Syllabus for CUA Public Libraries class


(As of 4/9/17. If you are enrolled in the Summer, 2017 course, check Blackboard for any changes. )

The Catholic University of America

School of Arts & Sciences
Department of Library and Information Science


LSC 889: Public Libraries

Summer, 2017


3 Credit Hours

Classroom CSL #315 Information Commons

Tuesdays, 6:00-8:30pm


Instructor contact information:

Manya Shorr

719-244-8281 (emergencies only) (preferred contact)

Office hours by appointment

Course Description (from Cardinal Station

The seminar in public libraries explores aspects of the public library within the context of demographic and technological changes and shifting economic and political forces. This course will place emphasis on the interrelationship of the public library with these forces.

 Required Text

Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library by Wayne A. Wiegand

Various weekly readings (see individual class descriptions for more information)

Recommended Texts

See links in individual class descriptions.

Course Goals

  • Expose the student to the historical and current missions of the American public library.
  • Give the student a broad overview of what working in a public library entails.
  • Increase the student’s understanding of the different types of public libraries: urban, suburban, large/small, rural/small.


Goals for Student Learning

  • Students can articulate the mission of public library, past and present.
    • The final assignment will demonstrate if students have achieved this outcome.
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of the daily work of a public librarian.
    • The visit to a public library and subsequent written assignment will show reveal this knowledge.
  • Students will be able to articulate the components, structure, budget, and staffing of a variety of different types and sizes of public libraries.
    • Through a series of exercises, students will conduct research and be assessed as to their ability to articulate differences in public libraries.


Course Requirements

Every class will have:

  • A discussion about the assigned reading. Students are expected to come to class having read the material. This discussion will continue after class ends on Blackboard.
  • A primary discussion topic that will change every week.
  • An assignment. The assignment is due no later than midnight the day of class. This means that all assignments must be submitted into Blackboard by 11:59pm on Monday, the night before class.


  • Final project. See description in the August 8th
    • 40 points
  • Class participation
    • 20 points
  • Blackboard discussion participation (minimum of one post per week in response to posted weekly topic)
    • 20 points
  • Homework assignments
    • 20 points


A:        100-94

A-:       93-90

B+:      88-89

B:        84-87

B-:       80-83

C:        70-79

F:         0-69


 May 9

  • Introductions
  • Structure of the class and expectations
  • Primary topic: Letter to myself (or, what does the public library mean to me?) UNGRADED
    • In this exercise, students will write a letter to themselves that will be given back to them before the course ends. For this letter, they should answer these questions:
      • What is a public library?
      • What is the most important service a public library offers?
      • What is your earliest memory of visiting a public library?
      • What do you think it’s like to work in a public library? Describe how you would spend your day.
    • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on May 15)
      • Choose three public libraries that you will examine throughout the course. One must be large (can be suburban or urban), one small or rural (population served 50,000 or smaller), and one library system of your choice. Please do not choose DC Public Library.
      • In Blackboard, let the class know which library systems you have selected and why. Give a brief description of each library system.
        • Include:
          • Name of library system
          • City and state
          • Website
          • Number (if any) of branches and central locations
          • Number of open hours each week (total across the system)
          • Size of population served. (might need to use American Fact Finder to find this information)
          • Why you chose this library

May 16

  • Discussion of required reading: Introduction and chapter 1 from Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library
    • Chapter name: “Improv’d the General Conversations of Americans”: Social Libraries before 1854
  • Primary Topic: Structure of public libraries
    • City/county
    • Non-profit
    • Independent taxing district
    • Library boards
    • Relationships with other city/county agencies
  • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on May 22)
    • In Blackboard, describe the structure of your three libraries.
      • Include:
        • Organization structure. If available, include organizational chart for the library
        • Governing structure. Questions to answer:
          • Is there a Library Board of Trustees (called different things at different libraries)
          • How is the board appointed? What is their length of service? What is their role?
          • How does the city/county classify the library? For example, is it viewed as an educational or recreational institution?


