Let Them Read Greats!

By Gendler, Ann | American Libraries, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Let Them Read Greats!


Gendler, Ann, American Libraries


WITH ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY SERIES, THE GREAT BOOKS FOUNDATION RENEWS ITS NATURAL PARTNERSHIP WITH LIBRARIES TO REACH A NEW GENERATION OF READERS

America's public libraries enthusiastically hosted many, if not most, of the book discussion groups spawned by the Great Books movement that swept the country after World War II. They continue to do so today; three-fourths of the 40 or so Great Books discussion groups in the Chicago area, for example, meet in city and suburban libraries. Nonetheless, the partnership has been somewhat neglected over the past few decades. Once prominent in library journals, the Great Books reading and discussion program is little mentioned after 1967.

Why should anybody read the "Great Books" anymore? Primarily for the same reason that book groups of all kinds are flourishing these days, as people seek rewarding social and intellectual outlets for their leisure time. Book discussion groups provide something missing, for the most part, in American life: they bring people together to talk about meaningful issues.

The Great Books method of discussion, known as Shared Inquiry, promises a serious and structured meeting that focuses exclusively on questions raised by the text, rather than on group members' likes and dislikes. Discussions can be quite challenging. As Barry Bernstein, an organizer of the annual Colby Great Books Institute in Maine, put it, "The objective is self-education, realizing who you are. . . Our purpose is not to read the Great Books for their own sake, but to invest in ourselves by discovering what they have to tell us."

Great beginnings

The role of libraries in the Great Books movement predates the establishment in 1947 of the Great Books Foundation - a nonprofit educational organization with headquarters in Chicago. Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler at the University of Chicago realized that the movement had to be detached from the university in order to grow. They had been extraordinarily successful at popularizing the Great Books idea, traveling to cities across the country to conduct demonstration discussions. Early programs flourished in public libraries in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York, Portland, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

The Great Books idea, in which people with no special training read and discuss great works of literature and philosophy with the books as their only teachers, dovetailed nicely with librarians' need to provide inexpensive adult education in the postwar period.

In 1945, the University of Chicago asked the Chicago Public Library to participate in a critical experiment that proved book groups could lead themselves. The library selected 70 people, half of them librarians, to be trained as discussion leaders in a ten-session summer course conducted by the university's continuing education division. That fall, the newly trained leaders started their own groups. This paved the way for the fledgling Great Books Foundation to conduct leader training nationwide. The foundation also published paperback readings for the discussion groups. The Great Books program, Hutchins claimed, "operated on the shadow of a frayed shoestring." But it shared an important mission with libraries: "Education cannot be the privilege of the elite, the minority, the rich and powerful. It is no answer to say that we do not know how to give education to everybody. We have to find out how to do it."

Hutchins had confidence that "the public library is the most important agency in American education. It is free. It is universal. It is not afflicted with credits, degrees, fraternities, or football teams. As adult education is the most important kind of education, so the public library can be central in adult education, as it has been everywhere in the Great Books program. The public library has the space for adult education. It has the materials for it. It has the proper atmosphere for it. In my youth libraries seemed to me warehouses, or even mausoleums, for books. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Let Them Read Greats!
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.