A note on the text: I transcribed it from the Selected Papers (if you find any remaining errors please let me know). The page markers link to the corresponding pages of the facsimile at the Internet Archive. You can link to pages or paragraphs in this text by adding the appropriate fragment identifier to the url of this page: e.g. “#W13” for a paragraph or “#p181” for a page (note: no period after the “p”).
Citation: Robert C. Binkley, “The Cultural Program of the W.P.A.”, Harvard Educational Review 9 (1939): 156–174, reprinted in Selected Papers of Robert C. Binkley, ed. Max H. Fisch (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948), pp. 236-257.
Reprinted from the Harvard Educational Review, March 1939.
[W1] The National Council for the Social Studies has recently appointed a committee to cooperate with representatives of the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council in an effort to get maximum results for American scholarship and education from the use of relief labor under the Works Progress Administration. One of the first tasks of these joint committees is to summarize and interpret our experience in the use of white-collar labor as an agency of research.
[W2] There is sufficient probability of a continuation of work relief as a more or less intermittent part of our social economy to make it a part of the public duty of scholars and teachers to help in thinking out a foundation program of maximum utility. Such a program ought to be not merely defensible as a means of keeping people employed, but positively desirable for its intrinsic value to American culture. The amount of money devoted to the cultural part of the relief program is so substantial that it should, if properly used, date an epoch in American development.
[W3] Pick and shovel work relief is as old as the pyramids. What is new in the W.P.A. is the white-collar program. This is a specifically American experiment. The fundamental need for a white-collar work relief program arises from a new vocational [p.237] distribution of our people. Marx in the nineteenth century thought that the proletariat would be the expanding class of modern economy. He was wrong. This class has shrunk relative to total population in all industrialized countries. The class that has grown, numerically, at the expense of all others is the class of white-collar workers.
[W4] Who are the white-collar workers? They are the people who work with paper rather than with machinery, who deal with the public rather than with raw materials. They are the clerks. The word clerk must be understood in its historic sense. The clerks or clerics or clergy of Medieval Europe were the men and women who worked not with tools, but with records and with people. So also the clerks of today. Modern industry recruits them in vast numbers to work with records and people. Instead of copying manuscripts in monasteries, they copy invoices in offices; instead of hearing confessions they contact the public and sell refrigerators. They are nonetheless the lineal descendants of those clerks whom Alcuin trained for Charlemagne in the schools of Aix. Private industry uses them for its purposes when it needs them, and shunts them to the streets when the need passes. There is no social advantage to be gained in trying to recondition many of these people for another kind of labor. The real problem is to define ways in which society can use their services when they have no private employment. If society is to feed them, how shall they pay for their supper? What can they do?
[W5] They can work with people and with records. The ones who have been working with people have been those employed in recreation and adult education and on various service projects. About seven hundred million dollars have been invested in this kind of work since the work relief program began. The others work with records. About nine hundred and fifty million dollars have been invested in their kind of work.
[W6] Work with records is the heart of the white-collar program because the most important common denominator of clerical [p.238] skill is not the ability to teach and lead, but the ability to work with records: to make records and to interpret them, to put information on them and to get information from them. This means such things as copying and consolidating figures, adding and subtracting, filing and indexing, and in general making it possible to answer questions. The virtue of clerical work is accuracy, not genius. Its rhythm is routine. It is not intrinsically “interesting” work, and those who perform it are not even expected to know all the steps below them out of which their task arises, or the steps above them by which their work is utilized. The ones who know the whole machine are the executives; the clerks are the cogs in the machine.
[W7] The white-collar class came to its present magnitude because those who were making decisions in private industry found that they needed organized control of records; they could not carry everything in their heads. American business management has become outstanding in the world for its ability to keep essential information-cost data, sales data, accounts and so forth-constantly on tap. The age of charts came to America through American business management. But our local governments have remained far behind business in their record systems. The citizens of our communities carry on and vote on policies with far less information on local public business than would be deemed necessary by the policy-makers in a well organized private business. This comparison suggests the basic principle of a white-collar work relief program: the clerks who are working for society must make information that is of public value publicly accessible, just as the clerks who work for private industry make information that is of private value privately accessible.
