy retrieval of materials as collections expanded greatly.

For his part Carnegie would bring the “Carnegie Library” to towns across America, sometimes in the face of great opposition. In particular, union members and Socialist leaders were repulsed by the idea that the Carnegie libraries were nothing more than an attempt to polish the image of a union-busting industrialist soon after the Homestead Strike. The formation of such libraries was seen not as a deed of altruism, but as a further effort to lull workers into complacency and quash their expansion with bland fiction.

Furthermore, at this time the library was seen as the place of the leisure classes, with workers shut out by the social mores of the institution. Such refined halls reflected an air of upper-class exclusivity that made many working men feel unwelcome. At the same time as working men were feeling shut out, the feminization of the library was taking hold. Women began to remake the library in the image of the home. This suited the gentry quite well as the gentry began to find their power, rooted this time not in industry or money, but in morality. Thus they saw themselves as protectors of women and savior-teachers to the worker; and guardians of morality for all.

Just as the gentry struggled to redefine their status at this time, much of the struggle experienced by early library leaders revolved around matters of status. In the economy of ideas they wanted to be seen as more than department store clerks selling literacy to the masses. Rather they saw themselves as professionals, akin to educators. While they espoused high culture ideals, they were often forced to reconcile this with the demand for the dime novel. Efforts were made to curtail this demand by culling from the collection works of fiction and works that were deemed morally questionable. Yet the desire for fiction never waned. Even as the library would be re-imagined as the University of the working- man, librarians were forced to understand that their students did not always want to study the Classics. Thus, as the society changed, so too did the role of librarians. Where once they were cultural ambassadors, infusing the masses with the works of Shakespeare, and Chaucer, librarians began to understand the place of recreational readers in the life of the library.

At its core, Apostles of Culture is a story about the development of the library, sometimes in spite of those who are viewed as pioneers within the field. Between Carnegie’s anti-Labor views, and Dewey’s eccentric refusal to write in standard English, it is amazing that a public backlash to the idea of the library did not develop. More than anything then the book is a story about the persistent draw of the written word in spite of those who sought to control it. In the modern world of media saturation, one has to imagine that such personalities properly projected and distorted could have derailed the development of the American library. It is fortunate then, that the library took hold before the quirks of the personalities took over the public imagination.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This blog entry, concerning the readings from Tuesday Jan. 22 2008, deals with the way in which the future of the library was envisioned and the issues that are at the forefront of modern dilemmas. “The Once and Future Library” of Nicholas Basbanes, the theoretical analysis of Wayne Wiegand and the educational perspective of Christine Pawley – each provides an insight into where we have been as a profession and the implications of current practices on where we are headed.

“The Once and Future Library” touches on the issue of digitization by way a story about the San Francisco Public Library. In this situation, the library management all but removed books from the plan for the space, and instead focused on space itself. In the place of books, newspapers and other public records stood grand architecture and named meeting spaces. Yet, what is a named meeting space if the original purpose for the building itself is all but lost to marketing. What use will the groups have for a space that holds nothing but other spaces?

Some within the library establishment alleged interference from “Library Activists”. This alleged activism attracted the attention of Nicholson Baker, a noted print culture scholar, most famous for the American Newspaper Repository. He spearheaded a movement to save documents and to challenge the status quo. While his efforts were dynamic in this area, one key concentration of his efforts, focusing on the preservation of the card catalogue deserves mention. The preservation of this documentation preserves historical information not found in the electronic records according to some.

Wayne Wiegand’s “American Library History Literature: 1947-1997 Theoretical Perspectives?” examines the various types of library history literature during the titular time period. Of particular note is the way in which the library has operated as an agency of social control, inculcating the working classes with ideas that are deemed acceptable by members of the upper class, which have historically dictated what is and is not acceptable in society.

Wiegand focuses on the way in which the library leadership is out of touch with what mainstream audiences want. They deliver the classics when the mainstream wants to read tabloids and romance. It is akin to the formative years of television when soap operas competed with actual operas, and light comedies competed with Shakespearian comedies.

Wiegand notes that bibliographic works are of particular interest to scholars in this area due to the vast numbers of unpublished histories. Other sources of information include Master’s and doctoral thesis, dissertations and seminar papers. Wiegand examines the available work on such library leaders as Melville Dewey who has been covered by multiple authors due to his life and his work.

Pawley’s work explores the rationale for the inclusion of library history within the wider body of library scholarship. According to the American Historical Association’s website, Peter Stern’s articulates the idea that such scholarship increases the understanding of people and the wider systems in which they operate. Furthermore, Stern articulates three benefits for studying history – “moral understanding, fostering identity and good citizenship “(Pawley p.227.)

According to Pawley, the goal creating a more historical perspective within librarianship can be accomplished by starting at the point where future librarians receive their education. Using this focus in practice means that both current and previous trends should be made a part of each course. To facilitate this broadening of focus, Wayne Wiegand in particular has called for collaboration with innovative scholarly areas such as American Studies departments, which have a reputation for exploring literature within a wider context of both historical and modern stances. Furthermore, Pawley notes, growth in scholarly discussion of library history could be spurred by greater collaboration amongst LIS scholars around this topic.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

For those readers who are not librarians or who do not have a second address that is also coincidentally the address of a public, college or company library you might not realize just how books come to be selected for your library. Some are slected because you, the user of the library has requested that the book be placed in the library, some are selected because they have local interest, and are therefore germain to the collection of that library. Others are germain to a specialty of a library, such as graphic novels, travel books or other genres. Some, however come with the recommendation of powerful industry journals such as Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews or Booklist. Slate.com has an interesting article about this topic.
Some in the library field have noticed a decline in the love of the book. As much as we might like to deny it, the computer and the DVD have for some become the first language of the library query. In many places, the library is the home computer room for the children, mom and dad. In many places, the library is the wall upon which their videos are stored. As the MySpace Generation overtakes the MTV Generation and leaves the Baby Boomers in the dust, what we are left with in some cases are dusty books that for some represent treasured resources, but for others represent space in the library that could be used for more computers.

Some have become so despondent about the lack of book readership that they have taken to book burning. Some in the the Library service lament the rise of the computer over the book. But in the sense of a childhood game of Rock, Paper, Sissors, one could look at it two ways. Either we are looser for phasing out a technology that has been our trademark for eons, or we are winners for being inviting to the game of life and being asked to play our new hand of providing the newest technologies to those who cannot afford them and to those who would enjoy them more in our comfortable environment complete with our expert services. I think we win. Those who face the future with optimism win eventually, those who face the future with fatalism have been defeated before their future has even been written.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I've decided to take this blog in a new direction. From now on it will be focused on the issues of the role of the media and it's influence on libraianship. The name of this blog and my handle are taken from a rock group with literary fascinations which melds perfectly with my own interests as a libraian. So here's to the RELAUNCH OF WRITE THE CLOCK AROUND!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sometimes a journal about film talks about print in the middle of talking about film. A recent comment from Film Threat.com was an example of just that commentary. This from "FILM THREAT'S FRIGID 50: THE COLDEST PEOPLE IN HOLLYWOOD 2006"

44. Printed Magazines
Print is dead. Remember when people used to read stories printed on something called paper made from ground up trees? Nowadays it’s all about RSS feeds and bloggers.
Anti-Freeze: Keep giving away perfume samples; that seems to be the only thing you can’t get for free on the internet.