Accepted Paper:

Immigrant literacy and the shaping of citizenship: how the New York public library became a place of belonging, from traveling libraries to "world languages collection"  


Marija Dalbello (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey)

Paper short abstract:

A long history of services to immigrants through the New York Public Library programs from 1901 to date reveal a shape-shifting discourse and the assignation of the affects of belonging to books, libraries, and literacy to citizenship.

Paper long abstract:

For over a century, the New York Public Library (NYPL) has been a home for literacy and citizenship activities. Through the material culture of books, reading rooms, and liminal places of immigrant reading, the NYPL documents the process and produces the models of sanctioned versions of American citizenship and belonging. An official discourse around libraries "as alternative homes for immigrants" reflects the affects that shaped the idea of the library for immigrants as a liminal place for identity and identification. The longue durée structure of the emergence and the development of services to immigrants will draw on annual reports published in the Bulletin of the New York Public Library (1897-) that recorded the Traveling Library program from 1901, complemented by the documentation from archival scrapbooks, social photography, and testimonials. The genealogy of the shifting discourse of literacy will explore a range of artifacts of citizenship, from the early services that include an elusive and short-lived program at the Ellis Island (1909-1921) to the shaping of cosmopolitan identities reflected in the artifacts such as the "World Languages Collection." The services to immigrants were integral to early NYPL outreach programs designed for educational settings, prisons, businesses (e.g., messenger boys in telegraph companies) and the reading rooms on Manhattan rooftops. Amid tensions around the library institution as a place of redefining social categories, the record of a multi-modal and shape-shifting literacy included the discourse of immigrant literacy, citizenship, and the library as a place of belonging.

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Books create a home: exploring books and reading practices as domestic symbols and rituals