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Part of Our Lives: A People's History…

Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library

by Wayne A. Wiegand

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Wayne A. Wiegand, former librarian and professor at Florida State University, investigates the history of the American library through the people who used it. Drawing copious quotes from a myriad sources, it's a thorough look at an institution that has sometimes had to navigate between professional rhetoric and community standards, but has been beloved by young and old for providing reading and meeting space. Chronologically from the beginning of social libraries and lending libraries to the present, Wiegand explores a lot of topics pertaining to the public library told not from the librarian's point of view, but the public.

I'm a librarian, so I'm a bit biased when I say I love my public library. Part of Our Lives was an illuminating look at the history of the library in the U.S. both showing me how much it's changed (libraries used to reluctantly carry fiction while promoting "best books" and there was a long history of underservice to minorities, immigrants, or other marginalized groups) and how much it's stayed the same (people were complaining it wasn't quiet enough even in the 1800s). The copious quotes illustrating his points about a variety of services sometimes made for dry, slow reading but I did learn a lot and enjoyed having some insight into the history of my profession. His last chapter or two was all that I could speak to from personal experiences, and I liked what he said about censorship and the challenges that libraries have had with the Library Bill of Rights through the ALA and navigating each community's standards of decency. For example: do you keep books in the collection that include a terrible stereotype of someone? How do you handle patrons looking at porn? I was also really surprised at how long it took libraries to carry "series fiction," even a quote from the '90s about someone who couldn't get Nancy Drew - which I found ridiculous, since I was borrowing all those books from the library at that same period and would not be the reader I am today if it weren't for that "lower" fiction that libraries traditionally would not carry or did, but reluctantly because it was the only way to get people in the door. It would have been interesting to read and debate something like this in library school. ( )
1 vote bell7 | Jun 9, 2016 |
I finally finished this book! While the topic was interesting, the presentation was too scholarly to be read easily but too disorganized to serve as research material.

I did find it intriguing that nothing int he library world is new as there were consistently recurring themes throughout the book: libraries as community space, immigrant and low-literacy learning, canoodling (and more in the stacks), borrowing more than books and media from the library, censorship, etc.

Interesting, but skim it. ( )
  Bodagirl | May 8, 2016 |
A bit dry but with just the right amount of sentiment, Wiegand's book is a candid historical account of the perceptions (and true importance) of libraries in American society. ( )
  Birdo82 | May 4, 2016 |
Part of Our Lives is a fascinating and passionate treatise on the history, culture and contribution of American public libraries by Wayne A. Wiegand.

With a focus on the perspective of 'library in the life of a user' Wiegand explores the important role libraries play in the life of individuals: as distributors of information and education, as a source of fiction that entertains and enlightens, and as social community spaces, debunking the notion that libraries are, or have ever been, simply 'warehouses for books'.

Tracing the evolution of public library services, from Benjamin Franklin's Library Company of Philadelphia established in 1732, through to the 17,219 modern public library systems more than 93 million Americans utilised in 2012, Wiegand draws on official and anecdotal sources to illustrate the value of libraries that statistics don't always reflect.

In addition Wiegand examines issues such as access, censorship, and technology and the sway of factors such as gender, race, class, politics, and religion, that have have shaped, and continue to affect modern library services.

Though primarily a professional text, Part of Our Lives is an accessible read, I'd recommend it to bibliophiles, social historians and anyone who treasures their library card. ( )
  shelleyraec | Sep 28, 2015 |
Part of Our Lives - A People's History of the American Public Library by Dr. Wayne A. Wiegand is a walk through US history from the mid-1850s to present day through the lens of a public library. The anecdotal approach makes the book easy to read; it will appeal to bibliophiles and history buffs. The major theme that emerges is the library as the heart of a community although the exact definition of that role evolves as our nation evolves.

Read my complete review at: http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2015/08/part-of-our-lives-peoples-history-of.ht...

Reviewed based on a publisher’s galley received through NetGalley ( )
  njmom3 | Aug 31, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0190248009, Hardcover)

Despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, their numbers have only increased. Two of three Americans frequent a public library at least once a year, and nearly that many are registered borrowers. Although library authorities have argued that the public library functions primarily as a civic institution necessary for maintaining democracy, generations of library patrons tell a different story.

In Part of Our Lives, Wayne A. Wiegand delves into the heart of why Americans love their libraries. The book traces the history of the public library, featuring records and testimonies from as early as 1850. Rather than analyzing the words of library founders and managers, Wiegand listens to the voices of everyday patrons who cherished libraries. Drawing on newspaper articles, memoirs, and biographies, Part of Our Lives paints a clear and engaging picture of Americans who value libraries not only as civic institutions, but also as public places that promote and maintain community.

Whether as a public space, a place for accessing information, or a home for reading material that helps patrons make sense of the world around them, the public library has a rich history of meaning for millions of Americans. From colonial times through the recent technological revolution, libraries have continuously adapted to better serve the needs of their communities. Wiegand demonstrates that, although cultural authorities (including some librarians) have often disparaged reading books considered not "serious," the commonplace reading materials users obtained from public libraries have had a transformative effect for many, including people such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Moyers, Edgwina Danticat, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sotomayor, and Oprah Winfrey.

A bold challenge to conventional thinking about the American public library, Part of Our Lives is an insightful look into one of America's most beloved cultural institutions.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 31 Aug 2015 10:33:27 -0400)

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