Childhood and Culture Reflected through the Lens of LIS Education: Embedded Practice in Danish Library and Information Science Education

By Martens, Marianne | Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Childhood and Culture Reflected through the Lens of LIS Education: Embedded Practice in Danish Library and Information Science Education


Martens, Marianne, Journal of Education for Library and Information Science


Introduction and Context

Our views on culture shape childhood (Stearns, 2009), and the way a society socially constructs childhood in turn shapes the literary cultural products created for young people, and the library services provided for them. In 21st century United States, children are viewed as a vulnerable population in need of protection. Each year, books for children and young adults are challenged by well-intentioned adults who want to protect young people from dangerous content, and the American Library Association (ALA) maintains a list of frequently banned books (ALA, 1996-2015). In the U.S., "parenting" is viewed as a profession in need of outside guidance and expertise (Stearns, 2009), from Dr. Spock (1945) to the abundance of parenting books currently on the market. This paper uses Denmark as a case study to examine how library service and library and information science education reflects local cultural values.

A group of students from Kent State University visited Denmark for two weeks in the summer of 2014 as part of a class called International Children's Literature and Librarianship. Students began the course by reading a selection of books from all continents that were available in English in the United States, and then visited Denmark for an in-depth case study of one country. In Denmark, students visited libraries, cultural institutions, a ministry of culture, the Royal School of Library and Information Science, a publisher, bookstores, and interacted with Danish families, which allowed them to receive many impressions about Danish childhood and youth services librarianship. A daylong visit at The Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen helped the Kent State University students understand how Danish library training addresses the needs of this population, and connects social constructions on childhood with library practice. By embedding culture within access to information, an emphasis was placed on the roles of aesthetics and play.

A Review of the Literature

Three areas of literature informed this article: (a) historical perspectives on the emergence of youth services in Danish libraries; (b) articles on comparative perspectives of international LIS education; and (c) readings on culture, aesthetics, and society. Because of space restrictions, this article focuses on youth services in public libraries. A future study could examine practice in school library media centers.

Historical Perspectives

Denmark is a small, Nordic, constitutional monarchy with a population of 5.6 million people (Central Intelligence Agency, 2014). Public education in Denmark began over 200 years ago, with two Public Education Acts enacted in 1814 ("Anordning," 2012). As in the early part of the 20th century in the United States, the library movement in Denmark coincided with a shift from a rural, agrarian society towards an urban, industrialized society. In this changing environment, libraries would serve as centers of enlightenment and personal improvement-for educating and uplifting people, and for improving morals. About thirty years after Carnegie libraries began appearing in the United States, the first Danish Public Libraries Act was passed in 1920, but library service to children did not start until 1931. According to Juncker (2007), early twentieth century library service in Denmark emphasized books; since "children below the school age were illiterates" (p. 157), a commonly-held sentiment was that library service did not need to encompass this population. Much early Scandinavian library service for children was modeled on American practice. Åse Kristine Tveit (2011) describes how Norwegian children's librarians were trained at library schools in Albany and Brooklyn, New York, from which they imported both organizational techniques (such as Dewey Decimal Classification) and American ideologies about providing access to all- including to children. By late twentieth century in Denmark, views on childhood had changed drastically, and today, as in the United States, Danish libraries emphasize service to children. …

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