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Volume 69
January 1999
Number I
Wayne A. Wiegand2
The twentieth-century American library is one of this nation's most understudied yet ubiquitous institutions, possessing a rich history of service to millions of users who over the generations have variably appropriated library
collections and serices for multiple purposes. For the most part, however,
the library and information science (LIS) research community has failed to
analyze the deeper meanings of these appropriations or to evaluate their significance for library users, in large part because it has yet to harness the
ideas of many critical theorists whose thinking now dominates so much of
the discourse occurring in other professions and academic disciplines. This
article constitutes a reexamination of the twentieth-century history of American librarianshipthat is grounded on this thinking. It argues that contemporary LIS discourse is plagued with tunnel vision and blind spots that greatly
limit the profession's ability to understand the role of the American library
in the present accurately, and thus seriously affect the profession's efforts to
plan the library'sfuture.
1. Revised version of a lecture originally delivered October 31, 1997, at the Library of Congress. The lecture wasjointly sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Libraryof Congress and the American Studies Association, which was hosting its own annual conference
in Washington, D.C.
2. Professor, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706. Telephone 608-263-2914; Fax 608-263-4849; E-mail
[email protected]
[Libraty Quarterly,vol. 69, no. 1, pp. 1-32]
i 1999 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
0024-2519/99/6901 -0001$02.00
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My students have heard it so often they call it my "birdsong." The
refrain comes from a set of numbers I carryin my wallet that are generated annually by the American LibraryAssociation's Office of Research
and Statistics [1]. Let me give you just a few for 1996. "There are more
public libraries than McDonald's-a total of 15,872 including
branches." "More children participate in summer reading programs
at libraries than play Little League baseball." "College librarians answer 94 million reference questions each year-more than three times
the attendance at college football games." Or how about this one:
"Americans make 3.5 billion visits to school, public, and college libraries each year-about three times the attendance at movie theaters."
Impressivestatisticsby anyone's standards,yet at the end of the twentieth century the ubiquitous libraryfeatured in these numbers remains
one of the most understudied of American institutions. Currentlywe
lack a solid body of scholarship that criticallyanalyzesthe multiple roles
that libraries of all types have played and are playing in their host communities, whether that be in educational institutions ranging from the
elementary school to the research university,in civic institutions such
as the historical society, the state libraryagency, or the public library
(urban, suburban, or rural), or in privateinstitutions such as insurance
companies, hospitals, research institutes, corporations, law firms, seminaries, art museums, or music conservatories.
In each of these cases the library as an information agency has in
different waysaffected its users-millions of them in the twentieth century who include Americans of both sexes, all ages, creeds, ethnicities,
classes, educational levels, physicalities, and sexual orientations. Although all have used librariesover the generations, to this day-unless
we extrapolate our own limited experiences to a much larger population-we do not know very much about why or how. That is unfortunate, because without a deeper understanding of the American library'spast we cannot adequately assess its present and are thus unable
to plan its future prudently.
Yet evangelists of newer information technologies foresee a number
of futures for libraries as if they are certainties. Twenty years ago F.
Wilfrid Lancaster was already predicting "paperless information systems"-especially for scientists-as "inevitable" [2, p. xi]. William
Mitchell anticipates a library in which the facade "is not be to constructed of stone and located on a street .. , but of pixels on thousands
of screens scattered through the world" [3, p. 561. To a great extent
predictions like these are made more plausible because the body of
critical scholarship detailing the historical role and impact of all types
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of libraries in the United States offers an inadequate counterpoint. At
present, this body of scholarship is too small, too light, too marginalized within librarianship, and too easily ignored.
Perhaps the time is right to apply broader, more interdisciplinary
and theoretically rich perspectives on that past in order to focus some
attention on what I see as tunnel vision and blind spots affecting plans
now being crafted for librarianship's future. The study of history can
do that for you. After all, none of us can escape the fact that we are
products of our pasts, and as products we bring to the present all of
history's successes and shortcomings. Certainly we need to build on
the successes, but too often we fail to recognize the shortcomings, in
large part because the cultures in which we are immersed-or
to which
we aspire-tend
to control the range of questions we ask about ourselves and our profession. That is why constant reexamination of our
past from alternative perspectives has so much value. Like a convex
mirror, it can show the parameters of tunnel vision and reveal many
of the blind spots.
Ken Carpenter ably started this task in a 1995 lecture titled "Readers
and Libraries: Toward a History of Libraries and Culture in America,"
which broadly outlined American library history and its literature
through the nineteenth century [4]. In this article, I extend his analysis
to the present and in that analysis cover the twentieth-century diversification of American librarianship.3 In some respects, however, Ken
had it easier than me. Through 1900 the world of American libraries,
which consisted of the services they provided, the cultural forms they
collected, and the people who staffed and used them, was much smaller
and less diverse than it is today.
Librarianship in Progressive America, 1893-1918
I begin coverage in 1893, when the American Library Association
(AlA) gathered at the Chicago World's Fair for its annual conference
in July. By that time the ALA had functioned for seventeen years as a
small but persistent voice for the nation's library community. In 1879
it had adopted a motto-"The
best reading for the largest number at
the least cost"-which
succinctly summarized its goal of making the
American library a force for an ordered, enlightened, educated, and
3. Like this article, Ken Carpenter's presentation was also sponsored by the Center for the
Book in the Libraryof Congress. Both are part of an effort to ground planning of a multivolume project tentatively titled "A History of Libraries and Librarianship in the United
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informed citizenry. In 1893 librariansfor the most part agreed on "the
best reading." ALA leaders constituted an elite corps of WASP,mostly
male, middle-class professionals immersed in the disciplinaryand literary canons of the dominant culture. They shared a common ideology
of reading bequeathed them by such intellectuals as Sir FrancisBacon
[5, p. 342] and Ralph Waldo Emerson [6, p. 78], reinforced by others
[7-9], and echoed in standard texts like McGuffey readers [10]. For
librarians, that meant "good" reading led to "good" social behavior,
"bad" reading to "bad" social behavior, and although they occasionally disagreed on individual titles to include in either category (the
academy and literary establishment from whom they took their cues
often sent mixed signals), once that "good" reading found its wayonto
libraryshelves librarianswere convinced that by providing access to it
they offered a "neutral" service to all Americans [11, pp. 71-73].
At the Chicago conference a significant manifestation of this ideology of reading was a "Model Library," a 5,000-volume collection of
best books recommended for any small public librarythat a committee
consisting of disciplinary authorities and librarianswho had screened
review journals for expert opinions had recently put together [12].
Compilers suggested a certain balance in subject categories. For example, 14 percent of the titles cited were classified history, 12 percent
biography, 15 percent fiction. The latter contrasted sharplywith actual
circulation figures, however;most public librarieshad been experiencing circulation rates of 75 percent fiction since they opened. That troubled librariansgreatly,and to help them combat this huge discrepancy,
the U.S. Bureau of Education promised to publish a bibliographyof the
Model Library'scontents as Catalogof "A.L.A."Library[13], thus making
it available as a government document that, on request, congressmen
could distribute free to librariesin their constituent communities.
