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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"

Saturday, September 17, 2005

My Proposal ;-)

During the early half of the twentieth century, the Americanization Movement worked to assimilate new immigrants. Complicit in the propagation of this movement was the American Library Association and, consequently, American public libraries. Specifically, during the years immediately preceding, during, and after World War I, libraries engaged in the dissemination and production of materials and initiated programs intended to help assimilate the “foreign born,” while renewing the patriotism of citizens within communities (Wiegand 1989, Jones 1999). During this period, libraries (coordinating with the U. S. government) operated as, borrowing from Bordieu, institutions imparting “Symbolic Capital” to immigrant populations, using literacy as an “instrument of domination” (1991).

To assess the role of libraries during the Americanization Movement, we must address the following questions: How did libraries across the U. S. enact assimilation programs? How and what did libraries communicate with one another, the American Library Association, and the U. S. government? And perhaps most importantly, when libraries asserted this role as educators of immigrants, where did communities meet? Where were “contact zones” located, and how did these communities (immigrants, libraries, government) “grapple with each other” (Pratt 1991).

Using Brandt’s approach of identifying and analyzing “sponsors of literacy” (1998), this paper analyzes the ways in which essays in professional library journals such as Library Journal created community among librarians engaged in Americanization projects. In particular, I focus on essays written by practicing librarians which describe Americanization programs, explain the ways in which these programs might be replicated elsewhere, and encourage their fellow librarians to ‘take up’ with this national project. In addition, I analyze statements addressed to librarians from the U. S. Committee on Public Information (established by executive order in April of 1917 with the intention of selling the war to the American public) and documents published and distributed by the American Library Association’s Library War Council. Through these materials, I examine the ways in which libraries operated as hegemonic tools to assimilate new immigrants using literacy programs, and the resistance to and acceptance of such programs as described in these publications.

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