272 pp., 6 x 9
A volume in the series:
Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book
Literacy, Democracy, and the Public Library in Cold War America
Examines the role of public libraries during a time of national anxiety
This book recounts the history of an experimental regional library service in the early 1950s, a story that has implications far beyond the two Wisconsin counties where it took place. Using interviews and library records, Christine Pawley reveals the choices of ordinary individual readers, showing how local cultures of reading interacted with formal institutions to implement an official literacy policy.
Central to the experiment were well-stocked bookmobiles that brought books to rural districts and the one-room schools that dotted the region. Three years after the project began, state officials and local librarians judged it an overwhelming success. Library circulation figures soared to two-and-a-half times their previous level. Over 90 percent of grade-school children in the rural schools used the bookmobile service, and their reading scores improved beyond expectation.
Despite these successes, however, local communities displayed deeply divided reactions. Some welcomed the book-mobiles and new library services wholeheartedly, valuing print and reading as essential to the exercise of democracy, and keen to widen educational opportunities for children growing up on hardscrabble farms where books and magazines were rare. Others feared the intrusion of govern- ment into their homes and communities, resented the tax increases that library services entailed, and complained about the subversive or immoral nature of some books.
Analyzing the history of tensions between various community groups, Pawley delineates the long-standing antagonisms arising from class, gender, and ethnic differences which contributed to a suspicion of official projects to expand education. Relating a seemingly small story of library policy, she teases out the complex interaction of reading, locality, and cultural difference. In so doing, she illuminates broader questions regarding libraries, literacy, and citizenship, reaching back to the nineteenth century and forward to the present day.
"Her inclusion of tables of circulation information and relevant statistics, as well as her precise descriptions of her methodological approach, serve as a model for scholars and researchers while elucidating the importance of retaining records that are routinely discarded. Reading Places is a timely call to action to print culture historians, library advocates, and anyone interested in the future of public archives."—Annals of Iowa
"A fine survey of political and social change, this is an excellent social and literary analysis."—Midwest Book Review
"By using a variety of sources to create a "thick description" of local cultures and their connections to larger state and national issues, Pawley provides a model for future scholars and policy makers to determine why localities put differing value on literacy, which can greatly affect any region's economic and social development."—Choice
"Reading Places encompasses the political and social life of Americans, the growth of librarianship as a profession, and the role played by educational institutions and government officials from the local to the national level. . . . I would highly recommend this book to librarians and to those interested in public policy and the domestic history of the Cold War. It is a pleasant, digestible, enlightening work."—SHARP News