But ALAleaders did not spend much time discussing "the best reading" during their conference. That problem, they believed, would take
care of itself over time if only they persisted. In 1893, librarianswere
convinced that by inducing the public to read quality literature and
consult reliable information about contemporary issues, the library
would inevitably contribute to the nation's progress and social order.
Dewey called this the "libraryfaith," an ideology driven by a library
"spirit." Because that "faith" had sedimented into a professional m-entaliteby the late nineteenth century, ALA leaders felt it unnecessary to
concentrate much conference time on the "best reading." Instead,
they showed much more concern for "the largest number at the least
cost." For years, Dewey-at the time New York State Librarian and
in 1893 the ALA's president-had been pushing libraries across the
country to adopt centralized systems such as a common classification
scheme and uniform subject headings to increase the utility and effi-
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ciency of library management. In addition, he and his allies pressed
their colleagues to expand services to more and more Americans,
including immigrants, children, women, businesses, and the physically challenged. In 1893 the Dewey forces controlled the ALA [14,
pp. 214-19].
As evidence of the ALA's commitment to service "at the least cost,"
the conference had been carefully structured to consist of presentations on practical matters of library expertise and management that
the Bureau of Education agreed to publish later as a "Handbook of
Library Economy" [15], another government document novice librarians could obtain free of charge through their congressmen. As evidence of its commitment to reaching "the greatest number," the ALA
hosted meetings for three sections representing more specialized library interests-a college section for academic libraries, a publishing
section to push for more bibliographical aids such as the ALA Catalog,
and an Association of State Librarians, which met in Chicago only to
disband into two new sections, a law library section and a state library
section. In 1893 the library profession was already showing signs of
specialization that characterized other professions emerging in the
Progressive Era [16-18].
The 1893 conference also provides a cameo of the "library science"
Dewey and his allies constructed for the library profession, a library
science that consisted of four component parts: character, expertise,
institution, and authority. By "character" I refer to a sociodemographic profile that tied most late nineteenth-century library professionals into a homogeneous group of WASP, middle-class, largely
higher-educated men and women who shared a set of literary and academic canons and a faith in the power of education. By "expertise" I
refer to the methods of acquisition, cataloging and classification, reference work, and circulation that mark conventional library services. By
"institution" I refer to management of the physical plant, its architecture, employees, and services. A good library, ALA leaders believed,
was staffed by people of the right character who possessed the expertise
to provide reliable information contained in "the best reading," and
who had the skills to manage efficiently the institution and building
in which all this took place.
"Authority" is a different matter, however [19]. Here I refer to the
power the dominant culture allocates to certain professional groupsscientists, intellectuals, belleslettresauthors, and disciplinary experts in
the academy-to
identify not only the best reading within their areas
of authority but also to define the canons against which any new publications ought to be judged. In the late nineteenth century, librarians
were already defined by their character before selecting librarianship
as their new profession. As aspiring professionals, they then learned
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library expertise and management either on the job or in one of the
few libraryschools. Except for a few notable exceptions, however, they
did not share in decisions about what was "best reading." Instead they
selected from among choices already legitimated by others in whom
society did invest that power [20, 21].
Ironically, setting up mechanisms to identify those choices at the
beginning of the twentieth century turned into a mushrooming industry that tended to mask the locus of authorityfor determining the best
reading. Over time, librarians certainly came to "know" good books,
but with one exception: that knowledge was the end product of a filtering systemevolved by U.S. publishers on which that industrydepended.
For example, in 1901 the H. W. Wilson Company of Minneapolis began
publishing indexes such as the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature,
which, in its initial issue, covered twentyperiodicals, including Atlantic
Monthly, Current Literature, Dial, and North American Review, each of
which was edited by literaryauthorities whose goal was to publish only
quality material. Libraries quickly subscribed to Reader'sGuide,then
began favoring subscriptions to periodicals the Guidecovered precisely
because they were indexed. For the rest of the century, modification
of the Guide'sscope came slowly,and over time the momentum of tradition became an obstacle to rather than a facilitator of change [22].
Similarly,within the decade Wilson was also issuing bibliographicalaids
such as Fiction Catalog and Children's Catalog, both designed to help li-
brarians identify the "best reading" [23, 24]. Like the ALA Catalog,
the FictionCatalogtook its cues from outside experts, especially those
in the New York- and Boston-based literary establishments whose reviews had conveniently appeared in periodicals covered by Wilson indexes. Booklistmagazine, a monthly the ALA began publishing in 1905
primarilyto guide poorly skilled staff members of a mushrooming number of small public libraries with their new acquisitions, mirrored this
pattern. By 1908, Booklisthad located its editorial offices in Madison,
Wisconsin, where it was easy to tap the expertise of Universityof Wisconsin facultyfor reviewsof new books [25]. Over time more librarians
began to contribute reviews,but their evaluationswere generally based
on criteria they learned as undergraduates.
Unlike Booklist,the ALA, or Fiction Catalogs, however, Children'sCata-
log did not grow out of the opinions of outside authorities. That its
contents were evaluated largely by librarians reflected a demographic
characteristiclibrarianshipshared with few other professions. By 1920,
88 percent of American librarians were women. And in a patriarchal
society, men in control of the dominant culture had little reservation
about giving female librariansthe power to select appropriate materials
for children for which their "natural" instincts so well suited them.
Collections that resulted from their efforts were established in thou-
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sands of public libraries across the nation. There these collections became source material for the ubiquitous weekly children's story hour.
They also served as a major source of reading materials to which local
school children had ready access [26, 27].
By the time Wilson was beginning to publish its catalogs and indexes
and the ALA was successfully pushing librarians to adopt the library
"science" inherent in the ALA's motto, Andrew Carnegie had begun
to give awaymuch of his fortune. Between 1890 and his death in 1919,
Carnegie gave $4,282,000 to construct 108 academic librarybuildings
and $41 million to construct 1,679 public library buildings in 1,412
communities in the United States. The sheer size of his philanthropy
generated a competition between communities to establish libraries;
it also helped create a climate of giving that encouraged other philanthropists [28-30]. As hundreds of new library buildings went up all
over the country, communities were eager to collect the right books,
to subscribe to the right periodicals, to organize their collections according to the latest libraryscience, and to have their new facilities run
as efficiently as possible by people of the right character. By the time
World War I erupted in 1914, American librarianship had claimed a
professional jurisdiction-no matter the type of library, librarians
would provide access to "the best reading for the largest number at
the least cost"' through "neutral" service.
And this jurisdiction was already much broader than that practiced
by the generation of librarians preceding it. In 1901, for example,
Charles McCarthyhad set up a Legislative Reference Libraryto do research and draft bills for Wisconsin state legislators that became a
model for other states and the nation a decade and a half later [31].
