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And It’s Begun

I’m sitting here in the hotel lobby, not quite sure where everyone else is, but happy to have free wireless. Travel was blessedly unremarkable except that this was the first time I’ve ever been on a flight where I recognized several of the passengers. That’s kind of creepy, actually. I’m used to getting onto a plane as an anonymous nobody, reading or gazing out of the window until we land, and then exiting the plane in a similarly anonymous fashion. This other way is more fun, but also way more tiring.

The strangeness continued when the first person I saw as I entered the convention center was an Immersion classmate. He’s apparently staying in the same hotel as me, so I hope we can hang out later. Then, on my way to the keynote I met one of my library school classmates. This is nuts! (But so much fun.) You’d think I’d met everyone there was to meet. I mean, two people is pretty much a record for me. But NO! Then I met up with someone from CIL06, and then went out to dinner with someone else from CIL06. Seriously. I don’t know what to do with myself. Now if I just knew where everyone is right now… Oh well.

Anyway, the opening keynote was about librarians as guides on a journey away from oppression and repression. Michael Dyson called librarians the “arbiters of humane reason in the midst of bigotry” and talked about how we “liberate the mind” by giving access to information that may not be politically correct or socially sanctioned. It was an energetic speech, and eloquent, with attention to rhythm and metaphor. There’s no doubt about it, this guy loves words and knows how to deploy them for effect and edification.

Why then, did I come away with a lingering confusion? How can I not thrill to hear that I, in my role as a librarian, have the power to create a love of learning that is “more addicting than crack cocaine” and that I can be a part of my students’ “quest for self-determination”?

Well, it could be mostly just me. Everyone else seemed to get a lot out of it, judging by the applause and ovation. But I was left wondering how this could be true when one of my primary jobs is to shepherd students into the accepted discourses of their chosen fields? How can this be true, in the way that he framed it, if I am working to teach students what does and doesn’t count as evidence in their fields, what is and is not “researchable,” or how things should and should not be framed? If the idea is that librarians provide the tools for students to break out of the oppressive, repressive, patriarchal, bigoted, racist, classist, and any-other-“ist”-you-can-think-of mindset, then my job simply does not mesh with that ideal. Access to information, yes. Lifelong learning, I sure hope so. But freedom from socially constructed ideas… not so much. Not in this lifetime.

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  1. Steve Lawson Steve Lawson

    That is exactly why I have never gone to one of those kinds of keynotes. The conference reports seem to always make it sound like the speaker fall all over themselves to assure us how great librarians are. And we, as a profession, lap it up.


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