Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chapter 2: Get Down Your Harps

Chapter 1 : The Cry of the Oppressed
Chapter 2: Get Down Your Harps
Rob Bell/Don Golden Jesus Wants to Save Christians cont.

DISCLAIMER: I mean this whole review thing to be done in the least snarky way possible. I may be completely wrong about this and I do not want to snipe at Bell. These are simply issues that I have difficulty resolving.

While I’m going to try to focus on Chapter 2 I think I’ve pinpointed why I am struggling with this book in particular and with Bell in general. I’ve read on through to the first couple of pages in Chapter 5 which has helped identify why Bell/Golden seem to fall short of actively articulating their position. I think there’s two reasons for this. 1) The format actually has started to wear on me a bit. Most of the text is double-spaced and left justified causing the text to look like a web page or blog. On one hand this is not entirely bad as the format seems to tap into the way people are starting to read. On the other hand, for myself, it’s actually remarkably annoying as it means that this book could have been condensed by at least one-fourth. 2) Either because of the format or despite of it the author’s thoughts which are supposed to demonstrate a cohesive thought process actually come across as a series of aphorisms. There’s nothing particularly wrong with aphorisms except that the authors do not actively connect one with the other and I don't think aphorisms are a particularly good way of talking about theology. Ecclesiastes which does have a handful of aphorisms within it anchors them to the text via analogies; the aphorisms do not exist for their own sake but in support of the greater narrative. There’s a better example of this in Chapter 3 which I’ll try to highlight at that point.

Chapter 2 examines why/where Israel is in their captivity in Babylon. Here’s where the aphorism(s) kick(s) in. The authors focus in on the tears of the people in exile Psalm 137 style. Well and good. God once again hears the cries of the people from exile. Again, well and good. But then the reader arrives at this section, presented as found in the text:

“Crying out reminds us of our dependence.

Weeping leads us to reconnect with God.

Our tears are sacred. They water the ground around our feet so that new things can grow.” (P. 53)

Once agian this is an exact quote, including format. B/G seems to avoid explanations while striving for memorable, moving rhetoric. However this rhetoric falls short when the reader attempts to connect one statement to another. Does weeping really lead us to reconnect with God; if so, how? How is our weeping/reconnecting with God lead to our tears being sacred? My argument is not say that this isn’t true on some level but it lacks foundation/connection with something actually to build a system of thinking about God and his interaction with us. It’s either bad theology or bad writing or possibly both.
Moving on, just one page, “…when we’re willing to sit in our tears, that we’re ready to imagine a different kind of tomorrow.”(P. 54) Granted that change is not going to happen unless it is conceived. However, the authors fail to answer how this thinking is conceive. They also try to connect this to the Jewish people; namely “...on the heels of colossal failure, the Jewish prophets imagined the greatest picture of hope and the future anybody’s ever thought of anywhere.”(P. 54) Imagined? Because this raises a question of what prophesy, and its role, is. Is prophesy the wise sayings of an individual that is eventually codified by God’s grace and has present/future implications or is it a message given to an individual by God with a present purpose and future implications where the future implications are only known looking back into history. The authors seem to think, at least by their writings, that the prophets are able to independently generate these thoughts. I.e. “the prophets of Israel came to the realization that what they needed was another exodus.” (P. 55) or “by the rivers of Babylon, the prophets began to imagine a God who is bigger than the narrow, tribal religion of their Jewish heritage” (P. 57) and/or “by the rivers of Babylon, the prophets began to reimagine grace.”(P. 60) This focus on these prophet’s ability seems to be divorced from any input from God. (It's possible that B/G have an audience of unbelievers in mind or , as insinuated elsewhere in Bell's presentations such as the NOOMA video Breathe [Part 1 Part 2] that everyone already has God in them which is in itself problematic and requires a different venue than this post.)
In reading the accounts of Isaiah and Jeremiah have this continual motif of “The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD” or “Then the LORD said to me…” I do not think it is so b/w to say that these men heard the voice of God explicitly versus that they came up with it out of their own skulls which was then used retrospectively. However, the fact that B/G attribute this idea of ‘reimagining grace’ to people is very problematic b/c it seems to contradict the point of exodus. If the people need to cry out in their exile to be released, what are they dependent on? Is necessary God’s grace necessary to release them and send them home if they can simply think it/call into being? Even more fundamental who provides us with the ability to sub-create to imagine?
On the other hand on P. 58 the authors do a really nice job of connecting Isaiah’s discussing this second exile w/ the first exile by connecting terms/images such as wilderness/desert from the first exodus to their anticipated second one.
And, in continuing the theme from the first section of this, is where I struggle deeply with the thinking evidenced in this book. Bell, again referencing the Breathe video mentioned earlier, has incredibly good moments that are completely blown by bad moments . He is a great storyteller and great creator of moving thoughts and the ability to really focus on a particular thread of a story and tease out implications from it. However, as I think is evidenced by, even these 2.5 chapters, the implications are teased out to match thoughts/direction Bell seems to already have in mind. From the introduction the author's state the point of this book is to articulate a specific theology, this New Exodus perspective. My question is then, does the articulation of this theology arise from what's already in Scripture or are texts being plucked to serve the theology. This isn't new, there's particular parts of Scripture that different theologians seem to like to mess with i.e. dispensationalists and prophesy. From my vantage point the texts chosen are removed from their contexts and bent to serve a process.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chapter 1: The Cry of the Oppressed Jesus Wants to Save Christians cont.

