Saturday, September 10, 2011

Respect and Respectability

As I make my way through my coursework, I'm always looking for ways I can apply what I'm learning to my everyday work at the library—I'm also looking to be inspired by what I am learning. Most things I find inspiring focus not on books, libraries or librarians—but on library patrons.

Today I was reading Free to All Carnegie Libraries & American Culture by Abigail A. Van Slyck and I read a passage that I found quite inspiring. Van Slyck writes:

“When the children’s librarian distinguished herself from the generalist only by the age of the reader she served, she placed herself in a degraded professional position… However, when the children’s librarian distinguished herself from the generalist by a knowledge of the scientifically-established stages of child-development, she placed her claims to professional status on sounder footing; when her readers were perceived as passing though a crucial stage in human development, she was in a better position to garner professional recognition. “

This passage is the perfect set up for an idea that was true at the turn of the century—and is true now, “…by redeeming the child, child psychology also helped redeem the children’s librarian.”

I try to have a lot of respect for children in my work. As a child and teen, I craved respect. I wanted adults to feel that I was smart, engaging and worth their time. I'm sure I'm not the person who's felt this way, thus I extend respect to the children and teens I know. This passage affirmed my belief that respecting or redeeming the child patron brings respect to the work that I do. I think we are far from the place where librarians act with hostility or indifference towards children. Still, the words of Van Slyck serve as a great reminder that our work is only as important as our patrons.

If you have an interest in library history or American history in the years surrounding 1900, I would highly recommend checking out this book. Van Slyck provides amazing detail on the good and bad of Andrew Carnegie’s contributions to the American public library system as well as information on the professionalization of librarians and architects throughout the era.

Van Slyck, A. A. (1998). Free to all. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.


  1. That does sound like an incredibly interesting book. And that is a very inspiring passage, and I don't even *want* to be a children's librarian. I think it applies to all specialist librarians -- those who work with children & teens, scientists, special needs patrons, you name it -- the librarian has to distinguish him/herself with particular patron-group-specific knowledge, and that librarian's work is, as you say, only as important as his/her patrons.

  2. In my first semester as an LIS student, I took a "History of Libraries" class, and that book was one of our textbooks. I found it incredibly interesting, especially the sections on the development of the children's librarian. Great quote!