In the late nineteenth century, a few wealthy philanthropists donated
large sums of money to construct and maintain private research libraries for people they thought poorly served by most public and academic
library collections. In Chicago, for example, fortunes left by Walter
NewberryandJohn Crerarestablished large research libraries, the former in the humanities, the latter in the sciences [32, 33]. In 1919,
Henry Huntington founded a library in San Marino, California, and
donated to it his substantial collection of rare books [34]. That same
year, the Hoover Library on War, Revolution, and Peace opened its
doors on the Stanford University campus [35].
Librarianshipalso branched out in other directions. In 1909, several
corporate librarians,including Daniel Nash Handy, organized the Special LibrariesAssociation (SLA). As director of the Insurance Library
Association of Boston (ILAB), Handy had modified the Dewey Decimal
Classificationscheme to meet his own needs, and started the ILABBulletinto index fire insurance and fire protection/prevention literature.
As SLA president in 1913, he initiated projects that eventually led to
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the publication of the Publication Affairs Information ServiceBulletin and
the Industrial Arts Index, predecessor of the Business Periodicals Index,
both of which were eventually published by Wilson [36, 37].
In higher education, some colleges were transitioning into universities. By 1893, many had inaugurated doctoral studies, elective systems,
research seminars, and honors and independent study programs.
Members of newer professional classes also pressed universities to initiate professional programswith curriculathat served their interests. Naturally, all of these forces placed demands on institutional collections.
In response, academic libraries extended hours, greatly expanded collections, developed closed reserve services to address the problem of
circulating heavilyused class-related materials,and evolved better catalogs and information retrieval systems [38, 39].
But when the United States entered World War I on the Allied side
on April 6, 1917, any pretense of a neutral libraryservice disappeared.
For example, public libraries circulated materials printed by George
Creel's Committee on Public Information and Herbert Hoover's Food
Conservation Program, and opened their buildings to all types of war
work, including activities of Americanization programs designed to
channel loyalties of hyphenates. The ALALibraryWarService Committee organized library services for thirty-six training camps set up for
the war effort, to which thousands of libraries of all types channeled
books and periodicals they had collected for soldiers and sailors. Back
home, many librarians used the "Army Index"-a list of sometimes
pro-German, sometimes pacifist materials the army did not want in
training camp libraries-to purify their own collections. At the same
time, they watched these collections accept books that one Minnesota
volunteer book collector labeled "decent but not too highbrow" and
turned awaySIA criticism that camp libraries lacked adequate technical materials. By the end of the war, the typical training camp library
collection averaged 65 percent fiction. The latest edition of the ALA
Catalog (1911), on the other hand, had recommended that public library collections contain only 10.8 percent fiction [40, 41].
Between the Wars, 1918-45
World War I was a watershed for American librarianship that signaled
a modification of the profession's ideology of reading. In large part
because an authority as powerful as the federal government found it
acceptable to circulate to soldiers and sailors the popular reading materials the vast majorityof librarypatrons wanted anyway,librarianshad
a difficult time objecting. Besides, much was alreadycirculating in seri-
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alized form in the periodicals libraries collected and the Reader'sGuide
indexed (for example, Saturday Evening Post and Ladies HomeJournal)
or in local newspapers edited by men tightly connected to the local
elites from which libraries drew their board members. Thus by the
1920s, librarians generally came to accept that the "light" reading they
had disparaged for the past half-century fell somewhere between
"good" and "bad," and was at most "harmless." Tension surrounding
their self-assumed responsibility to provide "the best reading" had
been modified by a higher authority, and this effect reduced the pressure librarians imposed on themselves to "elevate the popular taste."
In her preface to the 1923 edition of what later evolved into the Fiction
Catalog, compiler Corinne Bacon noted that "this is not a list of the
best 2,350 novels, judged as literature, but a list of the 2,350 of the best
novels for public library use. This means," she continued, "it includes
novels for highly educated and for comparatively uneducated readers,
for those who like the older novels, and for those who want to keep
in touch with present day fiction" [42, pp. ii-iii]. Although they continued to push "the best reading" identified by academic and literary
elites, librarians quietly began placing more emphasis on extending
the "largest number" and serving them "at the least cost."
At the same time, however, their model of public library service became more comprehensive. Librarians certainly did not abandon their
advocacy of the "best reading" reflected in the canons of literatures
marking their own socioeconomic group. An informed citizen could
still find the "best books" that the library had purchased through centralized systems that filtered acquisition decisions, or tap the counsel
of a new library professional-the
"reader's advisor"-who was supposed to know the "good books" on library shelves and through personal service meet her patrons' individual needs by connecting them
to appropriate library materials. But at the same time the patron could
now use a maturing system of reference services and reference materials to research facts on which to create new knowledge or to base prudent decisions to vote, to build, to invent, to purchase [43, 44]. It was
the kind of library service Daniel Nash Handy's patrons found so valuable, the kind "serious" scholars came to expect when they did research at libraries such as the Newberry and the Crerar. And because
these client groups had more political, social, and economic clout than
a black child or a female romance novel reader, the kinds of information disseminated in reference work and by "reader's advisors" became privileged. Both became part of the library's contribution to an
adult education movement emerging nationwide [45].
"Entertainment" reading, a type of reading that accounted for most
use in public libraries, was relegated to a subordinate status in profes-
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sional thinking and subsequently largely ignored in library rhetoric.
When public libraries reported the volume of popular reading materials they circulated after World WarI, they generally buried it in a larger
category labeled "fiction," which lumped Edith Wharton with Mrs.
E. D. E. N. Southworth, and HenryJames with Oliver Optic. Over time,
the value of library services became closely tied to the clienteles for
which they were designed. Services designed to improve access to the
information desired by scientists and academics were more valued than
services designed to improve access to the information contained in
reading materials desired by housewives and children. Differences in
salaries earned by librarians serving each of these clienteles reflected
these values.