Chapter 1 : The Cry of the Oppressed
Rob Bell/Don Golden Jesus Wants to Save Christians cont.

The authors move into Exodus at this point discussing Egypt, Sinai, Jerusalem and Babylon.
The first section is Egypt. One of the good sentences in this chapter is “…an entire civilization at odds with God.” Right on. And then following this establishment of sin, the authors puruse the idea of God’s kingdom that God’s kingdom is “… the peace, the shalom, the good that God intends for all things.” Thusly, “Egypt is what happens when sin builds up a head of steam…when sin becomes structured and embedded in society.”
The authors are driving home the implication that people are oppressed when sin takes this preeminence in society so that “exodus is about a people…being rescued from slavery…it’s aobut liberation from occupation…the insurgent power of redemption from empire.” And this is where this book start to go east for me slightly. In this next section in dealing with Sinai, the authors suggest that the Ten Commandments are delivered to the people in “…the long process of teaching them how to be human again...” in contrast to their slavery. Also that these 10 Commandments are “…vital truths about what it means to live in authentic human community.” Well yes and most definitely no. While the 10 C’s deal with how to live with each other they first and foremost inform us how to live in relationship to God which then informs how the Israelites/we should live. Forgetting numbers 1-5, in my view, make 6-10 make a lot less sense. While the second half of the commandments deal with living together, from reading Exodus 20 the point is not just authentic human community but authentic human community.
The next section of Chpt. 1 deals with Sinai. The authors deal really well with this section in emphasizing the Israelites as a kingdom of priests and people to demonstrate to “…the world who this God is and what this God is like.” However this really excellent section leads to a really just bad statement on the bottom of page 31. Here it is: “God needs a body. God needs flesh and blood. God needs bones and skin so that Pharaoh will know just who this God is he’s dealing with and how this God acts in the world.” This idea highlights my main issue with the Rob Bell school of theology. I can’t tell sometimes if this type of thinking is designed to be hip/trendy or if it is actually trying to get to the heart of thinking about Christianity. Because while God has designated people throughout history to be ‘His’, I shudder at the idea that God needs something. Really? I’m not sure where this is supported Scripturally. What seems to lend credence to 'hip school of theology' is that this rather radical idea isn't endnoted or footnoted with additional backing.
Moving on, in B/G's exploration of the 10 Commandments they focus on, and rightly so, on the consistent reminder to treat other people well bc they were once slaves. They reference Exodus 22:21-26, this idea of being kind to those people moving through the land. However this is then extrapolated out by B/G that for the Israelites "God's desire is that they would bring exodus to the weak in the same way God brought them exodus in their weakness." (P. 35) My question is are these commands, in context, bringing exodus to these people or is it a demonstration of proper community. Not charging someone interest seems not to be a matter of exodus as it is a matter of living well together. So we move from Sinai, at this point, to Jerusalem. My question here of the authors does the leitmotif of Solomon and the temple really focus on the oppression of the people. B/G make the point that in I Kings 9:15 Solomon uses forced labor to build the temple as well as his own house and thus "...Solomon isn't maintaining justice." (p. 39) If this was wrong, would God have blessed him and covenanted with Solomon in I Kings 9. In 9:3, the Lord says "...I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever." (ESV) Thus is this perceived issue of oppression really that important if God consecrates the finished work. At the end of God's conversation with Solomon he says don't go after other gods. I Kings 11:9-10 indicates God's anger is because of him chasing after other gods.
The other aspect to this is that the forced labor is people outside of the Israelite nation. (I Kings 9:20-21) It is people whom they have conquered which does cause the Israelites issues. The only reason these people are alive is that these are "...the people that the people of Israel were unable to devote to destruction." (I Kings 9:21 ESV) Forget oppression, the Israelites did not bring peace, they brought a sword to the land.
I think the authors are attempting to read the NT into the Torah. Yes, Christ will bring a grace that is extended to all people but at this point in time this sytem of exodus and sacrifice is specifically for the nation of Israel. One could join the nation but the goal of the commandments does not seem to be proselyzation but rather to obey God which would result in health and correct relationship with the land.
The authors go on to deal with Babylon and the failure of Israel to obey which is pretty good for the most part. It is this focus on oppression as the main cause of downfall that raises some doubts in my mind.
On to Chpt. 2.

