The Continuous Debate: Public Librarians and Professionalism in the United States
Hassell, Caryn E.
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The public library in the United States is a unique public institution in the public service. There are over 15,000 public libraries and branches in the U.S., and millions of people use libraries every day. Yet since the earliest days of public libraries, public librarians have engaged in professional discourse in order to determine and define a purpose for the public library in the United States. This discourse has been the work of an occupational group striving for the social status and legitimacy of a profession. This debate has shaped the history of public librarianship, and an understanding of it is essential in order to understand the way in which librarians position themselves in today's society. This paper endeavors to trace the roots of the professional debate of public librarians from the founding of the first library in 1854 to the present day. It also attempts to explain the purpose of these debates in the context of the sociological concept of professionalism. Finally, it seeks clarify the stakes of this professional discourse both for public librarians and the public they serve.