Librarians

“Because simply collecting materials does not require a professional; making sense and use of those materials does.” Dave Lankes, 157

I recently talked to my friend on the phone the other day, and was so excited to tell her all about Syracuse and my program. The first question she asked was, “So, have you learned the Dewey Decimal system yet?” When I said no, she was shocked and asked, “What are you learning?”

To her, and most people, librarianship is about collecting materials. To the general public, we spend our days shelving books, salivating over the Dewey Decimal system, and on our lunch breaks, buy new cat sweaters online. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered such a view, but I think it’s the first time I’ve been able to articulate, at least to myself, that what I’ve been learning about librarianship goes far beyond the stereotype.

Well, my response to her probably wasn’t eloquent, and all she probably heard was me rambling about changing the world, having conversations with the community and creating programs that serve the interest of patrons, and using technology as a tool to facilitate knowledge.  When put on the spot, you want to make librarianship sound really cool (which it is) and tell them all the innovative things people are doing everyday. It turns out, it’s actually hard to describe these concepts to people in a thoughtful way that makes sense. They aren’t expecting to hear these things, so to them, it’s all just inspired ramblings that sound nice, but they don’t really understand, because it contradicts everything they know about the field.

At the end of my attempt to impart my new knowledge, she told me, “Well I’m glad you’re finding it exciting. I was worried it would be too dry.” At this point, I pretty much gave up, and decided no matter how supportive some people may be, they may never truly get what librarianship really is. A lot of people do have this collection centered view (not to mention, the idea that our jobs are boring). And not only as my friend she has this view, but as a library member in her own community, this is her expectation as well.

So now that I’ve read all of this, and am excited about new librarianship, what do I do now? (Besides practicing eloquent answers that makes Superman look like a pansy compared to librarians.) Professor Lankes gives some helpful tips at the end of the threads about some practical ways to make these changes. And I think that no matter what I say, the changes and stereotypes can only be changed through action.

I’m interested in School Media, so hopefully through my actions, kids can start to see librarianship as something different than the stereotypes in place now, starting at a young age. Until then, I think being involved in new projects at school, talking to current librarians, getting involved in the community sooner rather than later, and not only learning from my library observations/internships/practicum, but always finding ways to improve the things I observe and do.

The second part of the quote above, emphasizes making sense and the use of materials as a determining factor of being a librarian. I think if you use materials in thoughtful and meaningful ways to serve a patron, then new librarianship is taking place. Professor Lankes also mentions, that new librarianship doesn’t have to always be new ideas and programs. Through the everyday use of materials, it can be a determinable way to see if action is truly taking place within the community. And a motivating way to start action in small places, and then move to a larger scale.

So hopefully the next time I get asked this question what are you learning, I will have a lot of examples to show them, rather than just tell them.

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Improve Society

I found myself agreeing with a lot of the points Lankes made throughout the “Improve Society” thread. When he started talking about bias, as being present and crucial to knowledge, I couldn’t agree more. One quote I really liked was on page 122, “The means of providing safety and security, and even freedom, is not, I repeat, not to be unbiased. You can’t be.” I agree that our brains search for patters, as Lankes mentions, and we have existing views that will always influence our decisions. It always bothered me how a lot of people think science and math is an unbiased profession, and some how being unbiased is some sort of ideal to strive for. But, scientists are trying to prove something out of a biased hypothesis, and they are linking together the results of unbiased data to create a biased response to it.

Like Lankes, I think we need to stop focusing on being unbiased, and start recognizing what our biases are–and what ways we can implement them in librarianship. One thing that attracted me to this field, is that so many people came from different areas of study: English, History, Anthropology, Education, Music, Russian Literature, Business, etc. We all should take our biases we created in undergrad and figure out how to implement them as future librarians–and how to listen, learn and incorporate biases that differ from ours to better serve the community.