Jesus Wants to Save Christian-Intro.

I’m currently reading Rob Bell’s and Don Golden's book Jesus wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile. There are some fairly good reviews of the book here as well. I thought I would blog through my process of reading this book a bit. Hopefully if I write this stuff down and people can help me by critiquing it then I will hopefully be better at this process. So input is welcome. (Quiet thanks should go to Ken Schenck of Quadrilateral Thoughts as he has been blogging through several books, at once mind you, and manages to be both prolific and erudite. In that spirit we proceed.) (Disclaimer: I’m not a theologian. I’ve had quote unquote biblical training (PBU) and have tried to continue to encounter the biblical text and writings about it but am still developing.)
A note about Rob Bell and myself: We’ve never met. This is the first book of his that I’ve read. Tonight I just finished watch his video ‘The Gods ARen’t Angry’ which has really brilliant moments and some staggeringly horrific ones.Ssome of Bell’s best points seem to be in his ability to wrap theology into a story/narrative. He does this really well in the DVD and that ability continues on, and in, Jesus Wants to Save Christians. Also this idea of really brilliant moments and staggeringly bad ones also continues.
We begin. As stated in the preface the thesis of sorts is that “this book is our [Bell’s and Golden’s] attempt to articulate a specific theology, a particular way to read the Bible, referred to by some as a New Exodus theology.” (Disclaimer: I know nothing about the New Exodus theology at this present point. It’s on my list of things to do.)
Introduction: Air Puffers and Rubber Gloves
We start right off with Genesis and an examination of the relationship between Cain and Abel as farmer and shepherd. Well and good. However the authors in talking about Cain and Abel’s conflict discuss issues of land between a farmer and shepherd rather than obedience to a divine command. This struggle between these two is capstoned as “a seismic shift was occurring as hyuman society transitioned from a pastoral, nomadic orientation to an agricultural one.” Agreed that after the Lord grants Cain mercy Cain builds a city but the text in Gen. 4 does not seem to indicate the issue was one of economic issues between Cain and Abel. It was one of obedience. In fact Cain is sent into exile which will tie back into a point the authors make in Chapt 1 where “exile is when you find yourself a stranger to the purposes of God" but this point seems in odds with the original point the authors were attempting to make. B/G then focus on the leitmotif of people's movement eastward through Genesis . In making their eastward point in that Cain moves east, the tower of Babel is built as people move east, east is established as not being particularly good. Fair enough; this also allows the author to do an odd nod to pop culture with a John Steinbeck reference on p. 17. The authors use this idea of being ‘east of eden’ to then introduce their idea of the ursprache as “…the primal original language of the human family…the language of paradie that still echoes in the deepest recesses of our consciousness, telling us things are out of whack deep in our bones, deep in the soul of humanity.” (p. 17) this is pretty close to Romans 1; fairly acceptable. The idea that we are east of eden means that we are not where we are supposed to be. We are out of sync; we are not in our correct places. So next sentence: “Something about how we relate to one another has been lost. Something is not right with the world.” This is a difficult sentence because while it’s true I don’t think that’s quite the point.
If, at the beginning, the problem was simply how we relate to one another, why does the storyteller indicate that God asks Adam “Where are you?” to which Adam responds that he heard God in the garden and he was afraid. Also, Adam now talks about Eve differently. After the fruit eating, the woman is “…the woman you gave me…”Gen. 3:10 But in Gen 2:23 the woman is referred to as “this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…”
This sin of disobedience causes a rift between God and man in conjunction with our rift between ourselves as humanity. It is because our relationship with God is incorrect that we are not sure how to relate to one another. I’m making a big deal about this because I think the authors in setting this premise attempt to drive home a social premise to this idea of Christianity. (Granted, the authors refer back to the separation between God/man bc of sin on p. 25 but it would have been nice here.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

