>I’ve been working on my thesis, but my time lately has been overwhelmed with moving and with polishing my talk for Libraries in the History of Print Culture. Since I haven’t had time to visit any new libraries in the last month, I’ve enjoyed getting to review what I’ve already learned and refine my assumptions and methods.
After my last talk (at ALA) I got really positive feedback and also some great questions from the Q&A. Some of the most helpful was from Wayne Wiegand (who has written the book on WWI US libraries), who encouraged me to reconsider my approach slightly. I was talking about censorship as an official act, while the organization that was encouraging censorship (the Iowa Council of National Defense) was actually a volunteer organization. I’m not sure how I missed that, but I’m glad to have people interested enough in my research who also have the knowledge to provide constructive criticism!
The nice thing about re-thinking your approach with historical research is that you can think critically about how your choices in representing the past can alter how people view that past (especially if those views wouldn’t be entirely accurate). My premise remains the same: that a lot of these libraries got swept up in the sentiment of the time, but that there were others in which records suggest some hesitation. Even though those libraries, too, participated in the same war work in the end there is a tone in the records left behind that these activities were done begrudgingly.
Spending time with Burlington Public Libraries’ records shows a number of instances where the library was asked for money (mostly by ALA for soldiers’ libraries) and where the discussions are “not favorable” to making the requested donations. Although it never says whether they did pay the money, Burlington’s staff gave out the same information on everything from liberty cabbage (sauerkraut) to Liberty Bonds. This might explain why, when asked to remove “pro-German” books by Herbert Metcalf (the Secretary for the aforementioned Iowa Council of National Defense), there is no record in their minutes books of other documents of the removal. The other 6 libraries I have looked at were more clear in their own revelation of censorship to their library boards, and it’s possible that the library went along with this request begrudgingly as well.
When talking about official (i.e. government) versus unofficial (i.e. citizen groups) requests, I have actually had somewhat of a breakthrough in the present research: Cedar Rapids’ library received a request from the Chief of Police, saying that the War Department had requested that the library remove all books on explosives (from their March 1918 meeting minutes). The minutes say that the materials were removed and placed with the pro-German books. Even though Metcalf’s records don’t tell us that Cedar Rapids responded to the request, this suggests that they did. More importantly, it tells us that at least one Iowa library was receiving ‘official’ requests in addition to those from volunteer organizations (the libraries, by the way, were much less receptive to later citizen censorship requests, all refusing to remove books denounced by Temperance groups).
I’m almost done with (writing) the conference talk, and it’s been great preparation for hammering out my thesis document. Even though I’m talking about a lot of the same information as my previous talk, I’m hoping that I can use a different enough approach that those who attend both won’t be bored to tears! For ALA, I did a more in-depth comparison of three of the libraries. For Madison, I am doing a comparison between 6 libraries, which means I will not talk as deeply about each but can hopefully reveal general trends. For both, I’m borrowing Wiegand’s approach of dividing library activity into neutrality (the period during the war when the U.S. was not yet involved), and wartime. I also want to put these in the context of pre-war and postwar library activities.
After another run-through of editing this morning I’m hoping to send the conference paper off to a journal (because if I’ve already written it, getting another publication under my belt wouldn’t be a bad thing!) and start on some visuals. I’m speaking on the last panel, and the last day, of the conference; this means that most listeners will probably be tired and antsy and eager to leave. While I know I like to have visuals to help keep me focused when I’m in that place, for those readers who have experience in conference attendance it would be so helpful to get feedback from you so I can cater to my listeners! Do you like handouts? Slideshow presentations? Google Maps? Are there approaches you like more than others?
As for the journal, I’m still deciding where to submit this. I submitted my last talk to Libraries and the Cultural Record, so I am hoping to find a journal (OA or print) that is similar but also is currently asking for materials similar to what I do so it can be published soon! If anyone has any leads, I would love to hear them!