In 1928, the Universityof Chicago opened a GraduateLibrarySchool
(GLS) with the help of a substantialgrant from the Carnegie Corporation. Unlike other library schools, which simply trained students for
librarypractice, GLS was designed to concentrate on research and to
admit only Ph.D. students. At the time, the university was a national
leader in efforts to make the social sciences more "scientific" by using
quantitativemethods. And for much of the first decade of its existence,
GLS faculty extrapolated from political science, sociology, and education to concentrate its research on the scientific investigation of reading [46]. Its research scope, however, betrayed a cultural bias. Led by
Douglas Waples, a social scientist hired from the College of Education,
GLS faculty generally disregarded fiction, thus ignoring the kinds of
reading the majorityof libraryusers obtained at public librariesacross
the nation [47-50]. Instead, they focused on certain kinds of nonfiction information, especially the kinds that reference services were designed to provide. However, under the guidance of Louis Round Wilson, new dean appointed in 1932, GLS shifted its research focus in
the 1930s from reading research to studying librarymanagement and
As a result, the GLS walked awayfrom an opportunity. On the one
hand, it failed to address concerns voiced by Helen Haines, who loudly
complained about "the mechanistic non-literaryattitude" she thought
characterized postwarlibrarypractice. In her Living withBooks(1935),
which became a standard selection text in libraryschool for the next
two generations, Haines defended the kind of middlebrow literary
tastes public libraries [51] and the new Book-of-the-Month Club [52]
patrons wanted [53]. On the other hand, the GLS also ignored newer
research on the act of reading. In 1938, Louise Rosenblatt published
Literatureas Exploration,a pioneering study written for the Progressive
Education Association's Commission on Human Relations. In it she
argued that because reading was not "a passive process of absorption"
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but a "form of intense activity," researchers needed "to find out what
happens when specific human beings, with their interests and anxieties, participate in the emotional and intellectual life" that reading
"makes possible" [54, pp. vi, vii; 55, p. 182]. By then, however, library
researchers were not positioned to address her conclusions and extrapolate from them to the professional world they knew. They had already
moved on to other things. In fact, Libraty Literature, the Wilson Company index to "current books, pamphlets, and periodical literature relating to the library profession," has no entries for Literatureas Exploration, and for the remainder of the century, research on reading largely
disappeared from the profession's discourse. Instead of pursuing ways
to understand what uses most people made of the materials they ob
tained from libraries of all types, librarians continued to emphasize
and improve professional expertise and management, and persisted in
a library faith steeped in high-culture canons that over time were slow
to shift.
Although the ideology of reading behind "the best books for the
largest number at the least cost" was modified after World War I and
the model of library service the profession projected to external communities extended its focus in the 1920s to encompass the "useful"
(and thus privileged) information delivered in reference services,
events occurring a continent away in the 1930s created another opportunity for the nation's library community to expand its professional
responsibility. As pictures of and news about book-burning events in
Nazi Germany began appearing on the pages of American newspapers,
some librarians began to ponder their role in intellectual freedom.
Then in 1939, a year after the Des Moines (Iowa) Public Library crafted
a "Library's Bill of Rights," the ALA adopted a similar document that
outlined the library's responsibility to champion intellectual freedom
and fight censorship and thus embraced, at least in its rhetoric, the
defense of intellectual freedom as a professional imperative [56, 57].
But the new Library Bill of Rights also had a convenient residual effect;
it promised to deflect occasional pressure from cultural authorities
across the country to justify the social benefits of popular reading, and
because intellectual freedom advocacy was so much more compelling
in the world of professions, librarians had little reason to read newer
research on reading that dealt with people's actual reading practices
and behaviors, or with the multiple ways in which library patrons appropriated their reading materials.
As World War II erupted on the European continent in September
1939, the United States was just emerging from the Great Depression
in which American libraries had experienced increased demands for
their services and collections at the same time they had weathered de-
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creased funding. But in response, librarianshad also shown much creativity. In the latter half of the decade they managed to tap federal
work programs to build 350 new libraries and other programs to employ students and young adults (7,000 in 1938) to repair and rebind
hundreds of thousands of books, to prepare reference materials such
as newspaper indexes and bibliographies, and to fund rural library
demonstration projects designed to encourage isolated communities
to establish or increase support of local library service. By December
1941, when the United States joined the war, librarians had become
so adept at exploiting opportunities provided by the federal government that WorksProgressAdministrationgrants accounted for half the
increase in expenditures for libraryservices nationwide [58, 59]. Once
in the war, however, the entire national librarycommunity mobilized
to provide services to the nation's fighting forces [60].
During the first half of the twentieth century, the United States also
developed several national libraries. Under Herbert Putnam's leadership (1899-1939), the Libraryof Congress pushed to centralize cataloging for the nation by applying new practices to its own rapidly expanding collections, which were largely made possible by the legal
deposit requirements of copyright. Early in his tenure Putnam established a catalog card and distribution service that eventually grew into
the National UnionCatalog.By 1939, when Archibald MacLeishbecame
librarian, other initiatives had turned the Libraryof Congress into a
national libraryin fact, if not in name [61-63]. Its experience matched
that of several other federal libraries. In 1934, the National Archives
opened to collect and make availabledocuments generated by the federal government [64]. In the 1950s, the National Libraryof Medicine
emerged from the Army Medical Libraryand the National Agricultural
Libraryemerged from the Department of Agriculture [65, 66].
Postwar Expansion, 1945-56
In 1948, the Carnegie Corporation funded a "Public LibraryInquiry"
(PLI) to closely examine the purpose of the public library and especially the "libraryfaith" on which it was grounded. Led by Robert D.
Leigh of the University of Chicago political science department, the
project eventually resulted in seven books and five reports. Among the
former were landmark studies such as Oliver Garceau's ThePublicLibraryin the Political Process [67], Bernard Berelson's The Library'sPublic
[68], and Alice Bryan's ThePublicLibrarian[69], all published by the
Columbia University Press. In these publications authors argued that
instead of supplying the popular reading desired by larger populations,
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public libraries ought to alter the "libraryfaith" and use it as an organizing agent to create a "civic" institution in which the information
needs of a smaller but more influential combination of "serious" readers, community leaders, and students of adult education became prime
beneficiaries. Like GLS researchers in the 1930s, PLI investigatorsdisdained popular reading and sought to reduce its monopoly on regular
libraryservices.The immediate effect of their findings on public library
practice was minimal. Some librariansignored their recommendations,
some criticized the PLI for overlooking the information and reading
needs of less powerful groups such as children, and some found fault
with methodological inconsistencies in the research [70, 71].
Several things kept conventional librarianship moored. Because it
had embraced the LibraryBill of Rights as a fundamental professional
responsibility, libraries and librarians were projected to the nation's
center stage when Wisconsin SenatorJoseph McCarthyaccused a number of cultural institutions of spreading communism. Either to protect
their jobs or because they agreed with McCarthy'sgoals, some voluntarilywithdrew controversial materials, others never acquired them. In
one study undertaken for the California LibraryAssociation's Intellectual Freedom Committee, Marjorie Fiske discovered that although librarians "expressed unequivocal freedom-to-read convictions," almost two-thirds of the library book selectors she talked to "reported
instances where the controversialityof a book or author resulted in a
decision not to buy." Even worse, she reported, "nearly one-fifth" of
the librariansshe interviewed "habitually avoided buying any material
which is known to be controversialor which they believe might be controversial." Evidence suggested that many librarians in other states
acted no differently [72].
Some, however, fought McCarthyand his supporters on principles
outlined in the LibraryBill of Rights. In response to pressure from a
Senate committee to suppress "immoral books," the American Library
Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee (established in 1940)
joined the American Book Publisher's Council for a conference in May
1953, out of which came TheFreedomto Readstatement. A month later,
President Dwight D. Eisenhower implored a graduating class at Dartmouth College not to "be afraid to go in your library and read every
book." Later that month ALA president Robert Downs read a letter
from Eisenhower at the ALA conference encouraging librarians to resist the book burners [57, pp. 77-79].
