Dissertation Information for Kathleen McDowell
MPACT Status: Fully Complete
Title: The cultural origins of youth services librarianship, 1876--1900
Abstract: Public library youth services developed during the period from 1876 to 1900, in the context of late 19 th century beliefs about the importance of childhood and the power of reading. This dissertation analyzes the cultural forces that influenced the negotiation and growth of the development of public library services to children. A number of preceding but more transient forms of library services in such institutions as Sunday Schools and young men's associations informed librarians' discussions in 1876, when they first began addressing the needs of children in professional writings. Early models of youth services emphasized the authority of teachers, limiting children's borrowing to those materials that augmented school lessons. By the late 1880s, librarians began providing direct, personal service to children, formalizing their own expertise and authority by making lists of approved books for young readers. Librarians were influenced by Progressive Era movements including the kindergarten, settlement house, child study, and home libraries movements to further expand their offerings for children by exploring new ways of attracting and capturing children's interest. Public library youth services began in the 1890s to include games, picture collections, story hours, and reading clubs. By 1900, these developments were formalized in training programs for children's librarians and the formation of a national organization of professional childrens' librarians within the American Library Association. These findings about cultural origins of youth services librarianship shed new light on how this specialty developed, and they offer a vantage point from which to reassess contemporary youth services in public libraries as a product of late 19 th century debates about the importance of reading as an influence on children's characters.
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