Keeping the Faith: The Public Library's Commitment to Adult Education, 1950--2006
This study examines the extent to which the conception and implementation of the public library's educational commitment to adults changed between 1950 and 2006 within the context of the institutional development of the public library and the influences exerted by internal and external forces such as philanthropic organizations, the federal government, the American Library Association, research, the public library planning process, the nontraditional education movement, and changes in public library ideology. Philanthropic organizations such as the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation's Fund for Adult Education played pivotal roles in the development of the library's liberal adult education programming in the 1920s, 1930s, and the 1950s. The Library Services Act, the Library Services and Construction Act, and other federal legislation enacted during the federal government's War on Poverty fueled the expansion of public library services throughout the country and stimulated interest in compensatory adult education among public librarians. The American Library Association's interest in adult education waxed and waned throughout much of the twentieth century. However, in 1998 the association formally adopted literacy and lifelong learning as key components of its strategic planning program. This formal recognition promises to provide a more sustained level of support for initiatives in these areas. Two major ALA studies in the 1950s and 1980s and a more recent survey conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics have provided an understanding of the development, extent, and nature of public library services for adults, but more research is needed to provide an accurate picture of the current status of educational services for adults. The nontraditional education movement of the 1970s, which initially promised to enhance the public library's adult educational role, failed to have a lasting impact due to professional resistance and a change in institutional emphasis from education to the provision of information. The inclusion of educational services for adults among the roles or service responses outlined in the Public Library Association's planning manuals during the past twenty years indicate that these services are considered an important part of the public library's program. The emergence of the information paradigm in the 1970s has challenged and continues to challenge the "library faith," the traditional ideology of public librarianship. Using several hundred sources including books, monographs, journal articles, research reports, government documents, conference proceedings, and other primary and secondary resources from the literatures of librarianship and adult education, this historical investigation demonstrates how the public library continues its commitment to the educational principles of the library faith, despite changes in institutional emphases, the challenges presented by the Internet and other technological innovations, the movement to merge librarianship and information science into one field, and the new public philosophy of economic instrumentality.