Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

The Schole Lybrarie: Images from Our Past

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

The Schole Lybrarie: Images from Our Past

Article excerpt

A review of the literature shows that not only is there no comprehensive published history of school libraries, but that school libraries are inadequately covered in the general histories of education and librarianship. Those writers who do discuss the history of school libraries tend to assume that they are a more recent phenomenon than they actually are; indeed, some assume they are a 20th-century development. This article discusses school libraries as they existed in four different times and places: in the educational foundations of medieval England; in the English grammar schools of the 16th and 17th centuries; in the schools of 19th-century Britain; and in the 19th-century common schools of the United States. These four "snapshots" of school libraries in the past show that school libraries have existed in schools since at least the 8th century. These early school libraries would have been very different from school libraries today, just as schools now are very different from their predecessors of earlier centuries.

Introduction

"No one has yet set out to tell the story of school libraries," said Cecil Stott (1971, p. 21) in his Presidential Address at the Annual Conference of the School Library Association (United Kingdom) on December 30, 1970. Two years later, the historian R. J. Wallis noted that "the history of school libraries is still to be written" (Wallis, 1973, pp. 36-37). In 1974, Sidney L. Jackson wrote in his general history, Libraries and Librarianship in the West, that "the story of an entire type of library service is so far virtually unknown" (p. 210). In addition, as Stott pointed out, both general histories of education and histories of libraries and librarianship failed to provide coverage of the historical development of school libraries. Although more than a quarter of a century has passed since these comments were made, they remain substantially true today.

Although some statements about school library development do exist, they tend to present school libraries as a more recent phenomenon than the historical evidence suggests. Jean Key Gates, for instance, has a subsection on "The School Library Media Center" in her textbook Introduction to Librarianship (1976), in which she covers "the development of the school library to 1960," as "a look at its history may shed some light on why it has grown as it has and why its current status is what it is." Nevertheless, the many school libraries in 19th- and early 20th-century America are dismissed in less than a paragraph, because "the school libraries which first appeared were used little, and their contribution to the teaching-learning process was minimal" (p. 166). No evidence is presented to support the first part of this statement and, although these libraries may have been used less than school libraries in many places in the 1990s, there is no proof that the school libraries in the 1920s, when Gates' survey really begins, were used considerably more than those of, say, 20 years earlier.

The second part of the quotation assumes that the only purpose of school libraries has been to support instruction in the school; this ignores the fact that school libraries were often established for other purposes unrelated (or minimally related) to school instruction, as, for instance, meeting the recreational reading needs of children or the needs of the local community. In the third edition of their History of Libraries in the Western World (1976), Elmer D. Johnson and Michael H. Harris note that "while some feeble beginnings in the area of school library services were made early in the 19th century, it was not until after 1900 that school libraries in the modern sense of the term became fairly general" (p. 282). In another general library history by Johnson, Communication: An Introduction to the History of Writing, Printing, Books, and Libraries (1973), a section on American school library history begins: "The school library as we know it today in the United States is almost entirely a twentieth-century development . …

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