[W8] There are, however, four limitations that impose themselves on any clerical work relief program: (1) The work should not be of the normal type, for in that case a relief worker might merely replace a regular worker, with no net change in the employment situation. The program should make a [p.239] real and visible difference in American society. (2) The task should not be an essentially continuous operation, but must allow of expansion and contraction. It must be capable of employing large quantities of labor at one time, and permit of tapering off to complete cessation, without loss of value through discontinuity. (3) It must be work that persons actually on relief are capable of doing. (4) It must be work that can be done where the needy clerical people actually live. Hence the amount of work laid out in each community must bear some relation to the number and type of white collar workers actually on relief in that place. This means a high concentration in the great cities.
[W9] For purposes of analysis, the whole array of tasks confronting clerks who are to work for society can be divided into two main classes: local jobs and national jobs. Local jobs are tasks that should be done in each community, and primarily for that community. Such tasks, once defined, become a foundation program for white-collar labor everywhere. National jobs are tasks that may be done in any appropriate place, but need be done only once, the one job serving the nation as a whole.
[W10] This distinction does not prejudge any question of administrative organization. In fact, the basic local job — the inventory of local public archives — is organized nationally, and properly so for technical reasons. Many tasks of national value have been done in one or another of our cities as a part of a local program. Thus, for instance, the population census of 1890 was indexed for national purposes, especially for checking eligibility for old-age pensions, in the city of St. Louis. The national population census schedules of other years were indexed in New York City.
[W11] It is a paradox that in the United States, where local self government is very highly developed, local statistics are most poorly kept. The Annuaire statistique des villes is a publication [p.240] in which are brought together the statistical facts about urban communities of the whole world. The cities are listed alphabetically — Boston and Buenos Aires, Calcutta and Cleveland, and opposite them in columns, page after page, are figures that give the measure of urban life. And in column after column — on marriages and divorces, for instance — there are blank spaces that follow the names of American cities, whereas the names of other cities of the world are filled in. When the National Resources Board surveyed our knowledge about ourselves it found that our municipal statistics today are worse kept and less published than they were in 1880.
[W12] The low level of urban government in the United States is perhaps both a cause and an effect of this lack of interest in comprehensive localized information. But there are other reasons. If a citizen of Cleveland, Ohio, picks up one or another of the widely used statistical handbooks, such as the World Almanac, he can find how many goats there are in Egypt, but not how many automobiles there are in Cleveland. It is much easier, in the reference room of the Cleveland Public Library, to discover who was Emperor of China in 1840 than to find out who was mayor of Cleveland in 1840. Figures and estimates on levels of business activity, on employment, on distribution of income, on price levels, are far more easily accessible for the nation than for the city. Indeed, for the most part they have not been compiled in localized form. This situation results naturally from the fact that scholars and publishers can reach a much wider public if they select for study and presentation information that will interest everybody in the country equally, rather than information that will appeal principally to the people of only one locality.
[W13] This situation is found not only in statistical literature, but in literature of the social sciences generally. Local history, local geography, local economic studies do not come to a focus. Local history has been developed, in the main, with an antiquarian spirit and technique from which other fields of history [p.241] departed generations ago. Much of what passes for local economic research is literature of the promotional type, lying nearer to the literature of advertising than of social science. The sociologists have been, of all the social scientists, the ones most clearly aware of the existence and importance of the local community, but even with them a work of such significance as the Lynds’ Middletown is conceived of as a study applicable to all communities of which Muncie, Indiana, stands as a sample. Yet it is self-evident that the citizens of Des Moines, Iowa, will not vote a bond issue on the strength of arguments advanced from a study of Muncie.
[W14] We do not know how far a democracy will prove able to make the decisions that the twentieth century demands in politics. We do not know to what extent the factual information upon which decisions must be made can be made available to the citizens who do the voting. But it is evident that each citizen has a larger proportionate share in decisions of local policy than in decisions of national policy, and that in matters of local concern he is in a better position than in matters of national concern to weigh the conclusions based on his own observation. The foundation of the democratic hope in Jefferson’s time was the experience that people could run their local affairs with wisdom; the complexity of the problems requiring solution has increased far beyond anything imaginable at that time, but meanwhile the social sciences developed their tools for rendering these more complex problems manageable. These tools, however, have been much more turned to account in the field of national policy than in the field of local policy. If we had information organized in a fashion that would correspond to the interests and needs of our citizens, the shelves of every public library would be as well stocked with books about its own community as with books about the United States.
