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Reflecting on "Reflections"

July 4, 2009

The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts

Chapter 1: “Stepping Back and Looking Forward: Reflections on the Foundations of Libraries and Librarianship” by Richard E. Rubin

Having studied history as an undergraduate and now studying library science as a graduate student, this chapter intrigued me. It also changed the way I think about what I am here to study. My view of libraries and their history prior to reading this chapter was much narrower than after reading it. Pondering the history of libraries would have brought to mind the beginnings of the modern American library, such institutions as the Boston Public Library or the New York Public Library. As Rubin points out, libraries have existed for much longer than that, all the way back to ancient times. They existed for specific reasons, often relating to commerce, religion or academia. They existed in public arenas and they existed in private collections. They were filled with clay tablets, papyrus scrolls and handwritten texts. Despite these differences, they all existed for one reason: to store, organize, and provide access to information.

The role of gender is mentioned in this chapter. Libraries were the almost exclusive domain of men until the 19th Century and the rise of public libraries in America. The proliferation of these public libraries brought about a need for a workforce that was both highly trained and inexpensive. Women were able to meet both those criteria. They were also viewed as more nurturing, a trait that became increasingly important in educational institutions. Librarianship was also an accepted vocation for women when so many other professions excluded them. As an aside, the nurturing comment is somewhat at odds with the stereotypical caricature of the strict, shushing librarian that is so pervasive in our society.

Rubin also discusses four of the key values of the American Library Association. The ALA is the oldest professional organization for librarians, and I think these values are as pertinent today as they were at its founding in 1876. The key values as set forth by Rubin are: 1) belief in intellectual freedom; 2) belief in service and the public good; 3) belief in education; and 4) belief in the value of the past. Intellectual freedom issues can range from censorship to user confidentiality. The rise of the internet and other digital media has brought a whole new host of intellectual freedom issues to the forefront. The belief in service and the public good is especially relevant in today’s economic conditions. The recent rise in public library use is well documented, and underscores the mission of modern libraries. The belief in education continues to be relevant as well. Whether promoting literacy for non-English speakers or teaching Web 2.0 applications to senior citizens, libraries are viewed as institutions where learning takes place. Preserving the past can be done using modern technologies. Today’s libraries can provide access to digitally preserved artifacts, archives and ideas with the click of a mouse.

Overall, this chapter reinforced my positive perceptions of libraries and librarianship. I am even more excited to be embarking in these studies.

Rubin, R. (2008). Stepping Back and Looking Forward: Reflections on the Foundations of Libraries and Librarianship. In K. Haycock and B. Sheldon (Ed.), The Portable MLIS: Insights From the Experts (pp. 3-14). Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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