Saturday, May 30, 2009

Librarianship and Legitimacy

Raber, Douglas. Librarianship and Legitimacy: The Ideology of the Public Library Inquiry. Westport, CT: Greenwod Press, 1997.

R. Stuhr

Raber analyzes the 1949 Public Library Inquiry which had as its conclusion that public libraries could not possibly serve all people and their needs and so they should focus on readers and intellectually motivated inquirers. This set off a firestorm in the public library community because of its elitist overtones.

Public libraries have long served those least served by society. Although there has always been a corner of public libraries as represented by the large imposing structures that have often been the anchors of urban library systems that were meant as "temples of learning" for those occupying the upper rungs of society, there has also been a larger segment of the public library world serving the working class, the children, the immigrants.

Raber looks at the whole history of public libraries in the United States, and follows the attempt of library practitioners to determine a philosophy of service and to define their mission. The philosophy and mission has changed as society has changed but also as librarians have sought to find their place in the professional world.

The Public Library Inquiry was intended to both solidify the place of the professional librarian and to define a mission. Raber concludes that the Public Library Inquiry failed to provide a "lasting identity." He writes, that the public library must "become a dynamic institution capable of adapting to change while remaining true to its democratic purpose." However the library does evolve and as librarians face dilemmas of "purpose, direction, and identity," they should keep in mind the the role public library and librarians have served in sustaining American democratic society.

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