The influence of progressive reform on the American library : shifting attitudes toward freedom of information




Ferguson, Gregory Lee

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The foundations of American progressivism were established in the 19th century and were heavily influenced by the emergence of Marxism, immigration, feminism and organized labor movements. These issues were and continue to be influential in American society. The American public library system developed within this context, and its values and goals were influenced by these ideologies. The role of the library was initially conceived to be that of a provider of enlightenment for the underprivileged. The goal was to lift up the common people and help them to become productive citizens of society. But this assistance can also be seen as a form of social control. The selection of materials for a specific purpose is tantamount to censorship. As a consequence, the library’s initial role of censor shifted toward a more user-focused system. Librarians were no longer gatekeepers and censors of information, but rather facilitators of the individual reader. The ALA endorsed and promoted projects that reflect this progressive shift. Consequences of the ALA’s shift toward progressivism include encouragement of radical social changes and changes in the educational system which began to encourage children to question dominant historical narratives. This paper examines the American public library’s relationship to a free society, and the role of the librarian in the public realm.




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