Library Neutrality? Chicago 1927

Bücher, Dekonstruktion, Historisches

With all the talk about libraries as community hubs and supporters of social action, about library neutrality, libraries as cultural heritage institutions, and librarians as the stewards of open access and collective memory, let’s not forget the darker episodes of our occupation. One of those episodes is described by Bill Bryson in his book about the Summer of 1927:

“[Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson’s] first action on reelection [sc. 1927] was to set about removing all treasonous works from the city’s schools and libraries. […] to purge the city’s institutions of any works that were less than ‘100 percent American.’ […] Remarkably, all this got a lot of support. […] The Ku Klux Klan likewise saluted the clear-out and suggested that the city next turn its attention to any books that were favorably inclined toward Jews or Catholics. The head of the Municipal Reference Library announced that he had independently destroyed all books and pamphlets in his care that struck him as dubious. ‘I now have an America First library,’ he said proudly.”

(Bill Bryson, One Summer. America 1927)

May we as librarians always be aware of the ideological matrix we’re working in, question our own foundations and agendas — and not lightheartedly claim to be solely neutral custodians of our written past.


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