Academic librarieswere also significantlychanged by postwarevents.
Returning GIs flooded campuses across the country, placing new burdens on the libraries that served these new students. In addition, campus scholars (especially from the sciences) fought for a share of the
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research and development money being allocated by government and
industry to the public sector and in many cases formed partnerships
with corporate and industrial America to conduct that research and
development [73]. To cope with increased demands as well as perceived opportunities, academic librariesworked out cooperative acquisitions programs for rare, unique, and expensive materials, including
the Farmington Plan (established in 1948), whose aim was to guarantee
that at least one of fifty university libraries would obtain at least one
copy of every new research-oriented foreign book, and that the Library
of Congress would list each work (and its location) in a new edition
of the National Union Catalog.In its first twenty-fiveyears, the plan accounted for the acquisition of 11 million items to member libraries;
many of these items were made available by interlibraryloan practices
honed and revised by the ALAsince 1917 [74, 75]. Almost all academic
libraries experienced significant growth in the 1950s and 1960s, enabling many to recatalog and reclassify their collections as well as to
expand them.
When Lawrence Clark Powell became director of the UCLA Library
system in 1944, for example, he inherited a collection of 462,327 volumes, a book budget of $50,000, fifty full-time staff members, and no
branch libraries.That year the systemcirculated 300,000 items and lent
just a few more tides on interlibraryloan than it borrowed. When Powell retired in 1961, the UCLA library system held 1,568,565 volumes,
105,995 of which had been acquired in the previousyear. Powell administered a book budget of $381,650, and superviseda staffof 220 full-time
people, many of whom worked in the system's sixteen branches.
In 1960-61, the librarycirculated 1,593,204 items, and on interlibrary
loan UCLA borrowed 2,619 items, lent 9,185. Powell was also a library
leader of another sort. A humanist at heart (he had a Ph.D. in American literature), he argued that "books are basic" to librarianshipand
that to be effective professionals, librariansprimarilyhad to be readers.
A substantial fraction of the nation's library community agreed with
him [76]. For this "fundamentalist" view of the importance of the
book, however, Powell was heavily criticized by many, most notably
Jesse Shera, dean of Western Reserve's School of LibraryScience [77].
In the early 1950s, Shera wanted librarianship to form links with a
group of scientists that traced its roots to World War II, when the federal government established an Office of Scientific Research and Development to accelerate the war effort. In it director VanevarBush supervised 6,000 scientists, many of whom worried about controlling the
rapidly expanding body of scientific and technical information with
which they had been dealing. Bush anticipated that postwar America
would shift the scientific energy generated by wartime efforts to peace-
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time uses. He also recognized that newer technologies promised to
improve bibliographical control of this increasingly large literature. His
foresight proved accurate. In 1950, Congress authorized the establishment of a clearinghouse for scientific and technical information, and,
after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957-an event that catalyzed the federal government to supplement acquisition funds for most
type of libraries-the
president's Science Advisory Committee published a report on the availability of scientific and technical information in the United States that left little doubt about why it thought the
nation was losing the race to space [78].
By that time what Bush had called "science information" was well
placed to benefit from an infusion of federal funds, and because scientists generally agreed that traditional libraries were not meeting their
needs, they began to establish science information centers and initiate
their own indexing and abstracting services to more rapidly retrieve the
information they needed. Out of these efforts a postwar "information
science" was born, which quickly fused with other "science information" activities in medicine, and allied with the gathering of military
and political intelligence [79]. Because it was conceived by a wellsupported, relatively powerful group of professionals who sought to
serve the immediate information needs of other well-supported groups
who wanted to retain or increase their influence, information science
in the 1950s and 1960s understandably privileged scientific over other
forms of information, especially other cultural forms of information.
Upon closer analysis, however, it is obvious that the information science they crafted grew out of the conventions of traditional library
reference service. Information scientists transformed that service, first
by harnessing unique languages in particular professional discourses,
and second by designing systems tailor-made to control access to the
discourses contained in certain privileged literatures in order to serve
the specific information needs of particular clienteles who enjoyed political or economic power.
Impact of Federal Funding, 1956-65
By the late 1950s, the infusion of federal funds into all sectors of the
library community was having significant impact on American libraries.
In 1956, President Eisenhower reluctantly signed the Library Services
Act (LSA), the first federal legislation intended to fund some library
services. The act made it to his desk only because a group of state librarians from the South had managed to convince their congressmen and
senators (many of whom held crucial congressional committee chairs)
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that passage of the act would not curtail states' rights because state
library agencies would have the power to determine the distribution
of the funds [80].
Services provided by state libraryagencies have a unique and diverse
history. Although some state library agencies had been established
early in the nineteenth century, most did not expand significantlyuntil
the early twentieth, when many states created librarycommissions to
promote public library development. Many then consolidated library
commissions and state libraries after World War I, and by World War
II the consolidated agencies offered a varietyof services, including legislative reference services and traveling libraryservices to remote parts
of the state. Some built on a tradition of research libraryservice (California and New York); others functioned as the center of the state's
public librarysystem and provided interlibraryloans and traveling exhibits to city and county public libraries. But LSA funds gave state libraryagencies a new source of power which many used to buy bookmobiles that traversed the more remote areas of their states previously
little served by libraries. Naturally, the bookmobiles-often managed
directly by a state library agency, sometimes by a newly structured
county or regional library system-were stocked with titles identified
in such staple collection guides as Fiction Catalog, Public Libraiy Catalog,
and Children'sCatalog[81]. The bookmobile constituted yet another
example of the librarycommunity's commitment to provide "the best
reading for the largest number at the least cost."
Federal funding also had a significant impact on school librarydevelopment, which is largely a twentieth-centuryphenomenon. At the turn
of the century, many newly established elementary and secondary
schools had entered into agreements with local public libraries to supply the extracurricular and independent reading needs of their students. By the end of World War I, however, the National Education
Association (NEA) was pressing for more direct control over school
librarycollections; it advocated the creation of separate libraries to be
acquired, staffed, and organized by the school system specifically for
teachers and students, and specificallyin support of the school curriculum. In the 1920s, the NEA developed standards for elementary and
secondary school libraries, and shortly thereafter some state and local
governments started funding school librarysupervisors,issuing school
libraryhandbooks, and publishing recommended book lists.The Great
Depression interrupted growth, but in postwarAmerica, school libraries began to acquire nonprint media for instruction and many quickly
transformed themselves into "instructional materials centers" or
"school library and media centers." Then came Lyndon Johnson's
1960s Great Society legislation, including the LibraryServicesand Con-
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struction Acts (1964, 1965), the Higher Education Act (1965), and, of
particular benefit to school libraries, the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act (1965). Influenced by funding from all three, the number of libraries in public schools increased from 50 percent of the total
in 1958 (40,000) to 93 percent in 1985 (74,000). At the same time, the
average size of book collections in public schools increased from 2,972
in 1958 to 8,466 in 1985 [82-85].
