Exploring Community through the Lens of Print Culture

Tonyia J. Tidline

School of Library and Information Studies

University of Alabama



As LIS educators, one of the ways we connect with our larger communities is by preparing our students for effective and innovative practice. We have long believed that such preparation hinges not on vocational or trade-based training, but on teaching theoretical principles that compel our graduates to ask deeper questions and derive astute, supple solutions that reflect community and constituent information needs or interests.  Courses in print culture and book history support such sensibility. Print culture studies reinforce awareness of continual evolution of conception, communication, and reception of the written word. Moreover, by emphasizing sociopolitical and economic contexts, print culture/book history topics remind our students of the human energies that accompany the need for information exchange. Print culture tenets tell us tensions between information haves and have-nots and notions of “connectivity” are not unique to the advent of personal computer technology. Intellectual property, paratextual affects of information organization and design, and materiality (medium as message) are longstanding themes in history of the book that face LIS today. Through the lens of print culture, it becomes evident that people-to-people (rather than analog-to-digital) investigations yield the kind of understanding that extends our professional capacity to relate to our communities. 


This multiple-case study (Miller and Brewer) uses student projects from a print culture/book history course to illustrate LIS involvement with community. Instances  include: 1) a study of the Cherokee Phoenix Newspaper that elevates the Cherokee syllabary and excavates old type and printing to reveal emotional dimensions of communication within the Trail of Tears;  2) an investigation of library history and colonialism in Africa that resonates with contemporary educational demands; 3) a postcard poetry project that recalls the “mail art” movement; 4) an ambitious plan to publish – in book form – fan fiction that originated on the Web; 5) a student exhibition of artists’ books; and 6) visual literacy aspects of The University of Alabama Publisher’s Bindings Online project. The projects vary in scope, but share an origin in print culture