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ELAND, Thomas. "Radical Librarians"

Monday 10 January 2005, by ps

The idea of a radical librarian, or the library as a radical place, may seem odd to some. People often think of librarians as nice, helpful people or as middle aged women with reading glasses and tight hair buns who shush noisy patrons. But the idea of a librarian or a library as a radical person or place is not usually brought to mind. Yet the modern public library came into existence as the result of nineteenth century populist/progressive thought. The idea that citizens would tax themselves in order to purchase books and magazines that would be made available to all members and classes of society was a radical idea in the late nineteenth century, and it is no less a radical idea in our anti-tax society of today.

Like all good ideas, the free public library has often proved truer in theory than in practice. Many libraries do not live up to the ideal of providing access to the widest possible cross-section of knowledge because of budget constraints. Other libraries fall short because librarians cater less to the needs and interests of the working class and minority members of their community than they do to the needs of business and the middle and upper classes. And some libraries limit the scope of their collections because individual librarians don’t consider certain ideas appropriate for "their" collections. The reasons are many and complex, and there are numerous articles written about the phenomena in scholarly library literature. However, the result is the same - library collections that reproduce the dominant ideas and literature of American society.


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