The library as clinic: A foucauldian interpretation of British public library attitudes to social and physical disease, ca. 1850-1950

Alistair Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Characterized by the pursuit of enlightenment and progress, the municipal public libraries that began to appear in Britain after 1850 were notable cultural ingredients of modern society. Yet public libraries also displayed less liberal dimensions of modernity, as places where scientific rationality was at times mobilized to counter perceived "social" diseases, broadly constituted by disorder, deviancy, poor discipline, irrational recreation, and economic and political radicalism. The public library's role as a meaningful clinic for the eradication of social diseases, to which the masses were seen to be prone, necessarily required the attraction of a mass clientele, which, ironically, generated fears of physical disease arising from the spatial mixing of users and the sharing of printed materials. Just as Foucault employed the "birth of the clinic" as a metaphor for the emergence of modern medicine and its expert discourse in the setting of the scientific hospital around the turn of the nineteenth century, so also the notion of "library as clinic" can be seen to encapsulate later discourses of control associated with public librarianship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-434
Number of pages19
JournalLibraries and the Cultural Record
Volume40
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Conservation
  • History
  • Library and Information Sciences

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