February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Wiegand Researches the History of U.S. Public School Libraries

wayne_wiegand_headshotLibrary historian Wayne Wiegand has begun a new research project: The history of the American public school library since 1964. Former and current school librarians will be important primary sources in his latest endeavor, he says.

Wiegand, the F. William Summers professor emeritus of library and information studies and American studies at Florida State University, has written several books on library history, including Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library (Oxford, 2015) and Main Street Public Library (University of Iowa, 2011).

His current efforts will be channeled through five categories of research on the history of public-school education, American librarianship, childhood, and cultural institutions as places, as well as the social history of reading.

In connection with this project, Wiegand has been appointed a distinguished visiting scholar at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. His tenure begins in January 2017 and will conclude in early May. While there, he will access the library’s digitized databases and print collections to uncover the voices of school library users across the years. In addition, he will refer to the American Library Association’s archives, as well as past issues of School Library Journal.

Responses to a questionnaire Wiegand developed for school librarians will become part of an archive that will be maintained and available to other researchers, he says. School librarians are being asked, in part, for their most significant recollections—positive and/or negative—having do to with their student users.

“Without a solid understanding of what American public school libraries have done in the past, current practitioners and policy makers are at a disadvantage when planning for the future,” Wiegand says. He will be concentrating on the school library as a place, as well as “the transformative potential of commonplace stories.”

He shared one such story about a school librarian in the Midwest who, during the 1980s, was pressured to remove books about homosexuality. “Title by title, the librarian reported the books ‘lost,'” Wiegand says. “In reality, the librarian ‘misshelved’ the books to a remote corner of the library, so that those questioning their sexuality might happen upon them.” Such anecdotal stories will help define the library as place in his research.

Current or former American public school librarians interested in participating can contact Wiegand directly.

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.