Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Civic Librarianship

Ronald B. McCabe. Civic Librarianship: Renewing the Social Mission of the Public Library. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2001.

Ronald McCabe is advocating a return to the educational mission of the public library that he believes was discarded in favor of a mission of simply providing or distributing information. He traces a change in American society from a desire to serve the good of society to an emphasis on the individual without regard to the good of society. He sees this change arising out of the Romantic movement and, more recently, the counter-cultural movement of the sixties. Like so many things, intentions were good, but balance was lost in the effort to move away from a rigid social order.

McCabe looks at these two movements, romanticism and the American counterculture, as well as utilitarianism and libertarianism, which promote an economic imperative that coincides with the emphasis on the individual. We see something like this in several cycles of corporate excess, currently revisiting us in the form of bank failures and massive layoffs. He sees aspects of Libertarian and Utilitarian philosophies as promoting the making of money without regard to social costs; getting rich as the sole merit of success.

McCabe looks to the Communitarian movement for the renaissance of the public library through what he is calling civic librarianship. Communitarianism calls for respect for individual rights, but also emphasizes the need for individuals to take responsibility for the good of his or her community and for society.

Libraries can contribute to community building by providing civic space and the resources and assistance to promote an educated and involved citizenry; collaborating with other service organizations; providing public programming that encourages dialogue and interaction, while serving both individuals, groups, and community organizations.

Unfortunately, this book is not widely available. But, you can find McCabe's chapter, "Civic Librarianship," which summarizes his ideas in:

Libraries & Democracy: The Cornerstones of Liberty. Ed. by Nancy Kranich. Chicago: American Library Association, 2001.

Burling 1st floor Z716.4+.L459+2001

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