MLIS Degree-Complete!

This blog was started as part of an assignment for my first class two years ago and now it is something real, at least to me.
I got my final grades back from this semester and I'm done with the FastTrack program at UPitt. Boo-yah!! I am now officially a librarian or at least have the official credentials.
Soli deo gloria!

More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops

This article is worth noting simply for this statement "...nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy." There's two reasons for this. The first is that atheism or humanism as they have called it have moved from carrying the idea of atheism as a private matter into a public arena. In an era of Twitter/Facebook where we are encouraged to post our innermost thoughts and many do, it is the logical conclusion that what an individual thinks/believes about the world can be converted into a cause and shared with other people. The second is that causes are currently sexy, arguements are not. You can market a cause, create t-shirts for it and make it cupcakes. A cause has an arguement for a particular view of the world at its core and giving an arguement a cause allows that arguement to move from a disparate, extremely peripheral idea that, in terms of atheism, has seemed to linger at the edges of Western culture, to, by the vehicle of its now hip cause, to gather force and move from a extreme peripheral element closer to a core element of Western culture. Causes currently seem to be 'the thing' and if the people in the cause that you are attracted to are of a similar mind and friendly it substitutes nicely for religion/church.

The death of something like print

“Print journals are to today’s students what microfiche was to the previous generation."
I'm pretty sure this is true.

Read it here.

End the University as We Know It

End the University as We Know It

Excellent article! Especially good points are 1) the need to move away from sub-specialties of sub-specialties 2) a deeper focus on collaboration and 3) the need to encourage connection between disciplines rather than an 'us vs. them' approach. In terms of the sub-specialty idea "the emphasis on narrow scholarship also encourages an educational system that has become a process of cloning" students rather than developing learners who could actually compete for the professor's position.
Taylor ends the article with this quote: “Do not do what I do; rather, take whatever I have to offer and do with it what I could never imagine doing and then come back and tell me about it.” Right on!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Great and Terrible Truths

Great and Terrible Truths

This is an awesome essay by Tom Bissell via the NYT Book Review on This is Water by David Foster Wallace. I've been trying to write an essay on this work myself but Bissell's work captures rather exactly what I was attempting to say and much more succintly.

MLA Update 2009

MLA Update 2009

"No More URLs!
While website entries will still
include authors, article names, and website names, when available, MLA no
longer requires URLs. Writers are, however, encouraged to provide a URL if
the citation information does not lead readers to easily find the

Interesting, right? Not actually include URL's? What criteria actually determines if information can be easily found? It is still available for professor to determine that they want to have the url to be included.

Revolutionary Espresso Book Machine launches in London

Revolutionary Espresso Book Machine launches in London

This is a pretty big deal as the article makes note. It's difficult to tell from this point if this will be a helpful addition or cause issues in archiving works. If the assumption is that we can get it at any time, then why save anything? This machine also speaks to the longevity of the book against its own purported death. Obviously its worth has not yet been proven but the very fact that a company can get backing for such a product seem to indicate a continuing support of the printed word. Or it could be a colossally bad marketing decision, not unlike Border's sinking money into CD's right when iTunes took off. whoops-a-daisy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Excellent News for libraries and our budgets!!

Oxford is really pulling through and not raising their prices for the following items next year. Very much appreciated; thanks!

This is the email text that was sent out last night:

"In light of the impact the economic crisis is having on library budgets, Oxford University Press has given careful consideration to the pricing of our online products for the next academic year beginning July 1, 2009. OUP's annual subscription increases for online databases (this excludes journals), which covers ongoing product investment as well as inflationary costs, have ranged on average from 4-8% over the last several years. We have reviewed the impact of various price increases on our customers, as well as the results of increases on our not-for profit organization. Oxford itself has not been immune to the current crisis.

