Friday, July 9, 2010

Stepping Back and Looking Forward

For IST5111, we are using The Portable MLIS as a textbook and have assigned readings of several chapters. The first chapter of the book is Stepping Back and Looking Forward: Reflections on the Foundations of Libraries and Librarianship. This chapter really peaked my interest as someone who loves History. I really enjoyed taking the quick trip through the past as it highlighted the importance of libraries throughout history.

Starting with the Sumerians we saw how libraries have served many functions, and that these functions tend to come back around. A few quotes popped into my head: "everything that's old is new again" and "history is doomed to repeat itself". Both I think apply to libraries. Throughout history libraries existed within the trade market to collect and maintain commercial records, they functioned within the religious context to house religious writings, individuals maintained their own personal libraries, and beginnning with the great Alexandria Library served as a place for research and learning. Over the course of time these primary functioned repeated themselves depending on the core important beliefs of the time and place. Which brings us to the present and the mission of libraries today. The first modern library was in Boston, MA in the 1850's and it was open to all members of the public, managed by an elected board and was free to the public. Here we see the basis for the modern public library as we know it.

Artistic Rendering of "The Great Library of Alexandria." by O. Von Corven
from Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, Alfred Hessel and Reuben Peiss. The Memory of Mankind. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2001

Here a point was brought up that I'd like to talk about a little more. The common held belief is that the modern public library is there to allow learning and exploration for the individual, there was also a belief that the library, especially the early libraries, were used as a means to indoctrinate. In the 1800's and into the early 1900's there was a mass of immagrants coming into the United States, each bringing with them a culture and set of beliefs from their home country. The entered the US and by and large most settled into communities that were held together by a common culture (think of places like China Town and Little Italy in New York City). The proverbial melting pot wasn't neccesarily the way it worked out. The library then, which was open to everyone regardless of country of birth, could be used to idoctrinate the masses with strictly Americanized ideas. For instance, Andrew Carnegie, who funded multiple libraries was looking for a workforce with strong work values, and the library could be used as a route for imparting those values. This, I think, is an interesting concept to look at. Carnegie, in particular, by funding the library and having a hand in what was offered may have been able to effect what information was being imparted to the public, but is seems unlikely to me that you would be able to indoctrinate an entire population of immigrants in this way across the board. It is something I plan on looking into further though as time allows.

Old Wayland Town Hall, Massachusettes. One room was set aside as a library, becoming the first public library. Historic Building of Massachusettes (

This brings us firmly into the present and forces us to look into the future. Today, the library combines the functions of the past as we serve the community. In the second half of the chapter we looked at the ALA and the function of the librarian. We saw how libraries hold four core beliefs that are to be upheld. They are: The belief in intellectual freedom, the belief in service and the public good, the belief in education and the belief in the value of the past.

One topic that was briefly brought up when looking at the belief of intellectual freedom was the rights of young people in the digital age. Beyond the idea of banning books, librarians are also sometimes asked to restrict the access younger patrons have in order to protect them from harmful and objectionable materials. This is a tricky subject, and one that I have a strong point of view on, and even I waver sometimes. It's my opinion that you should have access to everything. This comes from being raised in a family where if there was a book I wanted to read, regardless of reading level, I was allowed to read it. This resulted in my reading of several books that were probably innapropriate (my usual example is Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear series, which I read at 12, and from which I learned alot about the birds and the bees). However, it's my belief that every book has value and that you can learn something, so to restrict access to those is unfortunate. My thoughts generally carry over to the internet, but only to a certain extent. The thing that gives me pause is porn. In some cases schools put a search block on certain terms because they can yield results that are pornographic in nature, but those blocks can also result in the restricted access to educational sites, including medical sites that discuss anatomy. So what do you do? It would be time consuming and in the end impossible to try and block every porn site out there, and to blanket block using search terms would result in legitimate educational sites being restricted as well. I fall on the side of leaving everything open, and doing your best to keep an eye out for innapropriate use of the libraries computers. In the end, it's the parents job to give permission as to what a child is allowed to do.

The conclusion asked a series of questions and most looked at what role the library will play in the increased digital age. One question in specific caught my eye. Looking at young adults again, how will libraries be able to compete with the internet? I don't think it needs to. I think that you have to meet the kids where they are, and right now they are on the internet. I'll admit, that until last year, I was not a library person. I was a book person, and I read all the time, but I did not frequent the library, which is located convieniently 3 blocks away. I didn't really see the use, I could get what I wanted from the book store, or Amazon or from online, and it was only the fact that I was going quickly book-poor that I turned to the library, and quickly realized what I was missing out on. For teens, the instant access to the computer is invaluable. They are pulled in a million different directions with school, and sports and other extracurriculars, the time to go to the library is slim, especially if they have to get a ride, etc. I love working with teens and with Young Adult books, and I hope to go into that field at a public library when I graduate. I think that even though it is time consuming, creating facebook pages, a blog, newsletter and planning events to specifically reach teens is invaluable. You do what you can to get them interested, keep them interested, get them in the door and keep them coming back. You can use non-book related events, like dance classes, or author chats and contests to get them interested. By meeting them where they are, you can keep them connected and keep the library in their minds a place to go, even if it is only online.

Marcellus Free Library- Children's area- making reading fun for kids

Overall, this chapter covered alot of ground and gave me lots of food for thought. I finished it wanted to look into some topics in more detail, and thinking about the future of libraries in general.


Haycock, K. & Sheldon, B. E. (Eds.). (2008). The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts. (locations 175-347 ). Westport, CT. Libraries Unlimited

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