Reader in American Library History

Reader in American Library History

Reader in American Library History

Reader in American Library History

Excerpt

This volume is intended to contribute to the reader's understanding of the historical development of libraries and librarianship in America from the colonial period to the early twentieth century. A knowledge of American library history will surely provide an inspirational boost to the members of the profession, both young and old alike, since occupational pride is a basic characteristic of a mature profession. Librarians are often both harried by an unappreciative public and burdened with the day-to-day regimen of library administration, and sometimes lose sight of the long and honorable history of librarianship in this country.

In addition, the study of library history will broaden the perspective of the librarian in a number of ways. One of the most distressing characteristics of all the so-called "social professions" is their eventual tendency to view themselves as ends rather than means to ends, as was originally intended. An examination of American library history shows how the role of the library has been defined and redefined through the years, and will illuminate those social needs that stimulated the rise and encouraged the support of libraries over the past 300 years.

Historians point out that every age considers its own specific crises as the most significant, the most demanding, and potentially the most dangerous in the country's experience. An understanding of library history illustrates quite clearly that American librarians have faced seemingly major crises over the years; while we do not mean to suggest that we can afford the luxury of complacency at such a critical juncture in our history, it is both enlightening and encouraging to see the ways in which our predecessors perceived and overcame their most serious challenges.

The study of library history might also act as a cohesive force in an increasingly specialized profession. Perhaps an understanding of the history of the library and its unity of function will stimulate an end to the petty jealousies and antagonisms so rampant in modern librarianship. A clearer understanding of the historical definition of the function of libraries may well contribute to increased communication between librarians, the current lack of which is almost immediately obvious to people in the field.

Furthermore, the cautious use of library history will also be a significant aid in the intelligent administration of libraries. At the simplest level, an awareness of the historical development of a specific library can help an administrator effectively manage that library. At a slightly more sophisticated level, historical awareness prevents the all-too- embarrassing experience of reinventing the wheel. Of course, it is often the case that tradition is poorly suited to deal with emerging problems of the present and future. At the same time, a knowledge of library history can often dispel myths which have been so uncritically accepted by librarians in the past.

Finally, an understanding of the historical development of libraries can mitigate against the development of what the British historian J. H. Hexter once called "tunnel vision". That is, librarians often view library history as if they were looking into a tunnel through history. This would be fine if one would remember that there is earth above and around the tunnel, and that the shape and direction of the tunnel are controlled by the constitution of the substance about it. Similarly, library history, carefully researched and well written, will provide ample proof that the library is a product of a "complex of specific . . .

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