APOSTLES OF CULTURE: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920 by Dee Garrison

APOSTLES OF CULTURE: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In good time, there was bound to be a study stressing ""the importance of social class and sex roles in public library development""--a mildly hot topic in library circles since Garrison (History, Rutgers) and others took up revisionism in the early 1970s. The present volume, an expansion upon her 1973 dissertation, bears the earmarks, still, of an argument within the profession (viz. the parochial references, tacit rebuttals, attention to minor points of fact) and of an academic treatise. ""The Genteel Setting"" is established through a socioeconomic profile of 36 influential librarians of the first ""gentleman scholar"" generation (and constant use of the word ""genteel""). The informative central chapters on Melvil Dewey, super-technician and first, contentious professional, are marred by stodgy psychologizing (""It is apparent that Dewey manifested in his personality a particular complex of thoughts, feelings, ideas, and behavior characteristic of a general mode of functioning that is most often dubbed 'obsessive-compulsive'"") as well as the author's general inability to sustain a narrative. But Garrison does adduce some telling quotes in support of her contention that libraries consciously sought to tame the rebellious working class; she appreciates Dewey's ""steamroller qualities"" and does justice to both his professional support of women and his personal bias against Jews; and, most importantly, she opens up the entire question of the feminization of librarianship and the public library's (resulting?) inferior status. Whatever the book's failings, this final section--particularly acute on the settlement-house influence on both social work and librarianship--will redeem it for professionals. The clubby atmosphere, the ""reading ladder"" to ever-better books, the elevation of children's services--all have reverberations today.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan