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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"

Monday, November 07, 2005

Heterogencity of Open Democracy

Irene posted: In the Lepkie and Hopkins article, p. 352, there is talk about, "Libraries have traditionally been idealized as a spatially unrestricted communal meeting ground for all members of a pluralistic society, a shared site where people of various classes, ethnicities, religions, and cutlures, mingle to create the 'heterogencity of open democracy.'"

This is a topic that I have wrestled with for years. . . and would hope that the facilitator for this week will allow some time to discuss. I'm sure that it will surface as this would appear to be one of the main themes in for this week's reading as well. If this space ( as a unrestricted communal meeting ground for all members of a pluralistic society) isn't provided via the public library, then where in our culture does this exist? Some might argue that the meeting ground exists in public institutions like say, "UW-Madison." Others might argue this happens in the home. Others might argue this happens in the op-ed section of the newspapers. . . . and still others might say that this meeting ground now exists on the Internet amoungst various user communities.

I think that following up on the Buschman book, in order to make the argument for the "need" for libraries . . . it would be helpful to discuss library alternatives. My opinion is that the library IS the ideal place for this common ground. When I read Irene's post where she discusses what she sees in the library (folks of similar characteristics) not intermingling I realize she makes a very valid statement. . . rarely see all these different kinds of people interacting, or engaging in public discourse and debate at the library (unless there is a class in the library). Just because many different kinds of people are together in a space (a space with enforced quiet, where many are trying to study or read, an individual activity), does NOT mean people are debating with each other. Often what I see are people who are alike (be it by physical appearance, age, etc.) sometimes talking to each other; I rarely see different kinds of people hanging out together and engaging in discourse.

However, the library does offer a venue for folks to engage one another if they wanted to. That is not necessarily true of other "spaces" in our culture. It's sort of like democracy in this country. American citizens all have the right to vote . . . and yet so many don't. Does that mean it is a failure? On some level, yes. Does the library fail . . . not in terms of providing a forum -- whether people choose to act on that is another question.

Thanks for posting these thoughts, Irene!!!


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