We recognize that tightening budgets will require libraries to make difficult choices this year, and we want to help enable institutions maintain subscription services during this time. To that end, Oxford is announcing that our reference and academic monograph subscription product prices will remain at their current levels of pricing, with no increase on July 1, 2009. This applies to institutional subscriptions in North and South America, and includes OUP's reference and law subscription products, listed below:

American National Biography Online

Oxford Biblical Studies Online

Dictionary of National Biography Online

Encyclopedia of Popular Music Online

Grove Art Online

Grove Music Online

Oxford African American Studies Online

Oxford English Dictionary Online

Oxford Islamic Studies Online

Oxford Language Dictionaries Online

Oxford Reference Online Premium, Western Civilization and Literature Collection Oxford Scholarship Online (subscription)

Our relationship with the library community, which shares our mission to disseminate the highest-quality scholarly material to a broad audience, is extremely important to OUP, as is our continued commitment to scholarship. Although we are not increasing prices this year, we pledge to continue the robust maintenance of our online subscription products at the level you have come to expect from Oxford.

Now more than ever, we want to ensure that your institution is getting the most possible from your OUP subscriptions. We are also working on a number of programs and strategies for 2009 to help libraries drive usage and increase discoverability of their online holdings, and welcome your feedback and advice in the form of a brief survey (cut+paste if hyperlink does not work) All persons who complete the survey will be entered to be one of 10 winners who will win their choice of the Oxford Atlas of the World or the Oxford Companion to Food. Thank you in advance for your thoughts and your time.

Rebecca Seger

Director, Online and Library Sales

Oxford University Press"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hellooo next project!!

DIY High-Speed Book Scanner from Trash and Cheap Cameras

(courtesy of
I was thinking my next project was going to be making coffee but this is so much sweeter! Preservation via found objects; preserving at two different levels.

Monday, April 20, 2009

When Pixels Find New Life on Real Paper

When Pixels Find New Life on Real Paper

Not just serving as commentary on the future of the book but also featuring XKCD in the NYT! Woot! Goodbye Blue Monday.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Rise of Collective Intelligence-16th Annual Aspen Institute Roundtable on IT

I think that this Bolier article is absolutely excellent. One of the benefits of looking at a library like a business is that the certain methods that a library uses to reach out to its patrons can be evaluated through a business mindset. The Bolier article is also helpful for libraries bc it demonstrates successful .net companies thinking about how to develop and maintain successful communication methods with their users and community through web community. While there is continued research done on library Web sites and their development, one of the things libraries seem not to have capitalized on is that technology now allows us to track how consumers are using the OPAC and learn from it. What libraries need to consider models that have the "...capacity to amass dispersed and specialized consumer preferences and then use this knowledge as the basis for innovative new business models." (p. 18 Bolier) For example how could our OPACs work better by more actively pursuing student and patron interaction before deploying new OPAC's or sitting down with a committee to determine how the OPAC can be better customized?
One of the reasons for reconsidering how our OPAC or website function with users is for the reason that the round table termed as OER or open educational resources which is encouraging such things as " textbooks, open repositories for scholarly work, open-access scholarly journals, open-curriculum development, peer-to-peer platforms for collaborative learning and much more." (31 Bolier) Is the library able to manage this information along with collection information and subscription information without making the user go to multiple areas of the website? Federated search is a move towards this but for larger collections federated search needs to be amped up. I'm looking forward to trying EBSCO's federated search program which is supposed to come out in June, if I remember correctly. Hopefully Koha 3.0 will be running by then so I can plug that in as well. Throughout this whole article is the idea of removing friction from the user and the final goal.
Bolier's article is an excellent example of an outside technology from library science that librarians need to be intimately aware of. Let's start dialoguing and thinking now about how our library technology can ride the crest of the OER/new computing wave instead of just paddling about in the tidal pools.

