November 24, 2009
“There are more public libraries than McDonald’s fast food restaurants in the United States,” said Wayne Wiegand, Professor of Library and Information Studies and Professor of American Studies at Florida State University in the final lecture of this semester’s Winter Park Institute Scholar-in-Residence series. Wiegand presented his research on libraries as the quintessential American institution to a mixed audience of students, faculty, staff, and local librarians in the SunTrust Auditorium on Wednesday, November 18.
His lecture, entitled “MAIN STREET PUBLIC LIBRARY: Community Places and Reading Space in the Heartland from 1865-1965,” outlined the history and development of public libraries. Wiegand, however, considers himself and his views as contrary to the commonly held beliefs in the world of professional librarians.
“I am a burr under the saddles of professional librarians,” said Wiegand. “I do not automatically assume that the American library is a unique commodity and essential to democracy.”
However, Wiegand’s research has led him to broaden that view, and accept such a conclusion in a deeper way. Wiegand explained to the audience that by 1956 use of libraries had been habituated and ritualized by the inhabitants of the Middle-American towns he studied. In addition to feeding the dreams of young people at the time, these libraries became the center for all community and cultural activities. Middle-class Americans came to view their local libraries as places to attain knowledge and minimize the confusion of everyday life, as well as places to see and be seen. Wiegand even went so far as to say that it was in libraries where people first became aware of their interdependence and interconnectedness, both with each other and with the collective body of literature. Wiegand cited the social nature of reading within libraries as the catalyst for the library’s establishment of community culture.
Book censorship was also a topic covered during the discussion. Wiegand, who teaches a class on censorship and book history at Rollins, explained that local support of libraries aided in their resistance of censorship by allowing librarians to disregard state-prescribed book banning. Still, even though a majority of the public viewed the availability of controversial literature as essential to keeping a community informed, censorship has been a recurring obstacle.
The ultimate goal of Wiegand’s research, upcoming book, and lecture is to accomplish library reform. In a post-lecture interview, Wiegand described himself as a bit of a rebel, saying that he wants, “to get librarians thinking differently than what was taught to them at their institutions of higher learning. If you were to study Library Science in college, you would not be hearing what I said today.”
The Winter Park Institute has enriched the Rollins community with a wide spectrum of events during the fall semester. The variety of topics and diverse backgrounds of panelists and scholars provided an enlightening experience for many different audiences.
“We are extremely pleased with the scope and breadth of this semester’s scholars and the spring scheduling will be equally rewarding,” said Winter Park Institute Executive Director Gail Sinclair.
For more information on the Winter Park Institute’s second semester presentations, visit www.rollins.edu/wpi/.
-Justin Braun (Class of 2011)