In this presentation, I examine the ways Progressive Era librarians developed and employed a mixture of approaches in their literacy outreach work to a diverse and growing immigrant population. This project explores the ways a predominantly female workforce of public librarians adapted, revised, and rethought their work both inside and outside of the library, expanding their presence in their communities and in public life. Librarians working in these communities regularly contributed articles to various librarian practitioner journals and presented papers at local, state, and national conferences, some of which were reprinted either in part or in their entirety within these journals. In addition, some of their work was reprinted from booklets and pamphlets put out by organizations and roundtables within the American Library Association, most notably the ALA Roundtable for Library Work with the Foreign Born. These rich sources of literacy outreach narratives provide the foundation of this project.
Drawing principally on feminist rhetorical theories and analysis of historical recovery as presented in the works of Cheryl Glenn, Nan Johnson, Shirley Wilson Logan, Anne Ruggles Gere, etc., I weave together the relationships between literacy ideology, institutions, gender, and professionalization as they influenced this textual production during the Progressive Era. Specifically, I delve into the ways in which this gendered history can be recovered and continue with issues of gender and authority within the profession. My historical methods are informed by Cheryl Glenn’s notion of remapping rhetorical history to include those rhetors who have been lost to male-dominated histories of rhetoric and writing. Nan Johnson’s expansion of this concept, describing a project that not only ‘remaps’ women into the rhetorical tradition, but that also considers the ways in which gendered ideologies permeate these women’s (and men’s) rhetorical lives, illuminates the ways in which institution (the American Library Association), the profession of librarianship, and community factor into these librarians’ presence within their respective communities.
In this presentation, I focus on two locations of literacy outreach work: urban neighborhoods and rural communities. In the former, I explore the role of the branch library within the city as an institution separating lower-class immigrant library patrons from the middle- and upper-class patrons for whom the central libraries were built. Librarians at the neighborhood branches write about work in their neighborhoods, in the settlement houses, in the factories, and in the schools. However, librarians working in rural areas faced different challenges, particularly those engaged in bookwagon or bookmobile library service. These librarians worked with an immigrant and non-immigrant population that was largely isolated and their patrons included farmers and men working in mines. In narratives from both of the urban and rural communities, class and gender norms emerge as these advocates for literacy and citizenship seek to serve their immigrant patrons, as well as their own ambitions. Americanization work by librarians and the ALA provided opportunities for publicizing what they saw as the critical function of the American public library within a democracy. The articles written by librarians and library leaders in professional journals sought both to demonstrate the importance of the library as a civic entity and to demonstrate the ease with which librarians across the country could engage in Americanization work in their communities.