In reply to dave sizemore's comment of 'where did online Jeremy go'

I've taken an enforced sabbatical from the Internet as I've been living in a cabin on a lake for the
past week where there is no Internet access and I don't get cell phone reception. However I did catch a 7'' large mouth bass yesterday evening. The wind was kicking the boat around the lake pretty quickly for the first 90 minutes or so but then the wind died down and the lake was like glass. The water began to reflect the sky and the surrounding trees. Fish started jumping all around the boat at the flies while the swallows were scooping the bugs off the top of the water.
Also this been crunch time for me for master's stuff but I'm basically done at this point. Next week is the last week of classes which is really awesome.
I'll have some more stuff to post next week I think. Been reading some additional DFW interviews and have 2 Postman books to read. There is also the large number of half finished books on my office shelves that need completion.

Thoreau and Postman meet in the historical past

"Our inventions are
wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious
things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. . . . We are
in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas;
but Maine and Texas, it may be, having nothing important to
communicate. . . . We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring
the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first
news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will
be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough."

Henry David Thoreau, "Economy," Walden or, Life in the woods (1854) (Library of America volume ed. Sayre, pp. 363-364).

Monday, April 6, 2009

a sense of place

I've been mystified recently at the growing number of students who drift across the Davis campus with various kinds of buds/headphones in their ears. (Disclaimer 1: I love music; I've got a big, cushy pair of Sennheser HD 450's; i play music in my office all the time; I own an ipod mini.) This is not about listening to ipods in public; different riff, different time. However, I am concerned that there is this growing number on our campus because our campus is seriously postage stamp small. My aim is not great, nor are my arms like Arnold's but I could, almost/ theoretically hit, all of the 8 main buildings with a tennis/racquet ball. This is emphasized merely to draw the point that there's not a lot of walking going on. Disclaimer 2: (Yes, there are commuters who take the bus/taxi/walk/bike.)
It's not the volume, it's not the type of music, it's not your imminent deafness, it's not you trying to talk on your cell phone and listen to one ear bud it's the lack of community that disturbs me.
I understand small schools. Growing up my school was at most 70 kids in the whole school K-12; a twentieth century one room school house ACE style. Went to college at
PBU; not known for its size. I also spent most of my time in the smallest building on campus, the music building.
I understand that seeing the same people day in and day out can be annoying but we cannot attempt to escape one another by creating temporary, small, particular worlds. Community is not about loving people because they are lovable but loving those people who basically next to intolerable. This is something that I struggle with and have been thinking about a lot via reading Wendell Berry.
Also, for me, the slow dragging monotony of the standard greeting of what's up, how's it going; these empty rhetorical questions that don't expect an answer, we might as well all be wearing ear buds. Maybe it is going well or it is good either way let us be genuine.
Wendell Berry talks a lot about place, a sense of rootedness and commitment to a certain physical locale. College typically isn't that place (unless you went to Penn State) and I don't think it should be. It's not particularly healthy to continue to re-live a college experience until death. But that fact is not sufficient to avoid habitual, meaningful contact with others. We live in constant noise as it is and sticking our heads into the parallel of inflatable bubbles that give us tunnel
vision is, I think, the last thing we need.
We are obsessed with the new, the shuffle, the unknown. Learning and knowing, seeing and thinking requiring " a zone of silence" a sense of place and the ability and desire to stop and consider.
I've started reading Sertillanges' work The Intellectual Life and two thoughts from this sum up my thoughts really well.
1) From the foreword by James Schall: "Any sort of learning, in the beginning, will have drudgery connected with it. We need to come to a point where we begin to delight in what we are knowing...Anything that is is fascinating." (xi)
2) "Never ignore, never refuse to see what may be thought against your own thoughts."
Sertillanges quoting Nietzsche. (xxv)
"It's a difficult thing to live with somebody who knows you and stay in that situation....And so I live in this commitment all the time, knowing very well how attractive mobility is. I'd really like to beloved by somebody who doesn't know me-who would be susceptible to charm. I appreciate how fine that would be, but I know it wouldn't last and that I couldn't disguise myself for more than, oh, maybe forty-eight hours....If you're going to sustain anything, you've got to have populations that are totally committed. The idea that you can destroy this place and go to another place is exhausted." (Pp. 34-35 Conversations with Wendell Berry edited by Morris Grubbs)


In an effort to procrastinate on finishing the second half of my paper, please enjoy the new additions to the blog roll.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Apostles of Culture-Dee Garrison

