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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"

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Where is Plessy v. Ferguson in Du Mont's article?

In class discussion on Friday we did not get around to talking about Du Mont's article "Race in American Librarianship: Attitudes of the Library Profession". My biggest problem with the article is its failure to talk about Plessy v. Ferguson (the 1896 US Supreme Court case that established the concept of separate but equal, for more information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_v._Ferguson). Only once on page 498 is there a passing reference when Du Mont says "Librarians as a whole, northern as well as southern, tended to avoid the issue of integration even after the legal reversal of the 'separate but equal' doctrine in 1954 brought the whole question into national prominence." So why is Plessy v. Ferguson missing from the article? What utility would Plessy v. Ferguson bring to the article?

I do not know the answer to the first question. When Du Mont says, "in 1940 Gleason had reported that out of 774 public library units in the thirteen states of the South, only 99 provided any service to blacks" (498) I dismayed by the lack of library services available to blacks in the South. If Du Mont had included Plessy v Ferguson this would show that the American Library Association could have mounted a legal challenge to remedy the unequal library service to blacks in the South based on the doctrine of "separate but equal" but choose not to challenge the status quo.


Blogger Barbara Walden said...

I regret also that we did not get to the Dumont article. The story of public libraries seems so intertwined with the story of race, as well as class, in America. I've been reading the Tyson book, Blood Done Signed My Name for the SLIS book discussion Thursday. He mentions libraries several times but one really caught me -- first how a librarian in the whites-only library in his small North Carolina town tried to prevent his younger self from reading Jubilee, a classic African-American novel, and then how,when he went back to this same library years later that librarian was still there, but the library was integrated, both staff and library users, and the collection included many works by and about African Americans. He noted that people just said that the times had changed. But how did this happen in libraries? Where is the story? It does seem to me that the ALA could have been far more proactive than it was. Or do we just not know this story?

8:55 PM  

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