Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2020

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dan Schubert

Language

English

Abstract

It is fair to assume that the average American knows how to use the library. They know how to maneuver inside, whether to borrow a book, access a desktop computer, sign up for a free group class, pay off a fine, or simply enjoy the air-conditioning. If they do not know, they can always ask members of the library. At first glance, the library is a self-explanatory, neutral space that is welcoming to all. Looking deeper, however, the library possesses a history, a set of expectations on how to act, and layers of meaning that are not as obvious. These meanings likely go unnoticed compared to, say, the classic American diner with its curlicue signage hanging above the storefront, the service bar running the length of the restaurant, spinning bar stools padded with bright red upholstery, Formica tabletops, and a jukebox playing classic rock. There is an obvious conveyance of the American diner experience: come in, eat a hefty American breakfast, socialize at the bar with the locals, gab with the waiter/waitress, and enjoy the American-ness of the space. Just like the diner, which conveys a particular meaning and sets expectations on how to act inside, other physical spaces and infrastructures, including libraries, possess their own intended and unintended meanings that guide behavior and belief. Although the meaning of the library space is not as obvious, it possesses meaning and a consensus as to how it should be used. In this thesis, I argue that what undercuts that consensus are notions of exclusion, race, and whiteness.

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