Profile of a Diversified Library Profession, 1965-90
By the time the federal government began accelerating library activity
with a heavy infusion of funds in the 1960s, the profession reflected a
much more diverse profile. The ALA still functioned as a national
voice, but an increasing number of specialized clienteles were being
served by an increasing number of specialized librarians, all of which
was made manifest in the organization of new groups such as the Medical Library Association (1898), the American Association of Law Libraries (1906), the Special Libraries Association (1909), the Catholic Library Association (1921), the Music Library Association (1931), the
Association of Research Libraries (1932), the Society of American Archivists (1936), the Theatre Library Association (1937), and the American Theological Library Association (1947). In 1967, the American
Documentation Institute (1937) changed its name to the American Society for Information Science (ASIS), in part to claim jurisdiction over
a rapidly evolving professional field, in part to provide an associational
focus to scholars, researchers, documentalists, and bibliographers who
shared interests in this new area called "information science."
At the same time, the library press had grown significantly, mostly to
address the practical needs of the profession, especially in collections
acquisition and ready reference information. The ALA stopped publishing its own Catalog by mid-century but continued to issue Booklist.
Most public libraries continued to subscribe. Multiple divisions, sections, and round tables within the ALA began issuing their own journals, some of which published applied research aimed at improving
library services and management, including the Reference and Adult
Services Division's RQ (now Referenceand User Services Quarterly), the
American Association of School Librarians' Top of the News (now the
Journal of Youth Servicesin Libraries), the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services' LRTS, and the Association of College and
Research Libraries' College & ResearchLibraries. The latter association
also issued Choicemagazine, a monthly list of books recommended for
purchase by academic libraries. Most subscribed to and also continued
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to buy new editions of the more comprehensive Booksfor CollegeLibraries, which had first appeared in 1967. The Society of American Archivists began publishing AmericanArchivistin 1937, and ASISchanged the
(1950) to theJournalof
name of itsjournal from AmericanDocumentation
the American Societyfor Information Science (JASIS) in 1970.
The H. W. Wilson Company continued to publish Reader'sGuide,but
supplemented it with an array of other indexes, including Abridged
Reader'sGuide, Humanities Index, Social SciencesIndex, and Applied Sciences
and TechnologiesIndex. The company still issued Fiction Catalogand Children's Catalog but had evolved Public LibraryCatalog out of another bib-
liographical guide it had begun issuing in the 1930s. Along withJunior
High School and Senior High School Library Catalog each was published
in quinquennial editions and was updated by annual supplements. Libraries working in each sector of the libraryworld routinely awaited
the arrivalof these guides, then checked the contents of their libraries
against the citations. Works not represented in their collections were
considered for acquisition; works in their collections but not in the
guides were considered for weeding. The R. R. Bowker Company,
Scarecrow Press, Libraries Unlimited, the ALA, and the Wilson Company (among others) also published numerous monographs, but
mostly to address librarians' practical needs. And each publisher also
issued hundreds of new reference titles in the twentieth century that
were intended to improve essential libraryservices. The most utilized
tides (for example, Statistical Abstracts,OxfordCompanionto AmericanLit-
erature)found their way onto the reference shelves of nearly all libraries; less utilized titles (for example, A Bibliographyon Historic Organization Practices [1975], Guide to Private Manuscript Collectionsin the Narth
CarolinaStateArchives[1981] ) were acquired mostly by better funded
and more comprehensive, larger institutions.
Thus, the vast majority of postwar library literature and library research continued to address issues of libraryexpertise and institutional
management. Not even researchjournals such as the LibraryQuarterly,
which the Universityof Chicago Press had been publishing for the GLS
since 1931, varied significantly from this pattern. The vast majorityof
the bibliographical guides aimed at identifying "the best reading" continued to rely on a sophisticated and involved system set up at the turn
of the century to profile "quality" work. Peer-reviewedjournals and
university presses, reputable and authoritative literaryperiodicals and
trade publishers worked together to evaluate newer materialsand eventually form a consensus on a hierarchy classifying the rest. Librarians
followed their lead and chose from a pool whose boundaries others
had already defined [86].
New professionals coming out of library schools in the 1960s had
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little reason to question the judgment of these external authorities.
The model of library education they inherited had grown from apprenticing in the nineteenth century into a training program that by the
1920s was sometimes connected to a major public library, sometimes
to a university as an undergraduate program, and finally after 1950
into a professional program located in a university graduate school.
Before mid-century, entrance exams tested library school applicants'
knowledge of current events, high-culture literature, and political (and
largely Western) history. After mid-century, library school applicants
generally needed a liberal arts undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, where they had already been taught the "best reading"
by academic experts. Because library schools generally insisted on good
grades (for example, 2.75 on a 4.00 scale) as a condition of matriculation, the profession could feel relatively confident that its new recruits
would share the right "character" with their predecessors [87, 88, 46].
Once enrolled in library schools they took a core curriculum usually
consisting of cataloging and classification, reference, management,
book selection, and often a generic "Library in Society" course. The
first four addressed institution and expertise; the last was intended to
socialize students to the "library spirit" and inculcate the "library
faith" by celebrating the library as an institution.
Much of this celebration was reflected in the literature of library
history that, with a few exceptions such asJesse Shera's TheFoundations
of the Public Libra?y[891 and Phyllis Dain's The New YorkPublic Libraiy:
A History [90], lacked the kind of critical analysis necessary to examine
the validity of the library faith. Not until Michael Harris extrapolated
from the conclusions of revisionist educational historians and in the
early 1970s applied their ideas to an analysis of the origins of the Boston
Public Library was the celebratory model significantly shaken [91].
Harris argued that founders, all of whom came from Boston's first families, set up the institution primarily as a means to exercise control of
the city's new immigrants, especially the Irish. His conclusions struck
at the heart of the library faith, but they also fit the times. The ALA
had just weathered a revolt occasioned by hundreds of its younger
members who saw in the principle of "neutrality" most often advocated by veteran librarians an excuse not to address inequities in library
practice caused by racism, sexism, and homophobia, a rationale not to
confront a government bent on conducting an unjust war in southeast
Asia, and a mechanism to give the Library Bill of Rights a strict construction that rendered it ineffective in the fight to include alternative
perspectives in library collections [86]. With the organization of the
Social Responsibilities Round Table in 1969, these rebels found a home
in the ALA and with the publication of Harris's essay in 1973 and other
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"revisionist" works that followed [92, 93], they found a history that
grounded a justification of their own actions. For the next decade,
readers of American library history rather simplistically categorized
new publications into two camps: pro- or anti-Harris.
