Magazine article American Libraries

"Use It Up, Wear It out, Make It Do, or Do Without"

Magazine article American Libraries

"Use It Up, Wear It out, Make It Do, or Do Without"

Article excerpt

New Englanders are familiar with the above adage, as are descendants of many who carried it with them westward across rivers, plains, and mountains to build new communities. Favorite books went along in their wagons, and soon a longing for the libraries left behind asserted itself in dusty frontier towns.

For about the first 100 years of free-library development--roughly 1850 to 1950--the determination of librarians and library advocates to stretch scarce resources seemed admirable and gallant, and indeed it was in many ways. Every book was used until it wore out. Through settlement, Indian wars, the Civil War, inventions, transcontinental travel, the advent of huge immigrant populations, World War I, and the Great Depression, librarians carried on and somehow contrived to meet a variety of human needs with meager funds. Bred in a culture of lack, they were enveloped in a stereotype compounded of gender, devotion to rules and processes, and a reputation for caring helpfulness. Ambivalent feelings cling to libraries even now. Needed, demanded, even loved by individuals and communities, they are nevertheless often overlooked when legislation is passed and funds are appropriated.

Now, however, we must realize that we are dealing with an increasingly diverse society and that none of its members can afford to do without the highest quality of service we can offer.

Blocking the road to potential

With that in mind, we have tried, in this issue, to dispel some of the unmindful and ill-considered folklore in and around the library world--sacred cows that often block the road to active acceptance of what, in 2001 and onward, libraries and their potential are all about. In the four articles here you will find sacred cows such as: "The library is not a place you go to anymore"; "Kids don't need to read or be literate now that they have computers"; and "Library service for ethnic-minority communities is only effective when it is provided by someone of the same culture as those being served." We are reminded that many graduate schools of library education have ceased to educate children's and youth services librarians because their relatively low salaries and "low-prestige" positions--they are just working with children who happen to be the nation's future, after all--do not compare favorably at the bottom line with the high-tech, highly trained information specialists in universities or corporations who ref lect greater glory on the school and its university. Marilyn L. Miller calls it a dangerous myth that the American Library Association, state associations, state libraries, and the profession generally believe that they have no power to require public universities to produce the librarians our growing public so desperately needs. …

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