This is a draft of an essay for my history of the book class on the book Apostles of Culture by Dee Garrison. (Buy it here)
If there is any question of why libraries are currently struggling to validate their existence in this 21st century environment, this book should be consulted. Garrison presents an immense and detailed history of the role, actual and perceived, of the public library. Garrison views this history through the lens of the role that women played in the growth, development and spread of library services while also dealing with the Victorian stereotypes that defined women’s roles through the late 19th century into the 20th. While this book is focused on the history of public library it is also a history of books. It is a history of books in examining what librarians tried to get their public to read versus what the public actually wanted to read. Libraries were not originally created for readers; they were created by the ‘gentry’ to attempt institute a level of control through what this ‘genteel tradition’ defined as culture. The cultural, economic and social changes in the 19th century caused these gentry, who saw themselves as cultural guardians, to turn to the “…public library as one means of broadening the base of refined and right-thinking citizens.[1] Initially, libraries were beneficial to the users only as long as the users were willing to submit themselves to the educative mission based upon the desire of the upper-class to, essentially, bring these urban-industrial workers to their level and restore the societal balance that they perceived as being necessary for the continuation of things as they were .[2] The strictures that this fading gentry class attempted to place on the lower class went directly against the freedom of the individual that was being realized.[3] However this individual freedom was still largely a male-dominated one, especially in the professional realm. While women were able to move forward in other occupations toward the end of the 19th century the myth of the women’s sphere was very effective in “confining women to domesticated roles and the guardianship of culture.”[4] This domestication played directly to the role libraries played because of two reasons that Garrison bring to light. The first, since the women’s primary role at this time was a domestic one, that the library was an extension of the home and that the women was able to domesticate it.[5] Note that the women’s individual freedom is still restricted to a home-making process. The expressions of creativity were allowed as long as they did not conflict with societal norms. The second reason was that since the library offered one of the few place of employment for an educated/intellectual women, other than teaching, that women did not want to remove this outlet from the realm of employment possibilities and contributed to their continued marginalization. The “…female dominance of librarianship did much to shape the inferior and precarious status of the public library as a cultural resource; it evolved into a marginal kind of public amusement service.”(emphasis mine)[6] This is one of the most important points that Garrison makes in examining the roles of public libraries and which can be abstracted out to libraries in general. Any attempt to understand the difficulty that libraries in the 21st century are having in relating and serving their local patrons and users it is because they were/are sources of amusement. With the advent of new media amplifying the isolation of the individual, public amusement was no longer as important as private amusement. Why should one travel to a public place to engage in an activity of private activity for persona amusement when the comfort of one’s house doesn’t have to be left? Libraries have not been able to successfully and consistently answer this question. This is not to blame the feminization of the history of the library but rather to draw attention to the fact that this shift did not happen in a vacuum but is directly related to the history of the library. Garrison emphasizes in this work that the history of the library has recently been marginalized to a small section of the library science curriculum often hidden in a history of a book class. This neglect of library history is to the detriment of library students. While web 2.0 tools, FRBR and open source OPACs are necessary to understand, librarians cannot adequately respond, or plan to respond, to the cultural, societal and economic shifts without correctly understanding how the institution of the library was created. Librarians cannot respond by only looking into the future. The past must be applied to the future to understand what changes in strategy and direction can be made.
The success of the library in incorporating itself into the public school system is really one of the triumphs of library history, though in recent years the school library has had continued difficulties in obtaining funding. This success is due to the particular reason that libraries were able to convince schools to broaden their curriculum and extra-curriculum approaches by taking advantage of the supplemental materials that the library offered. However this approach was not successful in the public library because the library had no means of “coercing the people to make use of its service.”[7] The fact that these individuals believed that readers could be lead via the printed word from ignorance through the vaunted halls of the public library seems somewhat na├»ve to the present-day reader. However this mode of thinking is not that different, if at all, from the current mode of thinking that many libraries, both public and academic, are still struggling to awaken.
Even with current news articles highlighting the growing use of libraries because of the economic recession, which is seemingly transforming the library from a marginal place of public amusement to an information/job resource center, what happens when this recession is over?[8] Will people remain thankful to the library or will it retire to the background to wait for the next societal crisis to be remembered and fight for its existence?

[1] Pg. 14

[2] Pg. 9

[3] Pg. 86

[4] Pg. 177

[5] This domestication within the library was particularly noticeable within the children’s section of the public library.

[6] Pg. 174

[7] Pg. 92