But for practicing librarians, the quality of American libraryhistory
scholarship paled in significance compared to developments in library
practice. When World War II ended, few libraryadministratorsutilized
management principles. In subsequent decades, however, librarymanagement literature made frequent reference to theorists such as Peter
Drucker,ChrisArgyris,and Douglas McGregor.In 1970, the Association
of Research Librariesestablished an Office of Management Studies to
improvelibrarymanagement through initiativessuch as the Management
Review and Analysis Project, the Academic LibraryDevelopment Program, and the Consultant Training Project [94]. By that time, under
Henriette Avram'sleadership, the Libraryof Congress had developed
a standard format for machine-readable bibliographic records called
MARC (machine-readable cataloging), first for books, later for serials
and other formats [95]. In 1967 the Ohio College Association founded
the Ohio College LibraryCenter. Under FrederickKilgour'sleadership,
little more than a decade later the center had evolved from a local college network into a national bibliographic utility known as the OCLC
(Online Computer LibraryCenter, Inc.). Because OCLC adopted the
MARCrecords on which many libraries depended, by 1990 thousands
of libraries around the world were using its database for cooperative
cataloging. By that time in the United States, thousands of libraries of
all types had developed online public access catalogs, adopted packaged automated circulation systems,and incorporated use of CD-ROM
products into the provision of traditional libraryservices [96, 97].
More specifically, the public libraryworld was affected in other ways.
As white flight drained the cities in the 1960s, urban public library
circulation decreased, in the largest communities by as much as 16
percent. Because those who stayed did not value the kind of printed
cultural forms libraries routinely collected as much as those who left,
librarians had to alter traditional practices and devise new ways to address a different set of information needs [98]. Information and referral (I & R) became one approach, most evident in the Detroit Public
Library TIP (The Information Place) Program it initiated in 1971.
There librarians developed card file systems listing social and county
organizations and the services they provided, their hours, addresses,
telephone numbers, and personnel. Manyof these files were later converted to machine-readable databases. Elsewhere, public librarians
took different approaches. One approach to new circumstanceswas the
evolution of federated library systems in which individually governed
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libraries volunteered to participate in joint efforts to purchase materials and share I & R services. Opportunities brought by improvement
in electronic data processing accelerated the process. Another was the
emergence of highly successful county library systems, most notably in
places such as Broward County, Florida, Hennepin County, Minnesota,
and Montgomery County, Maryland [99]. All these developments were
reflected in a set of recommendations detailed in The Public Library
Mission Statementand Its ImperativeforrServicethat ALA's Public Library
Association issued in 1979. Public libraries should step away from acculturation, the document argued, and instead become educational, cultural, information, and rehabilitative agencies that celebrate and serve
the multicultural heritage of their communities in nontraditional ways
Elsewhere in the library world, efforts to prepare different futures
met mixed results, some of which were reflected in the experiences of
the Council on Library Resources (now known as the Council on Library and Information Resources), which had been established by a
Ford Foundation grant in 1956 to facilitate research that had potential
for improving library services and collections. In the late 1960s, for
example, the council began pouring millions of dollars into MIT's Information Transfer Experiment (INTREX) Project-up
to that time
the largest nonmilitary information research project ever undertaken-in order to reconfigure the research library of the future [101].
Because it was designed primarily by engineers and privileged the information they considered most valuable, the project ultimately failed to
produce the prototypical all-purpose research library for which it was
funded. In 1986, however, the council formed a Commission of Preservation and Access, produced a very effective film on the deterioration
of paper with high acidity called "Slow Fires," and joined with other
higher education and scholarly agencies (for example, the Brittle Book
Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities) to focus attention on the problem that affected the printed materials held by most
libraries. In 1990, the federal government passed legislation requiring
the use of alkaline paper in government publications [102].
The application of computers to document reference retrieval began
in the late 1950s, and by the mid-1960s, online retrieval was widely used
by special librarians in government and industry. For example, in 1971
the National Library of Medicine transformed Index Medicus, a papercopy information retrieval system Surgeon GeneralJohn Shaw Billings
originated in the 1870s, into MEDLARS (MEDical Literature Analysis
and Retrieval System), a computerized bibliographic system accessible
through MEDLINE (MEDLARS on Line) [103].
About the same time the Defense Department's Advanced Research
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Projects Agency established a computer network. When several years
later the federal government sponsored a program to establish communication protocols to integrate multiple unique networks, the Internet
was born. In the 1980s, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded
much of the research to connect selected universities and research institutions through NSFnet to NSF-assisted supercomputers. One response from the federal government to this emerging "opportunity"
was the creation of the National Research and Education Network
(NREN) in 1991. In anticipation of NREN, the Association of Research
Libraries, the Association for the Management of Information and
Technology in Higher Education, and EDUCOM (a networking consortium of colleges and universities) created the Coalition for Networked Information in 1990 to facilitate scholarship by improving access to networked information sources [99]. Much of the activitythen
became subordinate to the National Information Infrastructureinitiated by the Clinton administration,which as of this writing is still being
played out. Recent efforts to merge promising networks into routine
libraryservicesare indeed exciting, but at the same time it is important
to remember that the types of information processed by these networks
are not universal and do not encompass information in all its cultural
Assessing the Present: Tunnel Vision and Blind Spots
So now we stand at the end of one century, looking to prepare for
the next. What guidance can the existing literature on the twentiethcentury history of American libraries provide? On the one hand, I am
cheered by recent developments in American libraryhistory,which has
begun to mature into a more richly analytical,more deeply contextualized literature. Workssuch asJane Aikin Rosenberg's TheNation'sGreat
Library:HerbertPutnam and the Libraryof Congress, 1899-1939 [62], Joanne E. Passet's Cultural Crusaders: Women Librarians in the American
West, 1900-1917 [104], Deanna B. Marcum's Good Books in a Country
Home: The Public Libraryas CulturalForcein Hagerstown,Maryland, 18781920 [105], Abigail Van Slyck's Free To All: CarnegieLibrariesand American Culture, 1890-1920 [29], and Louise S. Robbins's Censorshipand the
American Library:The American LibraryAssociation's Responseto Threatsto
Intellectual Freedom, 1939-1969 [57], and journals such as Libraries &
under the able editorships of Donald
Cultureand the LibraryQuarterly,
G. DavisandJohn V. RichardsonJr., respectively,hold out much promise for the future.
On the other hand, however, I am uneasy about the size of the task
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before us. From my perspective, the field is too large for the number
of scholars currently giving it scrutiny, its research scope too centered
on biography, library expertise, and big library institutions, and its focus largely devoid of analysis of the impact collections and services have
had on library users and the ways in which users appropriated both. I
am especially concerned that with few exceptions we have not given
nearly enough attention to the impact collection guides such as Booklist
and Choice have had on perpetuating canons, or to the role libraries
have played in the everyday lives of women, children, African, Hispanic,
and Asian Americans, and working-class people. Blind spots, all.
But even among types of libraries, scanning the literature of American library history reveals huge gaps in terms of quality and quantity.
