Quotation help needed.
April 8, 2006 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Who said "libraries are the university of the poor" or something like that?

I'm thinking Andrew Carnegie, but I can't find anything via Google (including book search), so maybe I've got the wording wrong. It may have been "Libraries are the poor man's university." Can anyone confirm it was Carnegie and point me toward the exact quotation?
posted by scratch to Education (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Public libraries are the working man’s university" is given in someone thesis here, but it is only referenced as a victorian phrase.
posted by scodger at 3:49 PM on April 8, 2006

Ben Frannklin?
posted by TheLibrarian at 3:52 PM on April 8, 2006

I found this, which says

"What's more, the public library can indeed be a poor man's university just as Carnegie said; and one result can be a smarter workforce."

.. but that's the closest I can get.
posted by (lambda (x) x) at 4:46 PM on April 8, 2006

This page claims that Carnegie said: "There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration."

Lots of quotes on those 3 pages that are tangential to the quote's sentiment, but none right on the money.
posted by misterbrandt at 5:32 PM on April 8, 2006

Thomas Carlyle is quoted: "The true university these days is a collection of books."
posted by misterbrandt at 5:37 PM on April 8, 2006

There's always Will Hunting: You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library.
posted by acoutu at 8:08 PM on April 8, 2006

A problem is that the sentiment wasn't uncommon back at the turn of the century, so even if Carnegie said it, the quote may well have been an acknowledgement of an existing idea. And "poor man's university" isn't a description tied solely to libraries. There are references to jails, the army, and Irish pubs being called the poor man's university. There's also a claim that Benjamin Franklin described newspapers the same way. It's a catchy phrase.

A close conceptual relation is the idea of describing libraries as the people's university. There are a greater number of references quoting Carnegie as calling libraries the "university of the people" than "the poor". But with the wording change, another candidate emerges. Here is a quote from Katherine Sharp, a director of the Armour Institute library school and colleague of Melvil Dewey (of the [in]famous Dewey Decimal System) from an 1898 paper where she describes a library as "a laboratory, a workshop, a school, a university of the people, from which the students are never graduated.", partly quoted here. A bit wordy, perhaps, but I think it's got more zing than the original with that "never graduated" turn of phrase.

But if you stick with the original quest, there remain other stones left to turn. An intriguing clue for sourcing your "poor man's university" is a study guide question for the book "The Americans" by Gerald A. Danzer which asks: "What was the "poor man's university?". Unfortunately, at $93, the textbook might be a bit much to purchase to see if it sufficiently answers your question, although perhaps it can be found elsewhere. Close the circle by finding a copy in a library; the idea is almost too neat.

Another possible answer could be found by obtaining a copy of the April 2001 issue of Library Quarterly 71-2 and reading the article by Robert F. Nardin, “A Search for Meaning: American Library Metaphors, 1876-1926". Judging by the title, the article sounds really promising in your search, and it's the original source for the full quote above from Katherine Sharp. A copy can be purchased online for five pounds UK and I admit to being tempted just to see what it had to say, but heck, MetaFilter is infested with librarian types. Someone here ought to have access to that issue and give any relevant content, if you ask nicely.
posted by mdevore at 11:31 PM on April 8, 2006

The Nardin article is about librarians using the metaphor of more visible institutions, such as schools and churches and, later, business and industry, to transform the image of libraries. Here's the section on university as metaphor:

"An elaboration of the school image, but one suggesting grander purpose, was the idea of a "people's university," a term that became a commonplace of librarians' rhetoric [33, pp. 81-86; 36]. The phrase appeared several times in the Bureau of Education report, which referred to "people's colleges" and to the library as a "virtual university" [16, pp. xiv and 240]. "It is a pet phrase with us," said Winsor in his 1879 ALA presidential address, "that the public library is the people's university" [37, p. 225]. Winsor and others who used the metaphor hoped that prestige from the research and land grant universities then being founded in the United States would also be due libraries, if they too could become centers of learning. Representatives of universities likewise saw benefit in association with the public library, as a vehicle to help democratize their own institutions. The historian Herbert Baxter Adams, of Johns Hopkins University, for example, a principal advocate of the university extension movement, wished that "every great public library should become, in its own field, a people's university, the highest of high schools in the community" [38, p. 184]. Alvin S. Johnson, a Cornell University economist commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation in 1915 to report on the objects of Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy, wrote "the best of them gave meaning to my dream of the library as a People's University" [39, p. 159]."

[16.] U.S. Bureau of Education. Public Libraries in the United States of America, Their History, Condition, and Management: Special Report. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1876.

[33.] Ditzion, Sidney. Arsenals of a Democratic Culture: A Social History of the American Library Movement in New England and the Middle States from 1850 to 1900. Chicago: American Library Association, 1947.

[36.] Hurwitz, Jack David. "The Public Library as `People's University': An Analytical History of the Concept as a Part of the American Public Library Movement in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries." M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, 1974.

[37.] Winsor, Justin. "The President's Address." Library Journal 4 (july-August 1879): 223-25.

[38.] Kett, Joseph F. The Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties: From Self-Improvement to Adult Education in America, 1750-1990. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994.

[39.] Bobinski, George S. Carnegie Libraries: Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development. Chicago: American Library Association, 1969.
posted by Pigpen at 11:59 PM on April 8, 2006

Buckets full of thanks to Pigpen and mdevore. I'm an MLIS student (and usually a better researcher than yesterday). If you're librarians, I hope I'll grow up to be like you.

/ 100% snark-free comment
posted by scratch at 9:59 AM on April 9, 2006

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