[W15] These reflections would have no practical value were it not for an accident that has brought it about that in this one coun[p.242]try, where there is so much to do to bring scientific understanding of self to our communities, there has appeared the problem and the opportunity of using an army of clerks to catch up with the back work and prepare the supply of information from which a community can answer its questions. We have been one of the backward peoples of the world in the organization of localized information. New York is not only behind London, Paris, and Berlin — it is behind Prague and Budapest. We can become one of the leading peoples in this field if we will but take the thought necessary to define the tasks for the clerks for whom a relief program is necessary in our society.
[W16] For any community, the answers to big and important questions are made up of countless answers to little questions. The solvency of the community is a big question and every little fact on payment and delinquency of taxes is a part of the answer. The vocational prospects of each child constitute a question of paramount importance to the community as a whole. Every fact about the economic life of the community in which he is to live, and about the relation of education to vocational opportunity, is a part of the answer. The attitude that the citizen will take toward his community is perhaps the biggest question of all, and it is doubtful if this attitude can meet the requirements of public interest unless the citizen sees his community as more than an aggregation of streets and houses, unless he sees it as a living thing with a many-sided past and heavy commitments to the future.
[W17] The answers to the little questions, out of which are compounded the answers to the big ones, are found, in the main, in records. The knowledge of whence we have come, from which alone we can guess whither we are going, is knowledge that must be gathered with great toil from records. What are the records that contain the information about a community to which its citizens should have access? The great bulk of them consists of the public archives and the newspaper files of that community. The printed book material is, in the main, [p.243] scattered and incidental, as every reference librarian in every public library knows. The state of these basic local records has been deplorable. Local public archives have been piled like rats’ nests in basements and attics, and lucky to be saved from the incinerator at that! All newspaper files of papers printed since the 1880’s are doomed, for they are printed on wood pulp paper that is disintegrating so rapidly that someone who consults a newspaper of the Spanish War era today may be the last man able to consult it; the paper falls apart when the page is turned.
[W18] The first and basic task of clerks who are to work for society is to rescue physically the records in which alone the account of the life of the community is contained. This can be done. The Historical Records Survey, with a national organization in every state, has been making of local records the most comprehensive inventory in the history of archival science, and as the records are inventoried they are arranged. The inventory is, moreover, a check list against capricious destruction, and the work itself is making local custodians of records more archive-conscious. The newspapers can be saved. They need only be micro-photographed on film. The process has been worked out, and the film is known to be permanent. While they are being filmed for preservation, they can also be indexed by clerical labor, so that the information in them can be readily accessible to the public. This work is now under way in a number of cities.
[W19] Not only past records, but current ones, may need attention. We know that the relief workers cannot assume a normal current routine function of record keeping in the office of a county auditor or police department; but wherever the public officers who are in charge of current records wish to improve their system of current record keeping, but are inhibited by the difficulty of installing a new system, the W.P.A. clerks can reorganize their records to fit an improved routine. When work of this kind is done, it can be so planned that the records be[p.244]come not only more adapted to efficient current administration, but also more useful for research purposes.
[W20] Finally, the relief workers can make up for the failure of the publishing industry to care for local needs. This failure results from the technique and accountancy of the publishing industry, which has operated for generations against the development of readily accessible information for local purposes, because publishing requires a wide market — a minimum sale of two thousand copies — and therefore prefers to issue books of national interest. Near-print techniques of book production in editions of one or two hundred can be used by relief labor to make available to the citizens of the community, on the shelves of their public libraries and in their schools, the kind of information that the national publishing industry serves to the nation as a whole. And relief workers can do everything from compiling the information to binding the books.
[W21] The three institutions to which the work of the relief clerks must be keyed are the public administrative and policy-making records and information for government and voters, more adequate local reference material for libraries, and more satisfactory local teaching material for schools.
[W22] Most public libraries try more or less systematically to maintain a file of local information that becomes available to their readers in the library’s holdings of books, journals, and ephemeral publications and reports of all kinds. But no public library is able, as a part of its normal routine, to comb thoroughly all its materials to bring to light all the information in print that they contain on local matters. The periodical indexes such as the Readers’ Guide cover only a fraction of the intake of American periodicals in a public library of a great city, and bring out only a fraction of the local reference information in these periodical files. A check of some magazines indicates that there is six times as much material on Cleveland, [p.245] Ohio, in a magazine covered by the Readers’ Guide as can be found by looking up the topic “Cleveland” in the Guide. The relief workers should give the local library a guide to printed information about the community, available in the community, that is complete. The task would be a large one, but it would have the effect of increasing tremendously the usefulness of resources which have already been paid for. The hundreds of millions of library dollars expended over the past fifty years will go further in service today if there is adequate bibliographical control of the contents of the materials that have been acquired and stored.
