Melvil Dewey and the Advancement of Librarianship
King, Kenneth E.
MetadataShow full item record
The field of library history remains a rather neglected area of study but is nonetheless filled with interesting characters and trends. One of the most fascinating and certainly among the most important of the individuals in library history is Melvil Dewey. His constant striving for greater efficiency in library work resulted in such contributions as the first library school, a library periodical, and a national library association. This last, the American Library Association, was'founded in 1876, coinciding with a national trend of professionalization and vocational organization. The "coming 'of age" of the library profession can be seen as typical in many ways of the rise of many diverse disciplines to the positions of importance and respect which they hold today. One excellent study of this phenomenon explains the ascent of professionalism in terms of the ambitions of the growing middle class and the subsequent accommodation of these goals by the American higher educational system. But what was a profession to offer the educated member of the middle class? And 'that was Melvil Dewey's vision of what the library pr1ofession could become? For Dewey was certainly a man of vision as well as a practical innovator. To better understand the man and his motives, it is necessary to place Dewey in his cultural framework, against a backdrop before which his thoughts and actions' will have some coherence. To talk of the foundation of the American Library Association in ·an age when that organization boasts close to 40,000 members is difficult, and one must be aware of the conditions under which the foundation took place. Why Melvil Dewey reasoned that the librarian was ready in 1876 to take his place among the newly organized professionals is related in varying degrees to societal trends, to Dewey's personality and drive, and to the advancing state 'of the library art during his lifetime.