In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Introduction: A Patient Labor
  • Joyce M. Latham (bio) and Barbara M. Jones (bio)

I do not know whether it must be said that the critical task still entails faith in the Enlightenment: I continue to think that this task requires work on our limits, that is, a patient labor giving form to our impatience for liberty.

—Michel Foucault, 1984

This investigation of the West Bend (Wisconsin) Community Memorial Library controversy of 2009 is, most immediately, a case study of a library confronting organized challenge to its execution of its role in American culture. State and local statutes ensure the funding of public libraries with tax dollars and establish independent boards of trustees charged with oversight for the expenditure of such funds. In Wisconsin, Legislative Document Chapter 43 grants public library boards “exclusive charge, control and custody of all lands, buildings, money or other property” as well as authority to appoint the administration of the library. The library board may also cooperate with other agencies, including specifically the University of Wisconsin system, “to foster and encourage . . . the wider use of books and other resource, reference and educational materials upon scientific, historical, economic, literary, educational, and other useful subjects” (Chapter 43.58). These rights and privileges also establish the responsibility of the public library for intellectual and cultural enrichment of the service community, without any delineation of restrictions on that responsibility, ensuring that any boundaries of content, service populations, or types of materials are determined by the library itself.

The missions of public libraries emerge from the roots of American democracy, while those who drafted the Constitution that shaped that democracy were themselves influenced by the broad period of the European Enlightenment. The Age of Reason—as the Enlightenment is also known—decentered religion as a political structure and prioritized the values of freedom and equality. New political structures ostensibly drew their authority from the consent of those to be governed, and consent would be ideally [End Page 715] generated through rational debate. Democracies then required space for those debates to occur, which stimulated the emergence of the “public sphere.” The democratic foundations of freedom and equality required institutions of value, open and accessible to all, to support that space.

The concept of public sphere is, most broadly, that “space in which citizens deliberate about their common affairs” (Fraser, 1990, p. 57). Libraries, through support of “broad social goals and values: an open and dynamic society, equalizing access to information, facility and ease of use” (Buschman, 2007), have emerged as one public-sphere institution committed to service to all. Throughout the twentieth century, librarians refined their developing commitment to their inclusive practice through a code of ethics and a collection of policies that advance best practices to support community service models. The principle of intellectual freedom is central to professional ethics and prioritized in the Library Bill of Rights.

This issue of Library Trends is a case study in intellectual freedom and the conflicts that so often surround it (Appendix I and Appendix II in this issue provide statements on the matter of intellectual freedom by the American Library Association). The case study is a research tool that can be used to advance a range of social inquiries, allowing investigators to study “how general social forces take shape and produce results in specific settings” (Walton, 2009, p. 122). Case-based research allows investigators to explore one event, institution, or organization from multiple angles. The particular focus encourages a detailed description that can expose multiple themes related to the case, enriching the analysis. West Bend Community Memorial Library (WBCML) was selected for this study because of the complexity of the events and their visibility. The availability of documents and digital exchanges generated by multiple participants related to the “materials challenges” and professional authority support a robust research process. This study investigates the strategies of conservative social agents in their attempts to recast the role of the public library as a negative element in advancing the public good.

But it is also a case study of the resistance to the expansion of the public sphere to include traditionally marginalized populations, such as GLBTQ populations. In her essay in this issue of Library Trends, Loretta...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 715-720
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.