Some people were talking about their philosophies of librarianship recently. I’ve never had to write one up formally (and I hope I never have to). But some points I might include keep floating through my head in vague but important-feeling ways.
Librarianship is collaborative by nature. Nothing we have or do makes any sense at all unless it’s connected with our community’s needs (however “community” is defined). The more separate and distinct it is, the less vitality it has. In my world, all of this means that my work matters to the degree that I work with faculty, students, staff, and my library colleagues, and the degree to which they work with me.
I specialize a little bit, but I think there’s great strength in specializing in general research support. On a college campus, it can be hard to make a case for that kind of strength, but often when I feel I’m contributing most to the mission of the college it’s when I’m speaking from the position of generalist. I see students from all over the curriculum every day. That’s a different kind of knowledge of the campus.
Librarianship has to balance access and preservation. I want as much of each as possible, but sometimes they don’t get along very well in the real world of budgets and finite space and license agreements.
Librarians teach. Some are hired particularly for this purpose, so they spend a lot of time working at honing those skills and building up teacher expertise, but everyone teaches to some degree or another, directly or indirectly, in whatever capacity they serve in the library.
Librarians are kind of the Keepers of the Light of Information Literacy. And yet, ideally Information Literacy happens outside of librarianship. What’s better than me being good at this stuff? My students and colleagues being good at this stuff while doing work that matters to them, that’s what. So it behooves me to work creatively with people to see how close to that ideal we can come as a community.
So that’s a start. Now if I could just get the vague but important-feeling ideas about my philosophy of information literacy to coalesce a bit more… but that will have to wait for another time.
I had a great conference at ACRL 2011. And as normally happens to me at a conference, this conference developed a theme organically for me as pieces and parts of different sessions stood out and grabbed my attention — a bright shining thread spun itself out of the various sessions and strung itself through the conversations and presentations and plans. What wasn’t so normal for me about this organic theme is that it aligned with the conference’s publicly stated slogan: A Declaration of Interdependence. I normally pay little attention to slogans, so I admit being a little peeved when I had a moment of insight and then realized that ACRL had predicted it. I felt kind of like I had invented the solution to 2+2 and then been told, “Yeah, that was the point of arithmetic, silly.” But regardless, there was that shining thread materializing in front of me: interdependence is the key — it might solve everything.
Here’s how I arrived there in three chronological steps.
- I attended a session about developing collaborations with campus faculty, and the whole session revolved around this sense that faculty were somehow a problem to be solved. The conversation revolved around librarians feeling misunderstood and begging for recognition as professionals. It did not, however, tell me much about collaborative relationships. It left me feeling a little sad.
- Then I went to a session about developing our own communities of practice (presented by my new librarian crush, Char Booth). This conversation encouraged us to foster and revel in our communities of practice, appreciating them for what they are and constantly honing our practice. And this session said a whole lot about vibrant and collaborative relationships, their power, and how each piece of the collaboration strengthens the whole and strengthens the individual.
- Then came the Raj Patel keynote about the vast interdependent networks of variables that determine how things work in our world — farming, household labor, environment, policy, production, and culture all contribute to the price of a hamburger, for example. He pointed out that the Tea Party (no, not that Tea Party, the original one) hadn’t been about overthrowing the East India Company, but about “negotiating interdependence from a position of power” (a phrase I just love). No one thing works by itself, and things working together in a system are strong as a system specifically because the parts are different but working together.
And so there I was, inventing 2+2, and realizing that our systemic insecurity about our roles on our campuses and even amongst our colleagues could be one of the things that’s preventing us from really participating in this ecosystem as fully as we might. We could be just as guilty as anyone else of not appreciating the role we do or could play in that interdependent environment, so we’re trying to say “We’re like you trees in all these important ways, so value us” when in fact the trees depend on us birds to distribute their seeds and we depend on their fruit and their branches. We’re not negotiating our interdependence from a position of power, and so we’re dependent (resonance with the Big Deal, anyone?). Strength, freedom, and self-assurance lie in interdependence.
It boggles my mind a little that loss of interlibrary loan services is so detrimental to academic library services that it can be cited over and over in an anti-trust complaint as a means of coercing business, and yet we haven’t made more of a stink about the non-lendable nature of the digital collections we’re all building with abandon. At my library well over 90% of our journals are electronic, as are a smaller but growing percentage of our books, and most of these things are not lendable. And we haven’t even gone as digital as a lot of libraries have.
What gives? Is it just because this is all so cool and future-y that we bend over and take our lashes like good little co-dependent gate-keepers? I guess we haven’t learned our lessons yet.
This week I had a post published over at ACRLog called The Age of Big Access. It starts:
While we were all busy wondering what it means to be a librarian in the Age of Google, we got flanked. This is not the Age of Google after all. That was just a distraction — a clever and dazzling light show. Meanwhile, behind the curtain, a totally different age was gathering itself: The Age of Big Access.
And even though I’ve had a couple of months to ponder this stuff since drafting it, my last two sentences still stand: “I was pretty comfortable with my role as an instruction librarian in the Age of Google. I’m totally at sea trying to figure out my role as an instruction librarian in the Age of Big Access.” I want access like an addict wants a hit, but maybe it’s killing me.
I realized today that I haven’t attended a conference since the fall of 2008. This brought me up short. I think of myself as attending about two national conferences per year, but apparently that’s not the case any more and hasn’t been for quite a while. I’ve heard from others who haven’t traveled to a conference in a few years because of budget cuts, so I know I’m not the only one who’s mostly stayed home for a while, but I hadn’t really thought about it until just today because I was never told I couldn’t travel — I just started deciding with each new announcement of an upcoming conference that I could skip that one that year, that there would be other conferences. And now here I am. I’ve skipped them all.
I miss seeing my libraryland friends face to face, I miss seeing other places that I don’t otherwise visit, and I miss the dedicated time to think about libraries without actually working in one right that second. But what I haven’t lost is the networking, discussion, and general information sharing that keep me up to date with the world of libraries. That’s all still going on every day in my computer, thanks to the Library Society of the World and its FriendFeed room.
I hope sometime soon I can get the full conference experience again, and I kind of hope that the next conference I attend will be an LSW unconference (hint hint, people!), but I’m really glad to have stumbled in with this crew of top notch people.