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LIS 950: Libraries and community

The purpose of this seminar is to explore an important topic in library and information studies in depth — in all its intertwined historical, cultural, philosophical, and political aspects — through a graduate reading/discussion seminar. The topic varies each time the course is taught; this time around, we will focus on "libraries and community"

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Food for thought on "Apostles of Culture"

Christine Pawley’s introduction attempts to situate “Apostles of Culture” within the environment it developed, provide the reactions of critics, and impact the books has had on Library and Information Studies. As I now finish the book I am left wondering if I should have read the introduction before or after I read the book in its entirety. I read the introduction first and wonder how much it has influenced the areas I will focus on for further discussion. As a place to start discussion I now turn to three areas of concern to me.

Sources and Evidence
Pawley outlines two criticisms of “Apostles of Culture” as generalizing from a sample of only eight women and the overuse of library leader ideas as expressed in library literature (xxii). The criticisms outlined by Pawley led me to think about issues related to evidence and sources utilized by Garrison. First there is the issue of citation omissions. On page 145 the third paragraph has what appears to be a direct quotation from Dewey that is not linked to a citation. In another case Garrison says “As late as 1893 children under the age of twelve were barred from almost half the large public libraries in the nation” (p.207) but does not cite a source. On page 224 Garrison provides many library statistics but does not cite them to a specific location in a source. Do these omissions indicate a larger problem in Garrison’s ability to cite sources or are they insignificant and should be ignored? Another related evidence and source criticism focuses on the use of sources.

Following on the critics Pawley cites about the use of library literature, as a major source is the case on page 194 where Garrison discusses the popular view of librarians in 1860 and 1900. These popular views are interesting in themselves but following the notes one finds that both of the descriptions of librarians come from various articles published in Library Journal. Is Library Journal the best source to demonstrate the “popular concept” of a librarian? If Library Journal is a good source what makes this the case? If not, what other source would be more convincing?

East and West
Statistics about the number libraries appear thought the book provide insights into the development of libraries over time and seems to suggest that many of the early libraries appeared on the East Coast. There seems to be a possible issue of difference between library development in the East and the West of the United States. Garrison points out “Less predictable, however is the degree of dominance New Englanders enjoyed in the highest levels of library leadership. Sixth-four per cent of the selected library leaders of 1885 were of New England birth, 34 percent from Massachusetts alone” (p.17). Does this suggest a possible problem of bias in the selected librarians reviewed or could it be argued that the library leaders selected comprised a representative sample?

In other parts of the book Garrison says, “The shift from the genteel East to a more democratic West was symbolized in another way in 1895, for the annual conference was held in Dana’s home city of Denver” (p.95); and “Dana found sympathetic listeners among those librarians who were farthest west from Boston” (p.96). Do these quotations seem to suggest a larger East and West difference that might have played a role in library development?

In the use of language Garrison at times uses clear and evocative language and in other places uses language in potentially troubling ways. Some examples include:
“One can safely assume …” (p.21).
“Windsor, along with Melvil Dewey at Columbia University, led a revolution in library practice that transformed the university library from a repository of knowledge to a workshop for scholars” (p. 25).
“During his [Charles Ammi Cutter] eight years at the Harvard Library he married a young library assistant, probably the first woman to be employed in the Harvard cataloging section, and quickly sired three children” (p.32).

Are their any judgments or criticisms we should draw from such examples? If so, what can we conclude?


Blogger bundy said...

Jacob has started us out with some good discussion points. I would like to respond briefly and then engage more fully in the class discussion.

Sources of Evidence: Jacob writes: Is Library Journal the best source to demonstrate the “popular concept” of a librarian? If Library Journal is a good source what makes this the case? If not, what other source would be more convincing?"

While I do think that Library Journal does provide insight as to the popular view of the times I do not think that it should be used as the ONLY reference.

One can discern a lot (even from a journal reporting about its own community of practice). It would be great to compare and contrast this with other sources such as newspapers of the day or any personal correspondence.

East and West:

[My assumption is] There had to be a significant divergence in opinion the further one moved away from the New England library establishment. Obviously there would be many motivational differences / influences between established cultural centers such as Boston and frontier towns of the West.


I had a difficult time with the passage on 21. I am uncomfortable with the "one can safely assume" quote. This is not trivial . . . I think that the early examination of the "5 spinsters" creates the groundwork for much of the remaining chapters. I would have liked to have seen this substantiated in some way . . . even just a simple follow-up quote from a personal account or biography of any of the original five.


3:53 PM  
Blogger Jom said...

Jacob, I like your points and the question on “examples”, and, to me, every occurrence and moment in the history serves as “examples”. They reflect and illuminate a particular point in time with related actors in the community, values and cultures, gender roles, and the like. The book is so rich with essential issues that still exist in the present somewhere under a similar modernization unnecessarily to be in the USA, but in the field of librarianship. Also, as I am an “outsider” to American society, but somewhat “insider” in the field, concepts implied by “examples” are profoundly useful. The “examples” convey meanings and explain by themselves what happened, who or what involved, why, and how. Then, I think what if a particular occurrence did not happen, then, what else would happen. Things that happened in the history represent circle of relationship among actors – librarians, elites, and the public. They also provide insight for me to think further about how and why each of the actors in the history interacted. The emphasis and exercise of their power – derived from education, social class, or allied in the community, and so on are as interesting as how they can shape up culture or value by introducing trends and concepts to the public. Social control exists in history of modernization and development of not only library history, but also every aspect involved with people in a community since people are basically controlled by norms, values, and cultures in the first place.

In summary, majors issues brought up through reading Garrison’s Apostles of Culture are beneficial for developing my understanding and critical thinking toward them. I found the reading is very complicate and uneasy, but very pleasant to read especially moments and events introduced in the reading, to me, serve as comprehensive and constructive metaphors which help clarify concepts through the history itself.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I also found Garrison's lack of source citation to be an issue. The brief backgrounds she gives on the "five spinster librarians" intrigued me such that I wanted to know where I could find additional information on them. Unfortunately, I did not see a citation. This, along with her use of language (i.e. "One can safely assume...") were the most troublesome for me.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Awa said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Awa said...

As far as I'm concerned, the value expressions and uncertain statements are not a big problem. I think vagueness doesn't necessarily mean that it's not accurate or something. On the contrary, it shows that the author is very careful about the things that he/she is not 100 percents sure. The author is not so sure about something doesn't mean he/she cannot make a claim or statement. Of course, whether the statement is right or wrong is for the readers to judge. But still, I think, one has to speak out what one thinks necessary in the writing. Or are there any rules for that?

11:44 PM  
Blogger Jom said...

Kate, that seems something needs further investigation or research, right? I, myself, found one part that she use metaphor in her writing and I like it. In her critique on page 28, she use "sour grape" to reflect Poole. However, it is good that I learn some perspective about writing and language use from you. This way, I start to rethink and find out more. Thank you.

Awa, I like your idea, and I think that something that seems incomplete or uncertain leads audience to think further to find out what is left unsatisfied or unfulfilled from the reading. So, when readers find something does not seem right or need further investigation, it means the work has influence on weaving thoughts for research by others. That way, the field then grows.

12:14 AM  

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