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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"

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

çonflict and control in the Carnegie library

I found the interplay of control and conflict to be an interesting theme in this book. I think Van Slyke is on to something here. She discusses the notion of the Carnegie library as a mechanism for efficient distribution of books, an idea that appealed both to Carnegie and to librarians who saw their role as akin to factory managers. . But all those pesky immigrant children persisted in seeing the library in their own way, and the librarian as some generic "teacher".

As with the Garrison book, I feel a little too personally close to some of this for totally dispassionate critique. My first job in a library was as the lowliest staff member in a Carnegie-library branch of the Cleveland public library, presided over by a stern factory-manager librarian, where immigrant children were sent to wash their hands before they could touch the books. This really did happen within living memory, folks! And this was not all that long ago.

And the Union City Indiana public library, which also features in VanSlyke's book, was my first library experience. One of my earliest memories is of being really afraid of the librarian who presided high up at the huge central desk in the Union City library. At least it seemed huge to a four year old. I remember fondly walking to the library with my grandfather and then walking home with him and his reading the books to me. But the in-between part, going into the library, was pretty scary. I remember feeling glad that my grandpa was there to protect me in the library. He was "somebody"in Union City, as the retired manager of the Western Union telegraph office, so he was on good terms with the town elite. (I didn't understand this part back then.) And he always took off his hat and spoke politely to the librarian, and she seemed to like that. So I just stuck close to him while we picked out books and I tried to pretend that the librarian wasn't there. We had to go to the library pretty often too, since you were only allowed to take out three books at a time.

So, there are some childhood (and young-adulthood) recollections to round off the last two chapters of Van Slyke. And with hindsight, I see that without Carnegie's philanthropy, a tiny place like Union City could probably not have supported a library at all...


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