[W23] The cities of America, in general, have not merely one public library, but a number of special and institutional libraries. It may happen that a book that is needed may be somewhere in the city, but the man who wants it cannot find it without a costly and difficult inquiry. Libraries can mobilize their holdings by establishing union catalogues locally. This has been done with relief labor in a number of centers, notably in Cleveland and Philadelphia. It is possible that union cataloguing operations would be carried on most effectively within the framework of a national union catalogue, printed in book form, with adequate listing of holdings for each locality.
[W24] A third matter of interest to a locality is a list of the books and other items printed locally, especially in the earlier period of its history. Under the leadership of Douglas McMurtrie a comprehensive combing of American libraries for a complete list of early American imprints, to be arranged by locality and date, is under way as a W.P.A. project that is technically coordinated with the Historical Records Survey.
[W25] The foundation program for libraries, viewed as a local program, includes union cataloguing, guides to printed items of local reference, and check lists of items printed in the locality, wherever they may be held at present. It may be wise in all three elements of this foundation program to organize the work nationally, but the results of the work will nonetheless come [p.246] to a focus locally, and will meet on the shelves or in the files of the library the products of strictly local work, such as newspaper indexes or compilations of statistical information.
[W26] Let us look at the shelves of a public library, in that section of the reference room devoted to local matters, as they stand today, and as they will look when the W.P.A. program has got well under way. At present there are four or five local histories, one of them written by an early nineteenth-century antiquarian, another by a real historical scholar of the last generation, the rest subscription books praising the families that bought space in the publication. Then there is an array of incidental pamphlet and report material, the files of two local magazines, and of the Journal of the Pioneers’ Society, which had an active life fifty years ago, and has since died down.
[W27] In the future there will be first the fundamental guides to records — the inventory of public archives, the bibliographies of printed items of local reference, and the list of items printed in the locality. Then will come the many volumes of a newspaper index. Following this index, which controls information in the newspaper file, will be a set of abstracts of court cases, abstracted for facts rather than points of law, which constitute almost a second running account of the life and social history of the community. Then (since the city includes a number of immigrant groups which have maintained their own foreign language press), there will be a set of volumes of translations of abstracts from the foreign-language press in which the opinions there expressed, and the activities of the foreign language group there recorded, will become part of the body of accessible information. Next will come the statistical series. It begins with a bibliography of statistical information available in print, and then tabulates with encyclopedic thoroughness the statistical record of the city as completely as Finland’s or Budapest’s statistics are presented in the statistical publications of those governments. There will also be the biographical series — the body of information collected under the names of people [p.247] who have lived in the city. The population census schedules from 1790 to 1870 will have been brought from Washington in film form, copied off, rearranged alphabetically, and bound in book form, and will stand on the shelves for easy reference. Beside them, also in the form of bound typescript books, will be found an alphabetical list of interments. If the guide to public records shows that vital statistics are adequately kept in one of the public offices, the library need not duplicate the public records locally available, but somewhere at least the gaps in the record should be filled as far as possible. Then will come a more selective series — a list of all public office holders from the earliest times with that minimum of information about each which comes to light when newspaper index, indexed public records, alphabetized census schedules, etc., are systematically checked. Following this will be a list of all veterans, with information drawn from these fundamental sources, and also from pension records filmed in Washington and used by local workers. Then teachers, clergymen, physicians, journalists, printers, lawyers — with no selective search for great and distinguished names but rather a comprehensive combing of the field. Of course, these biographical indexes do not pry into the privacy of living men, or seek to flatter pride by circulating questionnaires of the Who’s Who type. The work is solid, controlled, routine, and historical. Then will come information on the history of business. The newspaper advertisements will tell something; and there is additional material in the public records. Moreover, the records of schools as well as the factors locally conditioning educational progress will be found.
[W28] Such are the contributions which the relief workers can make to library resources. The catalogue is not exhaustive, but illustrates the principle that the locality, by the careful and disciplined use of relief labor, can provide itself with resources of checked and accessible information about itself comparable to that which scholarly enterprise, public appropriations, and [p.248] the work of the publishing industry have provided for the nation as a whole in the course of generations of work.
