Library Daylight: Tracings of Modern Librarianship, 1874–1922
Library Daylight is a significant, if eclectic, contribution to the history of librarianship. Its significance lies in its use as a pedagogical tool, giving students access to primary materials in the history of librarianship and raising questions about both the history and current conditions of the profession. The work is organized chronologically, and the texts are culled from a variety of early professional sources and a few popular magazines. The selection of texts is quirky. Some pieces are clearly connected to canonical figures and intellectual movements in librarianship. Others reflect experiments in library practice without lasting effect. Regardless, some clear themes can be identified across the selections. Litwin's collection advances our understanding of libraries as sites of cultural work, sites of technical and intellectual work, and sites of gender tension in the first decades of the profession in the United States.
"A collection of books gathered together at the public expense does not justify itself by the simple fact that it is." (p. 92) With that, American Library Association (ALA) President John Cotton Dana from 1895–96 makes a call to justify a library as an institution with social and educational goals beyond the circulation of books. Library Daylight makes clear that, from their inception in the United States, libraries have been defined by the service they provide their users. Those services are part of the complex of cultural work done by a library. The collected texts make visible that the contours of library services are the result of conflicting and multiple initiatives at the birth of librarianship. Clearly, [End Page 97] a library was always a cultural force to be reckoned with. Library Daylight offers the primary documents that can introduce students to the conflicts between ideology and library practice.
Turning to the technical and intellectual work of libraries, examples such as John Fiske's elaborate description of library processes in "A Librarian's Work" from Atlantic Monthly—especially the state of technical services and cataloging in 1874—could enlighten current MLIS students in cataloging classes. Litwin lightens the mood a bit with antiquarian articles like one that calls for the use of the telautograph to pass messages in the library or another that calls for use of the telephone to answer queries and renew materials. What makes this anthology so different is precisely this mix of the canonical and the curiosity.
No issue in contemporary librarianship is as controversial as the place and treatment of women. Melvil Dewey finds that salary differences are typically not inherent to sex but instead caused by gender socialization. At the same moment that you want to embrace Dewey for seeing beyond claims of a kind of biological determinism justifying wage differences, he claims that a woman "almost always receives, whether she exacts it or not, much more waiting on and minor assistance" for cultural, rather than biological, reasons. (p. xii)
Library Daylight follows Dewey's unfortunately sexist statements with documents from the 1892 Women's Meeting of the ALA, where the fact that women earned an average salary of $1,000 while men earned $1,450 on average was analyzed. More than a half dozen reasons for this inequality are discussed, including, painfully true, that "library trustees take advantage of a woman's willingness to work for less than she earns when she knows her work is useful." (p. xiii) Contemporary librarians, it could be argued, suffer from the same abuses.
It is almost essential for any profession to attempt to trace its history as a means of defining its scope and establishing its credibility. Librarianship is no different, and Library Daylight gives us several texts to consider. None of these texts is historiographically sophisticated. Instead, these are almost folkloric essays re-crafting a received tradition of library history with a decidedly polemical bent. All of these historical texts functioned, in their original context, to legitimatize the library as an institution in the United States. Their place inside this anthology raises the question of the purpose of the Library Daylight collection itself. Can the eclectic history provided in this text also serve a new polemical function?
The selection of texts is stimulating, opening new means of fostering discussion in introductory library science classes. As such, this text is highly recommended.