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Title:Reading for democratic citizenship: A new model for readers’ advisory
Author(s):Lawrence, E.E.
Director of Research:Knox, Emily J.M.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Knox, Emily J.M.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):McDowell, Kate; Renear, Allen; Furner, Jonathan
Department / Program:Information Sciences
Discipline:Library & Information Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Readers' Advisory
Information Ethics
Aesthetic Education
Abstract:Readers’ advisors are tasked with suggesting leisure reading materials to library patrons. The current discourse within the field has it that these advisors ought to adhere to (what I am calling) a pure preference satisfaction model wherein they aim to satisfy readers’ existing preferences without judging or attempting to alter them. On this standard view, Readers’ Advisory (RA) operates as a kind of “matchmaking service” in which advisors pair readers with books they are likely to enjoy in an effort to promote the act of reading simpliciter. Constituted as such, the service sets regulative ideals of pure preference satisfaction and aesthetic neutrality for its practitioners. While such an approach to RA is politically commendable in some respects, in this dissertation I interrogate the incompatibilities that have emerged between theory and practice as a result of higher-level moral principles to which librarians are committed. In so doing, I provide a critical inventory of the (in some cases intractable) tensions evident in contemporary RA service, going on to offer normative critiques of the dominant moral framework underpinning RA. The first of these concerns the various ways in which RA functions as a prescriptive project; the second takes aim at the moral conflict between the pure preference satisfaction approach and critical practitioners’ policies of committing a priori to the recommendation of diverse books; finally, the third critique argues that the promotion of popular fiction—a core activity of contemporary readers’ advisors—presently lacks a compelling theoretical justification rooted in the political purpose of the public library. In each case, I recommend theoretical revisions that will help to alleviate harms associated with the problems identified. In light of the cumulative effects of these revisions, I propose a new unified theory of the modified RA practice: an alternative aesthetic education model that both privileges genuine aesthetic experience and is grounded in the library’s overarching democratic project. Drawing on insights from reader-response criticism, I argue that leisure reading is valuable in part because it offers us opportunities to deliberate on our aesthetic experiences, creatively testing out our ideas, listening and responding to competing views, and establishing mutually-acceptable interpretive norms in communities of differently-situated readers. To do this well, we must be confident in articulating and giving reasons for our own beliefs but also willing to readjust in light of new evidence and persuasive argumentation. Working through this process with literature helps to cultivate in participants certain epistemic, moral, and perceptual virtues necessary to full democratic engagement, including intellectual humility, open-mindedness, and testimonial justice. Ultimately, I hold that RA-as-aesthetic-education functions as a dynamic forum for readers to practice democratic citizenship and thus develop its requisite character traits. The new model both furthers the political aims of the public library and reestablishes continuity between theory and critical practice.
Issue Date:2019-04-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 E.E. Lawrence
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-08-23
Date Deposited:2019-05

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