[W29] Beyond this, the relief workers can discover in library records some things that communities ought to know. For instance, what is the effect of the teaching program in the schools upon adult reading habits? In a city of several hundred thousand population there will be a large number of people who happen to have gone through the schools of the city and become its permanent residents. The schools may have their school records, and the library records tell the story of their reading habits. Is it true, in general, that those who took the courses in literature in high school are readers of literature? Or will the library records show only a chance distribution between reading interest and educational experience?
[W30] This suggestion leads to an analysis of what can be done in the schools. In improving the work of the schools, as in enriching the libraries, relief workers can provide from records two things: materials to be used in teaching, and information to be used in policy-making.
[W31] First, as to teaching materials. When the writer of this memorandum went to school in California, the school books, written and printed in the East, took for granted the climate and flora of the East. I read stories about foxes, not coyotes, and the wild flowers that appeared in my reading were not those that I saw in the fields. I suppose it did no harm, but as a teacher I now realize how much better it would have been if the world presented in those books had more nearly resembled the world I saw about me. The idea of tying the teaching of the social studies to the scene of the local community has become one of the objectives of the teaching profession. But for this purpose the foundation of teaching materials is lacking. Consider, for instance, how much could be taught to a grade-school child if the schoolroom possessed not only the relief map of the [p.249] United States but a miniature model of the school district area itself as it was when the white man came, as it was in the 1850’s or at such successive periods as would indicate the main changes in culture! To prepare such materials for visual education would not be mechanically difficult. Relief labor could do it. But underlying the work there would have to be a control of information from the records of the county engineer with respect to roads and streets, from the file of building permits or from other sources with respect to construction, and from the title records and other sources with respect to the use of land. The foundation program in public records and news papers makes possible the foundation program in the preparation of teaching material.
[W32] It is in the upper grades of instruction, however, that the availability of adequate teaching material would be most definitely felt, and this not only in the possible provision of reading material for pupils, but perhaps even more in the supplying of classroom illustration material to the teacher. In every American city there was a particular time when the railroad came to town. The textbooks, published for national circulation, tell of the Baltimore and Ohio. The teacher should be able, quickly and easily, to find the information that would point up the lesson with facts of local pertinence. The textbooks tell of a log cabin, hard-cider campaign of 1840. The teacher should not meet the class without knowing how their own town voted in that election. The provision of this teaching material merges as a practical matter, with the provision of library reference material outlined above.
[W33] Beyond the high-school level, in the colleges and universities, there is place for a new dispensation. In general, for the last few generations scholarship has become professionalized and keyed to the resources of great libraries. The amateur scholar has not kept the place in the world of culture which our great investment in higher education, and our resources of wealth and leisure time, would indicate as appropriate. Here, [p.250] right at our feet, in every community, are mountains of the raw materials of research, never touched, or edited, or used for scholarly purposes. Our Bachelors of Arts are not now expected to be graduated as professional scholars, but if we provide for our adult population great resources of controlled materials for research, we can expect greater participation of the public in the creative work of our culture. And one of these fields will be that of local studies.
[W34] Second, as to policy-forming in our schools. Here a curious situation has arisen. The graduate students in schools of education are turning out tons of dissertations, and still our ignorance of the productivity of our school investment is appalling. In general, we do not know what is being offered in the curriculum of our high schools. Latin fell out of the curriculum, and was practically gone before we knew it. Mathematics may be going the same way. Given the curriculum of our schools, as it would be revealed in a study of course offerings, we do not know what courses of study the students are actually following, what selections they make, in what combinations, and with what success as revealed in the school’s own methods of measurement. Beyond that we do not know what goes on in the classrooms. We do not know how individual choice of courses and individual school experience are related to later vocational career or cultural achievement. Does vocational training in the high school result in a probability that the pupil will actually work in the vocation for which he and the community have made the investment of time and money? We do not know, and many people think that the answer is negative. Do the courses in current events have the effect that the pupils exposed to them are more alive than other pupils to current problems after they leave school? We do not know. How accurate are school judgments on the character of children? Do the records of juvenile and later delinquency indicate that the teachers who made out report cards with appraisals of moral or social qualities were good judges?
