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Bringing Harassment Out of the History Books

American Libraries – Bringing Harassment Out of the History Books”>Bringing Harassment Out of the History Books

“As stories of sexual misconduct continue to dominate the news, some alleged perpetrators bear household names (Kevin Spacey, Garrison Keillor, Harvey Weinstein, James Franco), and some don’t (Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle, NPR editor Michael Oreskes, Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine). Though his moniker is absent from modern headlines, there’s one harasser whose name is known to librarians everywhere: Melvil Dewey. In the #MeToo era, how should the library profession handle Dewey’s legacy, tainted as it is by sexism and racism? Dewey—who was, of course, a founder of the American Library Association (ALA) and the inventor of the widely used Dewey Decimal Classification—made numerous inappropriate physical advances toward women, including library colleagues and his own daughter-in-law, over a period of many years. Eventually, Dewey was ostracized by the ALA as a result of what one librarian of the period called his “outrages against decency.” In addition, Dewey refused to admit Jews, African Americans, or other minorities to the Lake Placid Club, the private Adirondacks resort in New York that he and his wife owned and operated for many years. Booker T. Washington was disallowed from its dining rooms, Dewey bought up adjoining land for fear it would otherwise be sold to Jews, and promotional literature made it clear that “no Jews or consumptives [were] allowed” on the property. (“Personally, many of my choicest friends are Jews,” Dewey wrote in an evasive response to a membership request from one Albert Harris of New York City.) Yet 87 years after his death, Dewey remains revered as the “father of modern librarianship,” “a pioneer in library education,” and “a pioneer in the creation of career opportunities for women,” as the Library of Congress website calls him. Indeed, the ALA itself bestows the Melvil Dewey Medal, and American Libraries’ own Dewey Decibel podcast bears his name (but has dropped his likeness from its logo)…”

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