Libraries indoctrinating immigrants? (Portable MLIS, ch. 1)

The most fascinating part of this chapter was the brief discussion about the Boston Public Library, the “first major public library” in America, founded in the early 1850s (Rubin, 2008, p. 8). I am intrigued by Harris’ revisionist history, cited by Rubin, which goes against the “romantic” notion that “an informed citizenry was critical for the success of a democratic society” to assert that the BPL instead aimed to “indoctrinate the mass of immigrants entering America in the nineteenth century to American values, customs, and expectations” (p. 8). White and middle class values are mentioned by Rubin, yet I would like to read more about how the Yankee Protestants who founded the BPL perhaps used its collection materials, policies, and programming to socially control the masses of Italian, African-American, Irish, Chinese, and German-Jewish immigrants who arrived in Boston during the second half of the nineteenth century.

I want to see the evidence that backs up this revisionist claim, especially if there are any primary source documents hidden somewhere in the BPL archives. Unfortunately, I can’t find the Harris’ article in any e-resource, since it was published in the Library Journal in 1973. But it is cited often by other revisionist library historians who look into multiculturalism in library history, “feminization” of the profession, etc.

How do today’s librarians make certain to follow the foundational values and ethics as set by the ALA? Rubin states that “we must never consider our own interests above those of the library user” (p. 11), but this is an ideal in a service profession that I imagine it is quite difficult in practice, and quite flawed, with a lot of grey area.  Which specific practices and stances can ensure that the varied interests and needs of today’s immigrant patrons–and all other patrons–are truly being met? And how do we ensure that our collections do not fall into the trap of being perceived as serving elite interests?

Rubin, R. E. (2008). Stepping back and looking forward: Reflections on the foundations of libraries and librarianship. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 3-14). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.


2 responses to “Libraries indoctrinating immigrants? (Portable MLIS, ch. 1)

  1. Hi.. have you looked at community led library services? This may be an approach which may work and ensure that elite interests are not being served … find the approach discussed on Social Justice Librarian blog .. or through Working Together Project documents.

    My best,

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