ENGL 390: Libraries and Communities

The core of ENGL 390 Libraries and Communities is to read about and to discuss some of the considerations and controversies that simmer under the seemingly calm surface of public libraries.  Our topics will include (but are hardly limited to):

  • Institutional racism and implicit bias within formal cataloging systems. (Did you know that until the 1940’s, many public libraries classified any book by a Black author under “International Migration and Colonization” or “Slavery and Emancipation”? Or that the original Dewey Decimal System classified books about LGBTQI topics as “abnormal sexual relations?” Even as recently as 2015, controversy raged over the “illegal alien” category at the Library of Congress.)
  • The influence of institutional power over what books are available and to whom.  (What do you know about publishers’ limitations on e-books at public libraries? Or the restrictions placed on reading materials at prisons? Or the most common censorship requests at American libraries in the last decade (hint: they almost all have to do with LGBTQI topics)?) 
  • Alternative, “outsider,” “radical” libraries–how do people/groups take it upon themselves to put books directly into the hands of their communities? (Examples include the Occupy Wall Street Protest Library, the Underpass Library, and the Turkish Sanitation Workers’ Library started with books the pulled from the trash)

Additionally, we will have access to Saginaw’s Roethke House museum, library and archives. You may choose to work on-site on various projects such as categorizing books or developing a reading room space, researching archival processes and tools, or developing and giving historical tours to the public.  The role each of you plays at the Roethke House will be determined by your own wants and needs, and we will define that together once the semester begins. [Working on-site is not a requirement, but rather, an opportunity.]

Finally, the course will also provide some insight into library careers and professions (although this is not a “Library Sciences” course meant to provide formal training).  Several librarians will talk with our class throughout the semester.  In Fall ’20, we talked with an elementary school children’s librarian in Maine, the dean of library and information studies at a Texas university, a local Michigan public library librarian, and a social work professor here on the SVSU campus who studies social services within libraries. Speakers will be confirmed once the semester begins.

If you are interested but want more detail, please email me at sfrances@svsu.edu. I would be so happy to talk with you!