Twisting Spirit

Radical Education, Radical Politics, The War on Poverty & the American Library

Author: Kate Adler

Price: $35

Winter/Spring 2023

ISBN: 978-1-63400-123-6

Twisting Spirit: Radical Education, Radical Politics, The War on Poverty & the American Library explores the programs, actions, and initiatives of libraries during the War on Poverty and asks questions about the possibilities and the limitations of the library to ameliorate poverty and to collaborate with communities. This book contextualizes the work of libraries within deeper histories of social movements and mutual aid organizations – from Communists and Anarchists of the early 20th century to Black Panthers and Young Lords in the 1960s – and within radical, community-based education- from anarchist free schools to Black Liberation schools. Threaded throughout these local stories are larger critical and theoretical questions about education, biopower, govermentality, colonialism and race and questions about the discourses of class and poverty in the United States.

From the mid-1960s and into the mid- 1970s, the government funded War on Poverty programs that sought to reach and “empower”  “disadvantaged” populations. The Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) of 1964, funneled money to libraries to develop collaborations with a number of public programs including Head Start, and with Community Action Programs and the Model City Program. There were also Information and Referral Centers, Neighborhood Information Centers, embedded community workers within library branches.  There were libraries embedded in Public Housing complexes, and Community Libraries not run by librarians at all but founded by low income, minority communities.  The book’s title, “Twisting Spirit” takes its name from Michael Harrington’s seminal 1962 study The Other America: Poverty in the United States, which helped to frame War on Poverty legislation. The story of libraries during the War on Poverty era is foregrounded and situated, by looking at two other eras in the twentieth century – The Progressive Era and The New Deal of the 1930s – to provide a deeper historical context.

The project attempts, throughout, to situate poverty within an interdisciplinary framework. It is attentive to the rhetorical, symbolic and representational complexities of poverty and the “figure of the impoverished”. It asks what happens when the concept of poverty and the figure of the impoverished bumps up against, and is animated by, critical theoretical subfields concerned with the cultural production of normativity and otherness.

Kate Adler is the Director of Library Services at Metropolitan College of New York. Kate has an MA in American Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center and an MLIS from Queens College, CUNY. They are a co-editor of Reference Librarianship and Justice: History, Praxis and Practice, along with Eamon Tewell and Ian Beilin.