Magazine article American Libraries

"From Rosie to Roosevelt" Sparks Lively World War II Debates

Magazine article American Libraries

"From Rosie to Roosevelt" Sparks Lively World War II Debates

Article excerpt

AN ALA DISUSSION SERIES LEADS TO THOUGHTFUL REFLECTION AND SOME TOUCHING MOMENTS

The impact and complexities of World War II are being revisited on movie screens with the recent release of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick's adaptation of James Jones's 1962 novel The Thin Red Line. The popularity of these films has raised the public's consciousness once again about the war, its origins, and its consequences.

The renewed interest by those personally affected and others looking to delve deeper into this historic time drew hundreds to 20 public libraries nationwide for "From Rosie to Roosevelt: A Film History of Americans in World War II." The six-week series of scholar-led lectures, documentary film screenings, readings, and discussions were designed to help participants deepen their understanding of the history of World War II and its impact on our world today.

"From Rosie to Roosevelt" was organized by National Video Resources (NVR) in partnership with ALA's Public Programs Office, and funded in large part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It is the first NEH-funded project to focus on documentary films as the main text for scholar-led discussion programs.

"As a 79-year-old veteran of WWII, who has been interested in it, studied it much, lived it, and read it, there was little new in this for me," said a participant at the Bettendorf (Iowa) Public Library. "It is educative, however, to hear the discussions, learn ever more about how participants and observers interpreted and/or now remember history, and the present day interpretations, explanation, and analyses that have evolved."

Audience participation

The East Baton Rouge (La.) Parish Library had a total audience of 1,118, boosted by the ingenuity of librarian Beth Bingham, who posted project posters in movie theaters featuring Saving Private Ryan.

"The sheer numbers were overwhelming," said Bingham. "I anticipated 100 each week. When 229 showed up the first week and more registered every week, I was amazed. I didn't realize that this series would be so much fun! The creative flow of information was wonderful and the audience participation in discussion and viewing the films was unbelievable."

Julie Hart, librarian at the Saline County (Ark.) Library, said, "There were two Japanese-American couples who had been in the internment camp who showed up one night having read an article in the paper promoting the wrong series. They had driven from Hot Springs to participate.

"The scholar scrapped his Eisenhower plans for the night and we watched The Color of Honor [documentary on race] instead," Hart said. "It was a very unexpected surprise for this part of the U.S. and changed some attitudes drastically."

"Our local governmental body had an old-timer who hated anything library-related and expressed it on a regular basis," Hart said. "At the beginning of this program, I brought him in and discussed our plans, and he sat in my office, told his war story, and cried. He has been a supporter since that day."

"I was surprised that we had participants [new immigrants] from Vietnam," said librarian Lynn Whitehouse of the San Diego Public Library. "They were very interested in the experiences of other ethnic groups that the films profiled. I was surprised by the comments of various members of the audience who had lived through World War II as children in England or Europe and others who were young American soldiers. Many of these participants define themselves as pacifists today. Their pacifist leanings led to some very lively discussion."

Librarian Irene Goldberg of the Monroe Township (N.J.) Public Library, said, "There were two women who had worked in plants during the war and had a gripe that they were denied veterans benefits. They feel they are as much veterans as the soldiers because they supported the war effort. …

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