May 23

  • Discussion of required reading: Chapter 2 from Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library
    • Chapter: For ‘Plain People’: The American Public Library 1854-1876
  • Primary Topic: Public Library budgets
    • The budget of most public libraries guides every decision, initiative, and service offered. It is critical for public librarians to understand how budgets are allocated.
  • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on May 29)
    • In Blackboard, answer these questions for each of your libraries:
      • Name of city/county, name of library
      • What is the population that is served by the library?
      • How many buildings does the library have to staff and maintain?
      • What is the total annual budget?
      • What percentage goes for personnel services?
      • How is the rest of the budget used?
      • Give your thoughts about how the budget is spent. In your opinion, is the library making good choices with their budget? What would you do differently?


May 30

  • Discussion of required reading: Chapter 3 from Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library
    • Chapter: “The Best Reading for the Greatest Number at the Least Cost”: 1876-1893
  • Primary Topic: Programming, Services, Outreach
    • The primary focus for most public libraries is opening the doors every day. Once that’s accomplished, libraries allocate their professional staff in three areas: services, programs, and outreach.
    • Services: Ongoing, permanent or semi-permanent offerings that generally result in an accomplishment for the participant. Usually requires registration and often specially trained staff. Examples include GED classes, citizenship classes.
    • Programs: Series or one-off general offerings that tend to be for fun but often have an educational bent. Usually these are drop-in except when there are capacity issues. Examples include storytimes, books clubs.
    • Outreach: Targeted programs and/or services that are offered outside the library building, such as at schools, daycares, senior centers. Examples include any of the above plus some one-time events, like parades and festivals. The defining factor is that it takes place outside the library.
  • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on June 5)
    • Familiarize yourself with Public Library Association’s Project Outcome Read the Project Outcome Annual Report.
    • In Blackboard, answer these questions about your three libraries:
      • Give three examples of each of the categories above from each library. Generally, you will find these in the calendar portion of the website. Give the name and any description you find.
      • Is there an equal balance of each of the three? If not, name them in order of resource allocation.
      • Explore the library’s website. If they have an annual report, how do they talk about these three areas of focus? Do they appear to favor one over the others? Is there any information about attendance or impact of the offerings?

June 6

  • Discussion of required reading: Chapter 4 from Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library
    • Chapter: “The Liberty to Read What They Will and When”: The Carnegie Era, 1893-1917
  • Primary Topic: Library as space
    • This week we will explore the things that libraries do and offer that do not seem very much like the library people often think about.
    • We will watch PLA President-Elect, Pam Sandlian Smith’s Tedx talk.
    • Read the Wikipedia entry for Third Place.
  • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on June 12)
    • Read Psychology Today’s article about the Third Place
    • Post on Blackboard your thoughts about your three public libraries and their role as Third Place. Consider:
      • Is the library a Third Place?
      • What does the library do well and what needs to be worked on?
      • If available, find the rules of the behavior for your three libraries and read them. Do the rules support the library being a Third Place? Why or why not? What would you change?
      • Which offerings are passive and which are active?

 June 13

  • Discussion of required reading: Chapter 5 from Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library
    • Chapter: “Habitations on a Literary Map”: 1917-1929
  • Primary Topic: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion—what does this look like in a public library?
  • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on June 19)
    • Post on Blackboard your thoughts about your three public libraries and their role as places that honor equity, diversity, and inclusion. Consider:
      • Is there a collection development policy listed on their website. Read it. Does it cover aspects of equity, diversity, and inclusion?
        • Can you figure out how to challenge a book or other material on the website?
      • Examine the calendars of the three libraries. Are they offering an inclusive suite of programs? Do they appear to be making a concerted effort to be inclusive?
      • Finally, share your thoughts about the report from the ALA Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

