Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Values of Libraries: A Report on the RUSA President's Program

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Values of Libraries: A Report on the RUSA President's Program

Article excerpt

In order to be effective, public service occupations like library and information science must reconcile the values held amongst professionals with the perspectives and needs of the community being served. Such reconciliation is difficult because of the evolving and potentially conflicting values of librarians and library users. During the RUSA President's Program "Our Values, Ourselves" four prominent figures in Library Science discussed the past, present, and future of libraries and their role in society. The presenters were: Wayne Bivens-Tatum, Philosophy and Religion Librarian at Princeton University; Wayne Wiegand, E William Summers Professor of Library and Information Studies Emeritus at Florida State University; Lisa Carlucci Thomas, Director and Founder, Design Think Do; and Jeanne Goodrich, former Executive Director, Las Vegas-Clark County Library District (retired September 2014). The pieces presented here are edited versions of the presentations, and are abbreviated from the full remarks.--Editor

THE ENLIGHTENMENT VALUES OF LIBRARIES

Wayne Bivens-Tatum

I'm going to focus on the historical motivations for the founding and development of modern academic and public libraries. These may or may not be the values that libraries still have, but they were the values that founded them. I argue they were founded upon an array of Enlightenment values, including the use of human reason to study the world, to create and disseminate new knowledge, and to educate the citizens of a democratic republic and enrich their lives.

The Enlightenment can be roughly divided into the philosophical and the political. By Philosophical Enlightenment, I mean all those principles of Enlightenment that coalesce around scholarship and research, the increase of knowledge, the belief in the benefits of science and education, and the right and even obligation to publish scholarly findings. In contrast, Political Enlightenment could be considered the Philosophical Enlightenment democratized--Enlightenment at least within the reach of everyone, even if not desired by everyone.

This rough division plays itself out in the history of libraries. Academic libraries--and the universities they support--to a great extent fulfill the promises of the Philosophical Enlightenment to collect, organize, preserve, and within limitations disseminate scholarly knowledge and the human record. Public libraries fall into the category of the Political Enlightenment, and many have conceived their mission partly as one of making knowledge more available to people. Enlightenment--philosophical and political--involves the creation of knowledge and its democratic dissemination to prepare autonomous citizens of a democratic republic, as well as the improvement of their lives in various ways.

Academic libraries, from large research libraries to smaller college libraries, are products of the Enlightenment and its promotion of reason and freedom. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake wherever it might lead, the examination of every possible topic in the light of reason, and the freedom to publish that research to the world--the underlying principles of modern universities--led to the inevitable creation of the libraries capable of supporting those goals. While scholars investigated, examined, experimented and wrote and wrote and wrote, academic librarians worked to acquire, preserve, organize, and make accessible the materials they needed, and in the process built up a national network of cooperative collections and services in the support of scholarship.

Public libraries in the United States began as efforts to educate citizens in a democracy and to Americanize immigrants. The Boston Public Library was pitched as the natural extension of the free public schooling system Boston had already implemented. Early promotion by the American Library Association on behalf of libraries often focused on education and improving citizen's lives. …

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