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“Technics Or Humanization In Librarianship?”

from “Technics Or Humanization In Librarianship?” by Helen E. Haines. Library Journal, Sept. 1, 1938.

“The foundations of the profession were established on Literature, in the older meaning of the term: on books as components of culture and character… on reading as inspiration, enlightenment and joy. Of course, immediate phases of development were practical; new processes and inventions, mechanical and bibliographical; the spread of library buildings; the planning and construction of unified city systems; the stage of ardent “missionary” campaigns in country regions; but booklore and book knowledge were essentials in the librarian’s own professional background. In the influence of such leaders as Mr. Cutter, Mr. Larned, Miss Plummer, there was a spirit of culture, a responsiveness to books, that might now be thought “unlrealistic,” but that enriched and humanized the librarian’s vocation. This spirit is less evident today. The trend in librarianship moves rather toward and arid, specialized intellectualism or a streamlined adding-machine efficiency in the operation of mechanical processes.

Lewis Mumford gave us a word for it, as he surveyed the historical rise and sweep of the machine age adn showed us technics transforming civilization. In present-day librarianship the rise of technics – the growing emphasis upon statistical research, upon scientific-mathematical mechanization of library functions – is transforming the librarian’s cultural background. It is replacing the warm personal understanding and use of book-values in human relationships by an impersonal acceptance of model formulas that is impervious to universals of human experience and unaware of the richness and stimulus of creative art.

…. There are, I think, two fallacies underlying technics as thus applied to book selection: first, that individual human beings, each one peculiar to itself, can be transmuted into mathematical figments; second, that book values, potent but imponderable, can be translated into statistical formulas for automatic mass application. Such a study of reading as Mr. Compton gave us in his brochure, Who Reads What? draw from individual circulation records, has more validity, is more representative of actualities of library book service, than elaborate tabulations demonstrating that a woman of, say, thirty-five, who has a high school education, who is unmarried, and who works in a newspaper office, reads books of the same kind and quality as do all other women of thirty-five, with high school education, who are unmarried, and who work in a similar semi-professional field. Of course, she doesn’t; neither do they.

Aldous Huxley, in Ends and Means, says:

We shall never deal effectively with our human problems until we temper our longing for rational simplification by the recognition in things and events of a certain residue of irrationality, diversity, and specificity.

Certainly, such recognition should come naturally and usefully from librarians. They deal with people and books; and in each these residues are ever present. To know and love books is to move with assurance and understanding through the immense range of human experience, to be aware of infinite variations of human nature; and only through this assurance, this understanding, can the relationship of books to readers through library service be made a vital, inspiring social force.

There is a minor by-product of the present preoccupation with tecnhics in librarianship that may be noted. That is the mushroom growth in our professional literature of what I can only call the jargon of the educational-treatise pattern. Long familiar in its own field – in texts and monographs, in technical studies – only within the last few years has it taken root and flourished in library scholarship, superseding simplicity and vigor in literary expression. There is a deadly monotony, a mind-numbing vapor generated by these arid sentences, these denatured, hackneyed words, brought together in formalized affirmations, that dull the most receptive intelligence. Here is an example:

Our argument points once more, then, to the need for social objectives, meaning criteria of social value, by which to judge, prefer, or reconcile, standards of taste and community reading needs. The formulation of these criteria will be the principle administrative function of public library book selection, and the procedure comprises not simply what at present passes for library science, but co-operation with any discipline which can contribute something to the elucidation of the problem.

It would be a boon to the library profession, I am sure, if among its elaborate studies now in process upon how to impart readability to books, one might be directed upon its own professional literature. At least, I should like to see a librarian’s boycott declared or a rigid limitation enforced upon such words as “major objectives,” “criteria,” “function,” “median,” and “differentials.”

But my concerns with the present trend toward technics in librarianship is simply as it diminishes the librarian’s own cultural background or dries up the springs of personal book knowledge and book love, which must have outlet and widening channels if they are to flow. I believe that books, in their diversity, their individual qualities, their radiations of influence, should play a larger part than they do in our present library school training; that they should not be regarded simply as tools of professional routine or as ready-cut building material for the library’s structure of public service; but that they should be the basis and the inspiration for the librarian’s own professional philosophy and practice. How much of the older “literary” element remains among the manifold activities of library school students today? I remember well the “poetry club” of the New York State Library School that flourished for many years; the foreign fiction discussions at Pratt, opening new world horizons; the lively play of conflicting opinions on creative literature – poetry, plays, novels – the vigorous discussion of new books in different fields, which were likely to ripple when young librarians (and older ones) met. …

Librarianship ought to mean personal fellowship with literature – catholicity, tolerance, receptivity toward the new, familiarity with those older tideways from which fresh currents rise, diverge and flow endlessly through time; and always zest in an infinite adventure of exploration and discovery. It is true, as Dr. Canby said the other day, that the lover of the art of literature develops a wonderful tolerance for all sincere writers, no matter how diverse or mistaken their aims. Only the librarian who possesses this love can test, and know, and apply those book values which are not values of fact, of utilitarian information, but values also of imagination, of vicarious participation in the common emotions, the moving aspirations, the tragic experiences and the simple pleasures of human life and human nature. And in the recognition and application of these values is the humanization that offsets technics in librarianship.

This humanization of book service through knowledge of and enthusiasm for books is a very present need…”

– from “Technics Or Humanization In Librarianship?” by Helen E. Haines. Library Journal, Sept. 1, 1938.

posted by KdlPMc and thanks to David Wright who posted at his Facebook page.


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