Conflicts that pit our professional stance in favor of intellectual freedom against citizen pressure or our own impulses to suppress “inappropriate” expression is the oldest challenge librarianship faces. When the modern library movement was born, librarians thought they were gatekeepers. Early debates over whether fiction should be banned ultimately morphed into the profession’s current position: no one has the right to tell anyone else what they are allowed to read.
The modern library movement began in 1876, a year that saw the birth of both the American Library Association (ALA) and Library Journal (LJ). The January 1, 1976, issue of LJ celebrated that centennial, asking 25 experts and leading librarians to project the future of libraries over the next 25–50 years. Now on LJ’s 140th anniversary, we’ve taken a sampling of those forecasts and briefly assessed their accuracy. The result is evidence of how inadequate current knowledge is to predict the future.
“Those who know don’t talk, those who talk don’t know.” That old bromide was applied to commentators on broadcast media, though we could currently swap out post for talk. Some of those original talking heads gave us wisdom, others simply nattered on to fill their allotted airtime. Today, the paraphrase fits as what we call “social media” overtake the traditional ones.
Eric Edward Moon, who served as editor-in-chief of Library Journal for nine years (1959-1968) died on July 31 in Sarasota, FL at the age of 93. He was hugely influential in American librarianship for four decades, at LJ, as President of the American Library Association (ALA), and as chief editor at Scarecrow Press.
Copyright is the only right defined in the main text of the U.S. Constitution. It is specified in Article 1, Section 8, so it didn’t have to be added in the amendments known as the Bill of Rights, which tells us how important the concept of copyright was to the founders. They enumerated its dimensions in a sparse sentence: “To promote the Progress of science and useful Arts by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
The Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL), KS, is engaged in every discussion in its community. In fact, it is usually leading them. The library is central to local deliberations and changes; creates leaders; and uplifts the community it serves. The way the library has become a major force for its constituents in the city of Topeka and throughout Shawnee County sets a bar for all libraries and has earned TSCPL the 2016 Gale/LJ Library of the Year Award.
Charlie Robinson and I both earned our MLS degrees at the School of Library Science (SLS) at Simmons College in Boston. I first met Charlie (who died last month) in the office of Ken Shaffer, the SLS dean. When alumni would come back to visit, Shaffer would gather a few of his favorites in his office for conversation. If they were influential dignitaries, or he thought they would become such, he liked it all the better.
When a library offers balanced information from both poles on local or national issues, reaction from either side can be unpleasant, even hostile, to the library and to library support. It is even worse when the citizens are part of the oldest American movement, the one that asserts that all government is evil—even public agencies such as the library. It is a courageous librarian who delivers facts that offer an opposing view to that one.
Legendary library leader Charles W. Robinson died on Friday, April 8 after a long illness. He was 88 years old. He led the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) for 33 years, spearheading innovation and sometimes provoking controversy among librarians from 1963 until he retired in 1996. Robinson joined the BCPL staff as assistant county librarian in January 1959 and was appointed director in 1963 when his predecessor, Richard D. Minnich, died suddenly. The 33-year era of Robinson’s progressive and inspired leadership moved BCPL to the forefront of public library service in the nation.