[W35] [p.251] Not all of these matters could be investigated from records, but some of them could be investigated. If the present output of research work in the field of education has failed to exhaust matters of such basic importance, the reason lies not in any lack of importance in the problem, but in the fact that the investigation of such things is a factory job, not a craftsman’s job. It requires large-scale and coordinated clerical work with records.
[W36] The public records are a part of the process of government. Where there is no will to efficiency, a change in the record system may have little effect; but where there is a will to efficiency, the whole process of administration will respond to an improvement of administrative records. But there are two principles that could well be worked out. The first has to do with bringing all records of widely kept classes — such as tax records — up at least to the minimum level required by law, and perhaps above that level. The second is so to manage the improvement of records that the various record series, though administered independently by different offices, nevertheless key in with each other.
[W37] For instance, in New York City there are 815,000 parcels of land. If the records of the tax department, the land title and mortgage records, the building construction and inspection records, and records of occupancy are all trued up for current administration and reference by being keyed or indexed under the heads of these same 815,000 land units, the information in each of these different series will be readily available to help in interpreting the information in the other. When the records of one department of public administration are improved, some thought should be given to the importance of making the information they yield more easily comparable with the information yielded by the records of other departments.
[W38] As housing comes more and more to be seen as an area in [p.252] which the public interest is involved, the inadequacy of our knowledge of the basic factors affecting a housing problem comes more clearly to light. For housing as a social problem touches all aspects of urban life-taxation, public services, education, income distribution, transportation, health, and business and financial structure. How rapidly do style changes in housing become effective? The brownstone front and the brick apartment, the urban imitation of a farm house with its front porch, and the Tudor residence of the suburbs with its garage, are points in a sequence in which no locality has exactly the same history, and of which we know very little because our historians of architecture have been more interested in historic houses than ordinary houses, in public buildings than in ordinary residential construction. Yet the facts on style obsolescence will give us vital information on the rate at which new materials and styles will become accepted, and current ones outmoded. Just as in biographical information we can afford to pay more attention to the ordinary man, so in housing information we can afford to learn much more about the ordinary house.
[W39] With the study of the house comes the study of land. The equity of a tax system on land and housing turns in part on the rapidity with which real estate changes hands, reflecting in purchase price the tax situation. In the general formation of capital, and in the credit structure of a community, the real estate mortgage situation is a factor of prime importance. Yet on these matters our records are pitifully defective. The Secretary of the State of Ohio publishes reports on recordings of mortgages and deeds, but the reports for certain years on Cuyahoga County do not check with account of instruments made in the County Recorder’s Office. Why? Because the report was made out and sent to the Secretary of State by some underling in the department who did not take the trouble to count. When questions involving the ability of local communities to sustain a certain share of the relief load were up for decision, and as questions involving differentials under the [p.253] Wages and Hours Act come up, the records are found to fail us because they are inadequately kept and inadequately summarized.
[W40] An example of the type of work that can be done to learn more about city land is furnished by the real property inventories, made by W.P.A. labor in a number of cities. These inventories, like the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror, summarized the situation on land occupancy and rental. But they fell short, technically, of the work of the great English king because he recorded not only the current data, but also the situation as it was in the time of Edward the Confessor. We could make our real property inventories as complete as the Domesday Book; the work could be done by clerks from records, with some help from the decennial population census records. Bear in mind that there are more people in the Boston metropolitan area, or in Brooklyn and Queens, than there were in all England in the time of William the Conqueror.
[W41] The local program ought to control and preserve public records and newspapers, mobilize local library resources, serve the schools. In each community as much or as little can be done as the relief labor situation and the interest of the community require. This part of the program serves national needs in so far as the situation in any one community is typical, or comparable with the situation of another.
[W42] The national jobs are the jobs that need to be done only once for the whole country. Some of them are big, some little. An understanding of the national organization of our world of research and information is necessary to a planning of this part of the program. The institutions involved are the Federal Government with its various departments, the library system of the country as a whole, and the whole system of organized research.
[W43] Some assistance may be given to national government agen[p.254]cies — witness the indexing of the census schedules. Some national government agencies may choose to organize large-scale research projects, such as the survey of health. These are things that the relief program can take in its stride.
