This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 8, 1990

August 8, 1990 - Melvil Dewey, the lech

The name Melvil Dewey probably doesn't mean a whole lot to most people. They have a vague notion that he either invented the Dewey Decimal System (right) or that he once ran for President (wrong -- that was Thomas Dewey). Some people may even know that he was one of the many unsuccessful advocates of reform in English spelling (witness "Melvil" instead of "Melville").

But to librarians, Dewey is known for many things. He was strikingly modern.

Aggressive, visionary, charismatic, he galvanized those around him to work unceasingly for the establishment and promotion of library services. He designed a library classification system -- an attempt to describe the entire possible universe of human knowledge -- that endures to this day. He was one of the founders of the American Library Association. He established the first library school and had a great deal to do with the establishment of many others. He pushed the idea of bookmobiles -- even before there were cars.

He was, also, well, (A lecher? A swinger?) an excessively romantic person. It could be that he founded so many library schools because his influence, energy and charm attracted so generous a supply of fine, almost exclusively feminine candidates.

Consider this little known (and possibly apocryphal) tale: one of the requirements for admission in the first library school was an ample bust measurement. To Dewey, the plural of "book" was "buxom."

Dewey may have been less than enlightened, but he was no fool. In his day (around the 1890's), the single greatest, untapped human resource was womankind. He identified and appealed to a pool of extremely intelligent, highly educated, passionately dedicated women. Then, he gave them a socially acceptable way to work. The first librarians came out from their women's clubs and drawing rooms to take their rightful places at the hearts of their communities, promoting ideas, becoming the vanguards of high-quality education. It was they who first conceived the RIGHT of public access to information -- then made it possible.

Without the extraordinarily competent women Dewey summoned to his cause, libraries as we know them could never have come into being. Not only did these first librarians institute the highest possible standards for education and service, they also worked cheap. Women then were like Third World people now: a remarkably inexpensive source of high quality labor.

Librarianship is still a female-dominated profession. And like other female-dominated professions -- teaching, for instance -- the pay remains fairly low relative to other, male-dominated fields. This is particularly illustrative given the educational requirements for librarians, which usually consist of at least one to two years beyond a bachelor's degree.

From childcare to school to public library, the education of our populace rests largely in the hands of women. Yet most women -- in libraries as well as many other work environments -- still suffer low pay and low status, even though their jobs are of overwhelming, even crucial importance to the nation.

We still don't grasp how our society ought to compensate the intellectual merits of women. Or Dewey?

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