Forbidden Books in American Public Libraries, 1876-1939: A Study in Cultural Change

By Evelyn Geller | Go to book overview

2. THE CENTENNIAL CONSENSUS: 1876

In 1876, three events occurred that were pivotal to a developing profession. A major historical and contemporary public library survey was published by the U.S. government. At the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, the American Library Association was formed. And Frederick B. Lleypoldt , publisher of Publishers Weekly, launched the first professional publication for librarians, the American Library Journal (hereafter LJ; the title was changed to Library Journal in 1877). These events gave librarians an organizational base and an opportunity to meet and communicate, develop their knowledge and techniques, and act collectively in their interests. Recognizing the special needs of the new popular library, as distinguished from scholarly libraries, the first LJ editors promised a "practical, not antiquarian" orientation.1

Although public libraries were still few in number and barely institutionalized (only eight large cities could boast a public library), professional pride was defining the library as "not merely a storehouse . . . but . . . an educational institution which shall create wants where they do not exist" and the librarian as no mere custodian but a teacher. The complex technical structure of the field was being built by William F. Poole, Charles Cutter, and Melvil Dewey. And, although no training schools existed, leaders like William Frederick Poole of Chicago had trained recruits and were demanding professional qualifications.2 Poole, head of the new Chicago Public Library, urged directors to stress training and talent, not local patronage, in hiring. He warned especially against choosing "locals" who had failed in other fields--"broken down ministers, briefless lawyers, . . . physicians without patients." A mere bookworm without the qualities of energy,, industry, and tact was "an incubus and a nuisance."3

Like other new professions, librarians were engaged in a struggle to define their function and authority, particularly against Spencerian notions that would have limited the state's functions to policing and protecting private property. Josiah Quincy, a trustee, made the library a symbol of social control of private enterprise. "It would be pleasant," he wrote of laissez-faire theorists:

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