13.0352 Nunberg article online

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 17 2000 - 23:11:38 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 352.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2000 23:06:02 +0000
             From: Arun-Kumar Tripathi <tripathi@statistik.uni-dortmund.de>
             Subject: An article by Geoffrey Nunberg

    Dear Humanist Groups,

    I would like to forward an article from The American Prospect Magazine ON
    "WILL LIBRARIES SURVIVE?" Written by Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg, who also wrote
    a book entitiled "Future of the Book". I thought this might interest to
    the members! Thank you!

    {..Excerpts from the article..}

    In a Washington Post interview a couple of years ago, Bill Gates
    discussed his plans to give away the bulk of his fortune and suggested
    he already had in mind doing with the personal computer "something
    like what Carnegie did with libraries where he said, Okay, books are
    this empowering thing that people . . . should have access to.' " That
    was presumably the impetus for the announcement in late 1997 of two
    grants programs for public libraries, one consisting of $200 million
    worth of software from the Microsoft Corporation, the other of $200
    million from the personal fortunes of Bill and Melinda Gates, directed
    at providing digital technology and internet access to underserved

    The period between 1850 and the First World War was the golden age of
    the American public library. The number of public libraries went from
    around 50 in 1850, to 300 by 1875, to several thousand by the turn of
    the century. A lot of this growth was the direct result of Carnegie's
    largess, but he was responding to a very general conviction that
    libraries were essential institutions for social progress, to the
    point where he could say the public library "outranks any other one
    thing that a community can do to help its people." The library
    movement battened on the late-nineteenth-century ideology that saw
    literacy both as crucial for social advancement and as ensuring an
    enlightened civic discourse. As J. P. Quincy wrote in 1876, "[To the
    free library] we may hopefully look for the gradual deliverance of the
    people from the wiles of the rhetorician and stump orator. . . . As
    the varied intelligence which books can supply shall be more and more
    widely assimilated, the essential elements of every political and
    social question may be confidently submitted to that instructed common
    sense upon which the founders of our government relied."

    The founders of the library movement envisioned the public library as
    an equal partner of the public school in achieving these goals. It was
    a time, after all, when schooling was more limited than it is today-in
    1890 only a quarter of American students finished high school-and when
    the curriculum was mired in rote learning that had little relevance to
    the forms of literacy that reformers wanted to establish. (Charles
    Eliot estimated in 1890 that it would take a Massachusetts high school
    graduate only 46 hours to read aloud all of the books that were
    assigned in the last six years of schooling.) The public library, by
    contrast, seemed to offer a venue that was accessible to everyone, one
    that "appeals to and nurtures every idiosyncrasy," as one enthusiast
    put it. And as the libraries went up, they were staffed by cadres of
    "apostles of culture," as the historian Dee Garrison describes them,
    many of them graduated from the newly established library schools, the
    first of which was founded by Melvil Dewey (of Dewey decimal system
    fame) at Columbia University in 1887.

    The article can be read in FULL at

    Comments are welcome!!
    Arun Tripathi

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