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Month: August 2011

Philosophy of librarianship: sketch of a draft

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.


Motive and Opportunity

Getting in front of a captive audience is a powerful thing. Routinely getting in front of a captive audience made up of ever-shifting groups of people from a single population is an even more powerful thing. Suddenly you have the power to distribute knowledge pretty widely through a population. Suddenly lots of people feel they have a stake in what you do while you’re up there, particularly if you are conveying stuff that’s related to whatever those other people want to convey, because they also have lots of things they’d like to have distributed widely through the population. Suddenly you’re a major gatekeeper. It’s a golden opportunity.

But having the opportunity, and even agreeing that the population could benefit from knowing a lot more about what you and everyone else knows, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have good enough motives for including all that information in any given session. I think of my classes, which I try to keep to 3 learning goals, ruthlessly cutting all kinds of useful and interesting stuff. I think of our first year seminars, which have to push back against requests to please make sure “all first year students learn x” from every quarter.

Motives are important things and not all motives are created equal. Opportunities may be fickle, but strong motives make or break the case.

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