Knowledge definitely has a bias, and needs a bias. Isn’t that how conversation works? Two opposing views, or similar views, discussing a topic and gaining knowledge. Without the conversant having a view point, then it’s not a conversation. One of the most important sayings I learned in my undergrad through my English major, and writing papers is asking the question, “So what?” I think that’s an important one to ask when seeking knowledge. So what? What’s the point? If it is just to gather facts, regurgitate data, then why are we doing it? Going a step further and creating some sort of analysis, idea or action improves society. If someone is writing a paper and just spitting out facts, without arguing something, then so what, why should we listen? If librarians are just handing out information, and being the keepers of unbiased information, not going the step further, then the conversation stops at receiving the information. And the key element, action, is over looked and missed.

Communities

This thread in the Atlas brought up many important ideas about what consists of a community, and what our responsibility is to our communities.

Throughout the thread, Lankes splits up different communities: public, academic, government, special, school and archives. Many people think of all these communities as separate, that one does not really influence the other. Even though I am going into school media, it is important to see the other types of communities at work in other areas– to learn from what they are doing and engage in those conversations of change as well.

Another important point was on page 109 when Lankes discusses what types of questions librarians should be asking to better understand what the community wants. I agree that questions like “How do you use the library?” and “What do you want?” are not helpful, and don’t pinpoint specific needs. Even as a library student, I have no idea how I would answer those questions. What do I want? A completed assignment, a good grade, and an endless supply of coffee. And I don’t really think it would be helpful for a library to take those things into consideration.

I can think of so many times I’ve been asked to do customer service surveys and have gotten questions like, “How would you rate your overall service/experience?”, and “Did we help you today?”. I’m not saying the job of a librarian is a customer service job,far from it, but I do think the questions we are asking about libraries are the library equivalent of a customer service survey. Generic, boring, and does not give specific results.

And the most important thing–no one ever takes customer service surveys seriously.

The questions are generic, and don’t really help the library understand what services the community needs. I found the stories about libraries offering writing centers, and music centers inspiring as it promoted a place where the community could come and interact with their colleagues sharing the same interest. Instead of asking “What do you want?”, libraries should be asking questions like, “Would you participate in a music center? And what are some of the things you would like to have? What do you think it needs?”. I’m not saying these are THE questions people should be asking, but at least multiple part questions that lead to a dialogue.  Also, not focusing questions about what people want, but more importantly, what they need in their communities, and how the library can achieve their needs.

 

 

 

 

“Facilitating”

First things first. I’m going to share my favorite READ poster:

http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=581

Alan Rickman. And I like that he’s reading The Catcher in the Rye.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I agree with Professor Lankes about the posters. Although Alan and Yoda are awesome, and show that yes, reading is fun, someone could put “Eat Broccoli” on a poster, “Exercise”, or any other activity, and someone out there will relate to the celebrity, and think it’s a fun activity. Because, to me, that’s the overall point of marketing–use celebrities to sell something.

I like the quote on page 74 of The Atlas of New Librarianship, “Fiction is every bit as empowering and radical as any manifesto.”  In large political revolutions, the books are usually the first to get burned or banned, and the writers who speak out get in trouble by the government. Because they are the ones asking difficult questions, or using poems and newspaper articles to inspire change. They are living their lives by “Ask” posters, as Professor Lankes suggests, and creating action, not just digesting information.

I agree, that power does not have to be on a large political scale. But power could mean that a shy student now feels confident voicing their opinion in class, because while they read, they came up with an interesting question they want the answer to. Small individual change, can have a large impact. And giving individuals power, is ultimately our goal–by giving them the tools and information to give themselves ways to improve their lives.

So maybe to get more people to go to the library, we should instead put verbs like “Ask”, “Travel”, “Change”, “Help”, “Inspire”, and “Create”. Because, that’s what conversations around fiction, and the information in the library, do. But that’s more difficult than printing new words on posters. Because a lot of people do feel like a library is a neutral, unbiased place, full of quiet books and quiet people. By putting new words on posters, we would have to think differently about the purpose of a library. Most people do think it is just a warehouse of information, and not a warehouse of the possibility of so many types of new conversations. Besides librarians, I would venture to say that not many people associate the library as a place of action. And would people be receptive to thinking about the library this way?

I’m not sure if changing the posters would be well received. I don’t know if there’s an answer to that. But I do know, that we need to encourage people to do more than just acknowledge that Professor Snape likes to read, too.