African-Americans and Public Libraries
The purpose of this report is to examine, from a historical perspective, the African-American's ability to receive service from public libraries. To that end, the paper will examine library service to African-Americans from the period of slavery through the Civil War, Reconstruction, World War I and World War II, and through to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its effect on the public library. A brief discussion of the role played by the American Library Association (ALA) and the effect of multiculturalism will also be provided.
The rationale for selecting this particular subject is based upon the recognition that the public library functions in a democratic society as a source of information and knowledge and simultaneously has been used at times as an instrument of social control that promotes the values of the dominant culture. Despite the rhetoric of open access and intellectual freedom that developed over the course of the twentieth century, for most of that time period, library collections and policies reflected the knowledge, beliefs, values, and policies of the largely Caucasian/Anglo mainstream public.
This public not only supplied most of the policymakers who shaped library collections and use patterns, but also included the vast majority of librarians who dominated the profession. As American society has moved toward integration and multiculturalism, constructing an analysis of the treatment of minorities by libraries has taken on new significance.
During the slave era, there were relatively few truly "public" libraries in the entire United States and slaves, as a group, were not permitted to use these facilitates where they did exist. In point of fact, most slaveholders strongly believed that teaching slaves to read was both dangerous and counterproductive. Those slaves and freed men and women who did read and were educated to some degree or another wer...