The Transformative Power of Libraries
This year’s Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, CA focused on the constantly shifting nature of librarianship, and ways that we can prepare ourselves and our libraries for whatever comes next.
Storified by Cecily · Fri, Oct 26 2012 00:42:17
I’ve spent most of my work day sending email to move projects along…
The Ethical Librarian
Basically, we teach at the reference desk because we have a librarian’s commitment to provide access to information conflicting with a professional commitment to honor our student’s external relationships. Teaching a student to look-up an article is, quite simply, just our way of circumscribing what we can’t do.
When I first started working in libraries, I had high minded ideas about teaching people how to use resources, but after awhile, there’s only so much eye-rolling a person can take before they come to the conclusion that giving someone the answer is what’s called for at times, and doesn’t mean we’re providing sub-par customer service. The challenge — and expertise — comes in knowing which service to provide and when.
That’s Mighty White of You…
NPR’s ombudsman wonders When A Popular List Of 100 ‘Best-Ever’ Teen Books Is The ‘Whitest Ever’, whose to blame?
After speaking with editors and studying the poll, I find that the problem was not the experts, but the nature of the poll and the make-up of the audience. This is not to condemn either—let’s celebrate engagement!—but it does raise a question as to how NPR should protect its editorial integrity when publishing a popularity list that realistically will be taken as NPR’s own and have great influence in schools and sales.
My short and somewhat snarky answer? It’s a listicle, people. Relax.
My somewhat longer answer: Given the demographics of NPR’s audience, I’m not sure why we expected a different result. I don’t think that getting library and publishing professionals involved in vetting what is essentially a popularity contest is the answer. It smacks of a soft paternalism that I’m uncomfortable with. I do know that regardless of NPR’s stature as a media tastemaker, I don’t put any more weight behind their list of 100 Best Ever Books than I would behind Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Best Albums Ever (or Pitchfork — choose your generational signifier). Neither should you. This was a numbers game, and the makeup of the numbers — fairly or not — skewed the list in a particular direction.
As professionals, from the time we enter library school to the time we accept our first entry-level job, we’re taught to make sure we consult a variety of sources when making collection decisions. NPR shouldn’t be the only arbiter of what is cool or ‘best’. If you’re genuinely concerned about this issue, and if you’re a librarian/teacher/bookseller who wants to expose your readers to more diverse works, you can continue to do that, even while being supportive of and promoting the NPR list. It’s not my intention to gloss over issues of diversity, but what I am saying is that library professionals continue to wield a significant amount of influence with our local communities. NPR’s list, no matter how good or how short-sighted, won’t take that away from us.
Riddles, Puzzles, Jerky Co-Workers, and Information Architecture
When I worked as a library assistant in the circulation department of my undergraduate library, I had a nasty habit of chaining together all the paperclips in our paperclip holder, but positioning them in such a way that they looked like individual paperclips. Not content to clip them end-to-end, I would double back and create really complex, helix-like strands of clips so that when you picked up the one paperclip on top, you would either pull out one long contiguous chain, or pull out something that looked like a metallic ball of twine. Today I used this as a metaphor to describe the information architecture on my library’s website.
File Under: Eating my own dog food.
How Libraries Empower Women, Strengthen Healthcare, and Bridge the Education Gap – from the Gates Foundation
This is one of the greatest moments in television punditry. Melissa Harris-Perry goes off on a panelist who dared to make the comment that being wealthy is riskier than being poor. That moment reminded me of a quote I read in a piece by the Crunk Feminist Collective:
One of the ways White supremacy and sexism works is through a putative disavowal of emotion as a legitimate form for expressing thought. Women and Black people are overly emotional, so the conventional wisdom goes. We have been taught to overcompensate for this stereotype by being overly composed, even when anger is warranted. And we are wholly unprepared when our emotions start to split the seams of our tightly put on public selves. Perhaps it’s time to change clothes, and intentionally put on something that gives us room to breathe.
For me, that has meant embracing my own crunkness. Why go off when I can GET CRUNK? And by that I mean I can make an intentional choice to use my legitimate and righteous anger in an honest and compassionate way that is potentially transformative.
This is something I struggle with quite a bit at work. I’m one of two black librarians at MPOW, and sometimes I think what some colleagues read as anger — because I don’t frame my arguments in a dispassionate, remote manner, and because my true feelings are always written all over my face — is read incorrectly because it’s different, because I’m different. We talk about diversity in the workplace, but it seems that there still is only one right way to present a position, and more often than not, I feel as if I never get it right. I wonder if I were in an environment where my minority status wasn’t quite so obvious if I’d still face the same challenges, or if there would be enough cultural shorthand and similarity going around where people could shrug off my “passion” and get to the heart of what I’m saying. I don’t suppose that’s something I’ll ever know, what with living in Vancouver and all.
So instead of getting angry, I’m going to learn to GET CRUNK about the changes I’d like to see. I’m going to learn to harness eloquent rage, even at the risk of alienating others. Part of this process of learning to evangelize myself is learning how to speak the truth without fear.