Library Education: A Mini-History; What Hath Dewey's Daring Venture Wrought?

By McMullen, Haynes | American Libraries, June 1986 | Go to article overview

Library Education: A Mini-History; What Hath Dewey's Daring Venture Wrought?


McMullen, Haynes, American Libraries


Library education: a mini-history

NEARLY A CENTURY AGO, the first library school in North America opened at Columbia University because one person, Melvil Dewey, felt the best way to prepare librarians was through classroom instruction combined with practical work in a library. The Columbia School Of Library Economy accomplished its aim soon after it opened on January 5, 1887; but its director, although intelligent and imaginative, had no gift for following the rules and regulations of the trustees. Few tears were shed by that group when Dewey moved the school to the State Library in Albany in 1889, soon after he became secretary of the New York Board of Regents and state librarian.

The curriculum in Dewey's school and in others that were soon started by his graduates emphasized technical subjects such as bibliography and cataloging; nonetheless, his students became enthusiastic missionaries who went forth to preach the value of libraries in American life. They must have been much like library school students today who learn to apply computer technology to library processes and then go out to show the library world how it should transform itself through automation.

Prominent librarians in the early days of library education were not as happy about the schools as were the students. Beginning around 1900, various committees and individual librarians investigated the work of the school, never hesitating to make recommendations for improvement.

In 1923 a document appeared that had much more impact than any before it: Training for Library Service, a report prepared for the Carnegie Corporation by C. C. Williamson, a department head in the New York Public Library. Most of his recommendations were accepted by the schools, partly because what he wrote made sense to the library profession generally, and partly, perhaps, because the Carnegie Corporation had already shown an interest in providing financial support for the improvement of library education.

From 1923 to the mid-1930s, library education made considerable progress, encouraged by the corporation's generous gifts to the schools and its gifts to the American Library Association to support the ALA Board of Education for Librarianship, established in 1924. Part of the board's duty was to keep an eye on the schools to insure that they did a good job, so it was not always popular with library school officials.

Graduate-level programs

One kind of library education, beginning in the late 1920s, went its own way with little encouragement from the library profession. The Graduate Library School was opened at the University of Chicago in 1926, largely because Frederick P. Keppel, who had become president of the Carnegie Corporation in 1923, thought that an advanced, research-oriented library school was needed. The corporation offered $1 million, later increased to about $1.6 million, as an endowment. The school turned out a few graduates, well trained in research methods, who took responsible library positions mainly in academic libraries and as library school teachers and deans. Also, the school's publications were well respected. However, many librarians were slow to see the need for this kind of education; doctoral programs were not started at other universities until Illinois and Michigan began to offer the Ph. D. in 1948.

During the decade from 1936 to 1946, a half-dozen critical volumes by librarians and library school faculty were published on library education; from 1940 to 1948, seven conferences were held on the subject. …

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