June 20

 June 27

  • Primary Topic: NO IN PERSON CLASS
  • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on July 3)
    • Visit a public library of your choice and report back in Blackboard.
      • Attend a program. This can be any program for any age. If it’s a program for children, you should ask permission to attend without a child.
        • Name of program
        • Focus (age and/or topic)
        • Description in library calendar
        • Was the program well thought out and organized?
        • What was the attendance? If it’s a children’s program, break down attendance by age.
        • Other comments and observations
      • Walk around the building and answer these questions:
        • Approximately how many patrons are in the library? Name day and time.
        • How many service points does the library have? Are they staffed?
        • Ask for help (you pick the question!). How was the service you received? Were you greeted? Was your question answered?
        • How does the building feel? Is it warm and inviting? Are there comfortable places to sit? Is food/drink allowed?
        • What are most patrons doing in the building?
        • List any other observations you have about the building. Consider also: accessibility, parking, public transportation, and anything else that comes to mind.

July 4  no class

July 11

  • Discussion of required reading: Chapter 7 from Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library
    • Chapter: “Winning the Battles of Daily Life”: 1945-1964
  • Primary Topic: Large/urban libraries
  • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on July 17)
    • Examine ALA’s The Nation’s Largest Public Libraries Choose one of the top 25 public libraries listed (by size of population served) and post on Blackboard a description that touches on these questions. You may need to use American Fact Finder to answer some of these questions.
      • What is the ethnic/racial makeup of the service population?
      • What percentage of the population lives in poverty? Speaks English as a second language? Have low literacy skills?
      • What percentage of the population is under 18 years old?
      • Examine their program and service offerings. Do they reflect the population you’ve described lives in the service area? Explain.
      • Spend time on the library’s website. Look at the list of electronic resources offered. Peruse their press releases and minutes from library board meetings. Is there anything that stands out to you? Did you learn anything about large libraries that you did not know before?
      • What type of staff do you think this library is hiring? What qualities do you imagine they are looking for?

July 18

  • Discussion of required reading: Chapter 8 from Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library
    • Chapter: “An Individual Meaning to Each User”: 1964-1980
  • Additional reading: How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities. Pew Research
  • Primary Topic: Is this really a library?
    • Special Guest Rebecca Stavick, Executive Director of Do Space Omaha, NE
  • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on July 24)
    • Spend time reading through the Do Space website and read the NPR story about them.
    • Explore the website of the Idea Store
    • Read about Texas’s “bookless library” in Bexar County.
    • Read this commentary about digital libraries.
    • On Blackboard, write your thoughts about digital libraries. Are they libraries? Do they compete with the public library? Are they the future?


July 25

  • Discussion of required reading: Chapter 9 from Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library
    • Chapter: “Library Paste is a Precious Part of the Social Glue”: 1981-2000
  • From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers–and beyond: A typology of public library engagement in America. Pew Research.
  • Primary Topic: Small/rural libraries
    • Special guest: Carrie Wilson-Plymire, Director, Calvert County Library, MD
  • This week’s assignment: (due by 11:59pm on July 31)
    • Spend time on the Calvert County Library and Calvert County Familiarize yourselves with the County, including population size, demographics information, and library programs and services.
    • Bring 3 questions to ask Carrie. Put the questions on Blackboard and share your thoughts about her answers. Is a small library what you expected? What did you learn?

 August 1

August 8

  • Final class! First day letters returned
  • Primary Topic: Employment in public libraries
    • Types of jobs
    • How to get a job in a public library
    • Where to look for jobs
  • This week’s assignment: Final assignment (due by 11:59pm on August 12)
    • For your final assignment, you will write a “biography” of your ideal public library. Should include information about the service area, mission/vision statement, population, budget, funding cycles, staffing, job classifications (who does what), programs and services offered, etc.
      • To consider:
        • What is important to my library?
        • Do we prioritize one user over another? For example, is our focus children or seniors or teenagers or do we try to serve everyone equally?
        • What is our mission? Our vision?
        • Where will my library be in 5 years? 10 years?
        • Why is my library essential to my city/county?
      • Format can be in any format you’d like. This may include:
        • Written like an annual report
        • An infographic
        • A well done and well edited video
        • 3-d printed
        • Stop animation
        • A play
        • You get the idea. As long as all the information is included, well thought out, and coherent, I will accept any format.