[W44] The library system of the country ought to have a union catalogue in book form, like the Gesamtkatalog of the German libraries, so that no one who wants to consult a certain book that happens to be in any American library need go without it for lack of knowledge of its location. The potential usefulness of such a catalogue has been greatly increased in recent years by the development of the technique and practice of micro-copying as a feature of library service. Except for limitations in the case of recent books still under copyright, any book in the country will soon be available anywhere in the country in microfilm form, the film being made to order on demand. It is particularly important that this mobilization of American library resources should take place soon, because European libraries are standing at a turning point in service policy. There is a chance that they may adopt the practice of placing heavy burdens upon microfilm service. Our national answer can only be to show them the wealth of our own resources, so that mutual exchange by micro-copy will seem equitable and profitable to them.
[W45] When we have a comprehensive list of titles in American libraries, the time will come for various comprehensive bibliographies, for the bibliography is useful in proportion as the works referred to in it are available. The comprehensive bibliography on aviation compiled in New York City is an example of what can be done. Even more important as a model is the bibliography and guide to geological literature on Foraminifera. In all bibliographic and control work organized on factory production basis by the W.P.A., the technical problem is always to find objective units of classification. The binomial system of the biological sciences offers such a system of units.
[W46] Beyond this lies the possibility that the purchasing power of [p.255] American libraries may be used more effectively in the acquisition of foreign material. As Europe falls, state by state, under the control of regimes that deny free inquiry to scholars, America becomes more and more the last place in which free scholarship can live. Hence the importance of avoiding wasteful duplication in increasing our library resources of foreign books and periodicals. After the union catalogue will come the union want list — the list of books that ought to be in the country — to be used by libraries in executing their purchasing policies.
[W47] Moreover, the usefulness of foreign works in this country can be greatly increased if they are translated. This is especially true of books in the Central and Eastern European languages. We have thousands of potential translators on our relief rolls. A single typescript copy of a translation, serviced by interlibrary loans, would be sufficient, and is it not appropriate that those who come from abroad should help to make the product of their native culture more useful to America?
[W48] While the library system of the country can be looked upon as a unit, and the big job defined, the whole field of cultural research presents so varied a character that only a few general principles can be applied to it. It is, in the main, a university world, and while it is not wholly enclosed in the universities, at least it is principally organized there. Its conventional techniques are not those which involve the mass use of clerical labor. But on the relief rolls there are always a number of people with genuine technical research training, able to work according to the ordinary methods of scholarship. The policy of allowing a university to assume responsibility for the value of research projects undertaken by its own faculty members with the aid of W.P.A. personnel of this exceptional quality is a sound policy, and should relieve the central administration of much costly and burdensome detail.
[W49] Beyond this, it is necessary to establish contact between the W.P.A. and the national scholarly bodies, to the end that within each field there may be adequate study of the best uses of [p.256]W.P.A. labor. Committees appointed for this purpose by the National Council for the Social Studies, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Council of Learned Societies, will work with such bodies as the Committee on Historical Source Materials of the American Historical Association, and the Joint Committee on Materials for Research, to clear the channels of consultation and action.
[W50] A few general principles should be stated. The edges of each project should be clean cut; the material to be covered should be definite; the factory system rather than the craft system must prevail generally. That which W.P.A. workers can guarantee is, in the main, that they have accurately performed certain definite operations upon certain specific materials. They cannot, in the main, guarantee that they have done the kind of selecting and subjective evaluating that is intrinsic to the craftsmanship of the scholar. Since a task undertaken should be done thoroughly, it should usually be carried back as far as the records go. A study of taxation from records of the past ten years will be most woefully out of date ten years from now. But a study of taxation that runs as far back as the record system permits will always stand as a foundation for later work.
[W51] The administrative unit for work is the project. The unit which scholars are able to help in defining will, in many cases, be a larger unit than a project. The unit that the public will understand ought to be something that is cumulative through many projects. The program will succeed best if the technical men, the scholars and administration, understand it, and the public understands it, but it is not necessary that all should emphasize exactly the same thing in the program.
[W52] Yet the program can mean much more than is shown by its concrete documentary product in improved files and in books on the library shelves if it is so conducted that the public generally comes more and more to share in it. The beginning was [p.257] made when the Historical Records Survey succeeded in making custodians of public records more conscious of the value of archives. Another great forward step will be made when schools concern themselves with the materials and aid in focusing them on educational practices and policies. Ultimately, then, the American people will be more conscious of the possibilities of the democratization and enrichment of our culture.
- June 27, 2012 @ 09:11:11 [Current Revision] by Peter Binkley
- June 27, 2012 @ 09:05:28 by Peter Binkley