For example, in 1990 the United States had 75,000 school and 4,600
academic libraries, yet there is no comprehensive critical history or
even a set of solid case studies to help identify their multiple roles and
evaluate their impacts on the millions of students and faculty who used
their services and collections in the twentieth century. How can the
school and academic library communities possibly articulate policy and
plan for their futures without knowing what they have done well and
poorly in the past? In 1990, every state in America had at least one state
library agency that for most of the last half of the twentieth century
expended millions of dollars to improve library services, yet there is
no comprehensive critical history of state library agencies or even a set
of solid case studies to help identify their multiple roles and evaluate
their impacts on the millions of citizens affected by those dollars.
Again, blind spots.
What concerns me even more, however, falls under the jurisdictions
of public libraries and what we used to call special libraries but are now
more frequently referring to as information agencies. Let me start with
the latter first. Here I see a field evolving that is based on the traditional
model of reference service that American libraries have sought to provide for most of this century [106]. In it certain types of information
valued by business, industry, and government receive most attention, in
part because each has invested huge sums of money to improve systems
design. Absent from the discourse driving this field, however, are the
kinds of questions critical theorists such as Michel Foucault [107], Antonio Gramsci [108], and Jurgen Habermas [109], and philosophers
of science such as Helen Longino [110], MargaretJacob [111], and
Sandra Harding [112] ask about connections between power and
knowledge, which all agree is never totally objective and never disinterested. To illustrate what I mean, I took a cursory glance at the 3,200
citations in the one hundred "research" articles appearing in the 1991
and 1995 issues ofJASIS. In them I found no references to the six criti-
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cal theorists I cite above and only a few to thinkers such as Umberto
Eco and Hilary Putnam. Based on this rather unscientific survey, one
gets the impression of a profession trapped in its own discursiveformations, where members speak mostly to each other and where connections between power and knowledge that affect issues of race, class,
age, and gender, among others, are either invisible or ignored. One
also gets the impression of a profession much more interested in process and structure than in people. Tunnel vision and blind spots.
I think this also may explain why contemporary "information science" has generally failed to construct models of a personal "information economy"4 for individualsof both genders, all classes, ages, ethnicities, creeds, and sexual orientations in order to see what information
they variablyobtain from printed materials of all types, from cultural
forms such as music, film, art, and TV, from their neighbors, their
school, their church, their libraries, their government, their friends,
their family, even from computers, and then to analyzehow they appropriate that information in efforts to make sense of the world around
them in their everyday lives [114]. Unfortunately, with relatively few
exceptions [115-119], researchers in libraryand information studies
have generally not attempted to harness the kind of critical thinking
that would enable them to evolve "personal information economy"
models that my colleague Doug Zweizigpointed to in his 1973 dissertation, when he argued that for too long our profession has "looked at
the user in the life of the libraryrather than the libraryin the life of
the user" [120, p. 15]. His observation still applies. The "information
science" that has developed in the last years of the twentieth century
constitutes an arena of study in which the technology to which it is
harnessed defines the field. Like general reference work, it is built on
"expertise," not "authority,"and to the extent that people's "information economy" does not require use of these technologies within the
culture in which they live, current "information science" discourse
renders them and their culture(s) invisible largely by ignoring both.
Equally unfortunate is that information science and American library
historians have not provided much perspective here.
All of this constitutes a subtext I read in the words of Pulitzer Prizewinning historian Leon Litwack,who complained loudly about the priorities of the librarysystem on his own Universityof California, Berkeley, campus. "In our eagerness to implement the new information technology," he wrote in the February 1998 issue of CaliforniaMonthly,
"there is no sense of the need for balance, little or no awareness that
4. I adapt this from Barbara Herrnstein Smith, who talks about the concept of a "personal
economy" that comprises an individual's "needs, interests, and resources" [113, chap. 3].
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different academic disciplines may have different needs, not all of them
fulfilled by the new technology. We find ourselves, instead, embracing
that technology uncritically, without considering cost, maintenance, reliability, and value" [121, p. 12]. Tunnel vision and blind spots.
American public libraries (and to some extent school and academic
libraries) suffer similar myopia, in large part because LIS research in
general, and American library history in particular, has not yet assimilated into its research scope the findings emanating from a growing
interdisciplinary body of scholarship on reading [52; 122-127], a major
means by which people obtain information, whether it comes off the
printed page or the computer screen. For the past twenty years, it has
been generated by some of the brightest minds in traditional academic
disciplines like history and literature, and new interdisciplinary fields
such as cultural, women's, ethnic, and American studies, and it has
been published by some of the world's most prestigious presses, all
of which have exacting scholarly standards. I think our absence as a
profession from this mix of voices reflects the tunnel vision of our contemporary professional discourse and constitutes one of librarianship's
major blind spots [128]. This scholarship, for which Louise Rosenblatt's Literatureas Exploration served as a harbinger (the Modern Language Association published a fifth edition of her work in 1995), attempts to shed the rules and regulations by which we have previously
judged our reading, and especially the reading of popular fiction public libraries have been circulating by the millions for most of this century, in order to look at and understand the contents of those texts
through the eyes of the people who read them most.
These numbers have not significantly changed in recent times. A
U.S. News/Cable Network News poll conducted October 13-16, 1995,
revealed that 67 percent of Americans used public libraries in 1994,
and of that number 80 percent (140 million people) went to check
out some cultural form. Yet without knowledge of reading research,
recipients of a Kellogg Foundation grant who met in Washington in
1996 [129] to discuss the future of libraries seemed unable to tease
out the broader significance of a Benton Foundation report [130, pp.
27, 30] on a focus group that identified as its top two library services
(1) "providing reading hours and other programs for children," and
(2) "purchasing new books and other printed materials." And when
a member of that same Benton Foundation focus group also criticized
libraries for not stocking enough popular titles ("If you want to get
the book that everybody is reading right now, it is just not in," she
complained), Kellogg grantees and focus-group organizers did not
seem to understand what sociologist Elizabeth Long discovered years
ago in her research-that reading the same book (even if individually
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done in private) constitutes a community-based information-sharing
activity [131]. Tunnel vision and blind spots.
On September 25, 1995, Ken Carpenter called for a joint effort between professional librarians and professional historians to study the
eighteenth- and nineteenth-century library as a resource shared to
varying degrees by hundreds of thousands in America's multicultural
society. I welcome this opportunity to echo his call, but also to amplify
and extend it for twentieth-century American library history to additional professional communities whose research interests have the potential to address huge gaps in our knowledge of one of this nation's
most ubiquitous twentieth-century institutions. The task before us is
indeed large, but with the help of education, social, cultural, and intellectual historians, and scholars from research communities such as
American, women, race, and ethnic studies, we can accelerate and augment our effort.
Like society in general, every generation of libraryand information
professionals must apply to the past it has inherited a set of questions
unique to its time and circumstances in order to better understand its
present, so that it can prudently plan its future. Our own generation
is no different. Our alternative-to craft a set of tunnel-visioned plans
and strategies for the future that carrywith them many of the systemic
gendered, class, age, occupational, ethnic, and homophobic blind
spots marking so much of our past-is, in my opinion, unacceptable.
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