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IN 1946, THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION (ALA) established with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) the Joint Committee on Library Service to Labor Groups. Since then, the committee has been a beacon for service to labor, and the link between the organizations has been integral to public learning and beneficial to both unions and libraries. In 1974, the charge became "to initiate, develop, and foster, through the organizational structures of the ALA and the AFL-CIO, ways and means of effecting closer cooperation between librarian and labor organizations." It was also to serve as "a catalyst for libraries and other institutions to enable them more effectively to fulfill the expressed and unexpressed needs of the labor community" and to encourage wider use of libraries. Today, the committee is within the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) and is comprised of nine librarians, appointed by RUSA, and nine representatives from the AFL-CIO, with a cochair from each group. Several aspects of the partnership suggest that it has played an important role in furthering the long tradition of public learning--union leaders speaking strongly about services targeted to labor's needs, developing guidelines for service, establishing the John Sessions Memorial Award to recognize a library or library system for significant work with unions, forging an active publishing program including reading and viewing lists, and presenting and exhibiting material at conferences. The committee's activities reflect a continuum of the value that committed librarians and union leaders have long placed on public learning for labor. The partnership has endured because a renewing group of librarians and union leaders has recognized its importance, and the joint committee is a model for ALA commitment and collaboration.
"If the public library is to play its part in society it must give to labor, as well as to all other groups, the means of comprehending events in our swiftly moving social scene" (Goshkin, 1941, p. 74). This 1941 plea foretells the founding of a remarkable partnership in American library history five years later. In 1946, the American Library Association (ALA) established with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) the Joint Committee on Library Service to Labor Groups. The 1941 call also suggests a recurring question in the study of public organizations, and that is whether they respond on their own initiative to needs or must be prodded into providing services. In service to labor through the years, a number of public libraries developed special programs although most libraries have not done so. Importantly, over the past half-century, the joint committee has been a beacon for such service. In the longer history of the nation, the library-labor link has been integral to public learning and beneficial to both unions and libraries. (1)
PUBLIC LEARNING, LABOR, AND LIBRARIES
Richard D. Brown (1996) has written that, in the mid-eighteenth century, a politically informed citizenry was seen as vital for the state and liberty. The American Revolution helped democratize the new nation, as intellectual life was considered a necessity for people. The nineteenth century saw books and discussions in Workingmen's and People's Institutes and Lyceum and Chautauqua lectures. By participating in this wide range of activities, Americans displayed their commitment to the ideal of an informed, knowledgeable citizenry. At the turn of the twentieth century, club-women studied social issues, universities developed extension courses, and social and cultural centers and congregations sponsored lectures, such as the Open Forum. Merle Curti (1951) has argued that the unique characteristic of American intellectual history is that the gulf between the learned and the common people has been less wide and deep than elsewhere.
In the nineteenth century, factory libraries, such as at Pacific Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts, sought "to elevate and enlighten the minds of these operatives" (Ditzion, 1947, p. 111). With the founding of public libraries and the development of the organized labor movement at midcentury, wider efforts were made to reach working people. The phrase "workingman's university" (Ditzion, 1947, p. 115) is found in early library statements--for example, in Mount Holly, Pennsylvania. By the end of the nineteenth century, some libraries in industrial communities made a genuine contribution toward furthering the education of industrial workers. The library in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was visited almost entirely by factory workers, with the staff determining "by the odors which clung to a book" (Ditzion, 1947, p. 115) the factory where the borrower worked. In South Norwalk, Connecticut, the library was used "exclusively by factory employees" (Ditzion, 1947, p. 115). Carnegie libraries, a widespread democratizing force in the early twentieth century, were dedicated with the hope "that the masses of workingmen and women ... would remember that this is their library" (Ditzion, 1947, p. 114).
The other side of the library-labor relationship is that union leaders have long recognized that education and libraries are vital to working people. In 1839, the Philadelphia General Trades Union adopted the Mechanics' Library; other libraries were attached to workingmen's clubs and institutes. Towards the end of the Civil War, labor groups established libraries for their own members, such as railroad conductors in Montgomery, Alabama. At the first meeting of the National Labor Union in 1866, the organization recommended the establishment of free reading rooms. While the groups sought fairness in fundamental economic power and were thus sometimes negative toward tax-supported libraries, they were not oblivious to their value. Unions were early supporters of community libraries; for example, at the turn of the century, each member of the Hagerstown, Maryland, bricklayers' union pledged one free day of work in constructing a new library building. (2) In Buffalo and other cities, the central union …