Recommended Readings


Criteria   Achievement Level    
Assignment Weight Poor (0-40) Satisfactory (41-80) Commendable (81-100)
Class participation 20 points Student shows a lack of respect for members of the group and the discussion process. Often dominates the discussion or disengages from the process. When contributing, can be argumentative or dismissive. Contributions to the discussion are more often based on opinion or unclear views than on reasoned arguments or positions based on the readings. Comments or questions suggest a difficulty in following complex lines of argument or student’s arguments are convoluted and difficult to follow. Student either is unable to adequately understand and interpret the material or has frequently come to class unprepared, as indicated by serious errors or an inability to answer basic questions or contribute to discussion.


Student shows respect for members of the class and for the method of shared inquiry and peer discussion. Participates regularly in the discussion but occasionally has difficulty accepting challenges to his/her ideas or maintaining respectful attitude when challenging others’ ideas. Arguments or positions are reasonable and mostly supported by evidence from the readings. Usually listens well and takes steps to check comprehension by asking clarifying and probing questions, and making connections to earlier comments. Responds to ideas and questions offered by other participants. Student has read and understood the readings as evidenced by oral contributions. The work demonstrates a grasp of the main ideas and evidence but sometimes interpretations are questionable.


Student has carefully read and understood the readings as evidenced by oral contributions; familiarity with main ideas, supporting evidence and secondary points. Comes to class prepared with questions and critiques of the readings. Student shows respect for members of the class, both in speech and manner, and for the method of shared inquiry and peer discussion. Does not dominate discussion.   Arguments or positions are reasonable and supported with evidence from the readings. Often deepens the conversation by going beyond the text, recognizing implications and extensions of the text.


Blackboard discussion participation 20 points Student does not post weekly.


In addition to the criteria used for class participation, the student posts the required number of post per week. Student struggles to articulate their position in an online format and does not demonstrate that they are reading their colleagues posts.


In addition to the criteria used for class participation, student posts above the minimum number of one post per week. Student actively engages with other students and displays critical thinking skills, an ability to disagree but also their mind be changed by the arguments of other students.


Homework assignments 20 points Student does not submit the weekly homework assignment or Writing lacks logical organization. It shows some coherence but ideas lack unity. Shows some thinking and reasoning but most ideas are underdeveloped and unoriginal. Spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors create distraction, making reading difficult; fragments, comma splices, run-ons evident. Errors are frequent.


Writing is coherent and logically organized. Some points remain misplaced and stray from the topic. Content indicates thinking and reasoning applied with original thought on a few ideas. Main points are present with limited detail and development. Some critical thinking is present. Most spelling, punctuation, and grammar correct allowing reader to progress though essay. Some errors remain.


Writing shows high degree of attention to logic and reasoning of points. Content indicates synthesis of ideas, in- depth analysis and evidences original thought and support for the topic. Essay is free of distracting spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors; absent of fragments, comma splices, and run-ons.


Final assignment 40 points Student does not complete the assignment or student does not demonstrate knowledge that should have been obtained throughout the semester. Project shows the student’s lack of understanding of the structure of a public library or how decisions are made. Knowledge obtained through the required text is not evident in the assignment.


Assignment is complete but little creativity is displayed. Format is standard text. Student displays some knowledge of the content covered throughout the course, including the required text.


Creativity runs high. Student uses a format that displays a deep understanding of the content and highlights their skill set. Student demonstrates understanding of all aspects of public libraries covered throughout the course. Student demonstrates that they read and absorbed the required text through the semester.



University grades:

The University grading system is available at for undergraduates and for graduate students.

Reports of grades in courses are available at the end of each term on .


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