Magazine article American Libraries

This Month, 105 Years Ago

Magazine article American Libraries

This Month, 105 Years Ago

Article excerpt

IN SEPTEMBER 1895, JOHN Cotton Dana delivered a presidential address about public awareness and libraries to an ALA conference in Cleveland. Entitled "Hear the Other Side," he began by complaining about too many loafers (historical context suggests he meant underemployed adult males) in public library newspaper: reading rooms, too many patrons (most likely referring to annoying adolescents) coming to reference desks in quest of trivia for some meaningless contest, and far too much fiction "of the poorer kind" circulating from public library collections to an excessive number of readers (implying middle class women).

After recounting these everyday library phenomena, Dana asked: "Has it not often come sharply home to every librarian, the hopelessness of the task we assume to set out for ourselves? The triviality of the great mass of the free public library's educational work? The discouraging nature of the field? The pettiness, the awful pettiness, of results?"

Actually, many of the "problems" he complained about remain with us today and, as then, are little understood. Just like Dana in the late 19th century, at the beginning of the 21st century we persist in looking at users in the life of our libraries, rather than libraries in the life of our users. As a result, we continue to underestimate the multiple roles libraries already play as community spaces, to undervalue libraries' contributions to the dynamic and unique information cultures of diverse populations that use them, and to vastly under appreciate the importance users place on works of fiction they annually borrow from libraries by the billions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.