American Library Association - Library History Round Table (ALA-LHRT)

LHRT Research Forum

"The American Ethnic Experience in the History of Libraries & Print Culture"

Sunday, 25 June 2006 (from 10.30 am to noon), ALA Convention, New Orleans


Chair & Discussant, Andrew B. Wertheimer, Assistant Professor of Library & Information Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa



Ellen Knutson, Doctoral Student, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Domestication and Americanization of The Foreign Born: Library Service to Immigrants 1905-1935

In the early history of the United States immigrants were considered an asset to the nation, however this was to shift in the twentieth century when immigrants became thought of as a liability to the country. A clear marking point for this change was the National Origins Act of 1924, which restricted the numbers of immigrants who could enter the country and discriminated by nation of origin. Throughout the United States’ immigration history libraries have had a role to play in the assimilation of immigrants into American culture. This paper will focus on library service to the foreign born in the early decades of the twentieth century—1906-1933. It is in this time frame that libraries and librarians became actively involved with the Americanization movement. The process and projects of Americanization had some variation, but a central piece was always English language instruction and citizenship education. The national discourse around library service to immigrants can be traced by examining the articles, editorials and general announcements in the Library Journal and Public Libraries. In this paper, I will follow this discourse in these professional journals as well as pamphlets published on the topic for librarians. The shifts in the discourse are subtle in the three decades I
discuss. The shifts were more in emphasis rather that abrupt changes in dogma. Indeed, there was not one clear directive for how library service to foreigners should take place. Much was dependant upon the location of the library and the community it served. Those in areas that had a predominantly immigrant population tended to be more sympathetic to the needs of immigrants. Nonetheless, there are themes that can be observed. Through out there was a call for assimilation of immigrants through education and the teaching of English, but also an appreciation of the cultures of the immigrants. There is also, what I call, the domestication of the foreign born, that is having immigrants adopt middle class values. In tracing the discourse of the role of libraries in Americanization programs and their inherent tensions, this paper will piece together a mosaic of what it meant to be an American and a good citizen.


Barbara Walden, Doctoral Student, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“These Tokens of Fellowship” --  the German Book Exhibits of 1925 and the Re-entry of German Books into American Libraries

In 1925, an exhibit of some 10,000 German books published between 1914-1924 was presented in specially rented quarters in the Chicago Loop.  Timed to correspond with the American Library Association meeting nearby and sponsored by a committee of patrons including librarians of major Chicago libraries, this exhibit was billed as the first exhibit of German books since the outbreak World War I.  The exhibit represented both the hopes of the German book trade association that bookselling  could return to a normal footing following the economic chaos after the war,  and the interests of  some American librarians in returning German books to American libraries. The Chicago exhibit was deemed successful, and subsequently moved to Columbia University after certain classes of books were removed and others added. 

Coming as it did at the end of a period in which the culture of ethnic German-Americans, at the time the largest non-English speaking ethnic group in America, had undergone a forced assimilation into Anglophone America as a result of the anti-German hysteria of World War I, the contents of and motivation behind these exhibits provide a window into the changing role played by German books in American libraries.  After having been sequestered and removed from public libraries during the war and regarded as dangerously propagandistic in academic settings as well, what kinds of German books would return to American libraries and under what conditions?  Who would their readers be?   The contents and circumstances surrounding the German book exhibits suggest that German books for general readers were no longer of substantial interest to American librarians, and that certain subjects were still regarded as problematic. German scholarly resources in selected subjects were now the focus of attention.  The German Book Exhibits thus provide a marker of the beginning of an era in which acquisition of certain  scholarly German resources would be the focus of attention  in American libraries.     


George I. Paganelis, Curator, Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection, California State University, Sacramento Library

Greek Americans in American Library History: A Survey of the Landscape

The intersection of Greek-Americans as an ethnic group and American library history has been little studied yet provides an interesting point of departure for research intertwined with such fundamental issues as self-identity, education, the Greek Orthodox Church, and language, among others. What little literature exists addressing library services for Greek-Americans dates before 1950 and focuses on the public library context in communities with substantial numbers of Greeks, particularly New York City and Chicago. The dearth of such literature can be attributed to several factors, including the process of assimilation, with its concomitant English language acquisition and progressively higher levels of educational attainment, which has reshaped Greek-American self-identity to abandon ‘minority’ status. Another factor is the role of Greek Orthodox parochial libraries functioning as de facto public libraries of Greek-American communities, and the paucity of Modern Greek reading material—apart from the Greek-language press—available before World War II. Today the Greek-Americans served at public libraries are far removed from the fledgling immigrant communities of their grandparents, yet the issue of language persists—though now it is the decline of Greek language proficiency among the younger generation.

In contrast, academic research on Greek-Americans is today at its zenith, with a growing body of community histories and other studies appearing in print as articles or full-length monographs. This swell reflects the growth of Greek-American studies within the compass of Modern Greek studies in American universities, a subject which, ironically, retains in academia the characteristics of a ‘motherless discipline,’ at once neither Middle Eastern, nor fully European, but indubitably still under the long shadow of classical antiquity. Though the number of North American universities with research-level library collections in Modern Greek studies can be counted on two hands, the past ten years have witnessed the creation of nearly a dozen endowed chairs in Hellenic Studies in North America, many established specifically to maintain and perpetuate the study of Hellenism, a major part of which includes the Diaspora.

These are some of the issues I am proposing to explore and present at the LHRT Research Forum at ALA in June 2006. I believe an examination of Greek-Americans in relation to American library history would both be instructive and provide an interesting point of comparison with other ethnic groups.