Friday, November 14, 2014

Librarian Jim Green Talks Junto

In September 2013 Geoff DiMasi, principal at the South Philadelphia web design firm P’unk Avenue, organized a two-day meeting that he called the Junto Retreat.  According its website, it was “a place for business leaders to talk about how to make a positive impact.”  Afterwards Geoff said, “While they were interested in personal improvement, there was also this idea of making the city and the places they lived, the community they lived in, a better place."  The common bond for those gathered, he said, was an affinity for "ideas like 'for profit, for good' or 'not-just-for-profit' business models."  It was a big success, and he promised to hold a second Junto Retreat this year.

Geoff and the other organizers were of course modeling their Junto on Franklin’s “Club for Mutual Improvement,” which first met in the fall of 1727, so this year they decided to begin their 2014 meeting with some background on the original Junto.  Years before, Geoff was an MFA student in the Book Arts Program at the University of the Arts, where he took a course at the Library Company on the history of the book taught by Librarian Jim Green.  The class always began with a little talk about the Junto, so Geoff asked Jim to do something like that for his group.

And so it was on a rainy Saturday in September, Jim found himself standing just under the pulpit at historic Christ Church, only a few feet from Franklin’s pew, preaching Franklin’s secular gospel of doing well by doing good to the fifty or so participants of the second Junto Retreat.  The burden of his talk was simply that the Library Company, which was a direct outgrowth of the Junto, was the first American voluntary association, and thus the progenitor of thousands of other ad hoc community and social groups.  In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”  Voluntary associations were then and still are a unique feature of American life, and all of them carry the DNA of the Library Company.  

See page 3 at this link for lots of good pictures.

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