People tend to see libraries as houses for collections. Sometimes they also see that we’re full of other things, too. People often see librarians as people who know how to navigate the various systems associated with the library. Sometimes they also see that we navigate other things, too.
I see librarians as people primarily attuned to the gossamer threads that connect people, connect information, connect artifacts. What makes those connections vibrant? What kills them? We cultivate our awareness of various kinds of connections, and we study how to pull on the right threads at the right time to foster new connections. We see that these connections mean more than the information bits themselves.
Discrete bits of information are worthless, but they come alive when connected to other information and to a person’s curiosity or need. I don’t want to say that a person without information or social connection is worthless, but I’m also not sure what that existence would actually look like. I can’t imagine it, so I can’t say anything useful about it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these gossamer threads — where I see them, what they mean — and the more I think about it the more I see the care and feeding of these connections as the foundation of all that we do in libraries. Sure, I connect patrons with books, articles, and artifacts of various kinds, but I also encourage them to see the connections between that work and other works, that author and other authors, that system and other systems. And when I read an article, it turns out that I read it primarily for the ways in which it maps out its connections for me: which words are in the “dialect” of this community of practice? which mechanisms help us name and follow established connections (keywords, subjects, bibliographies, etc)? which works/creators (credited or assumed) form the work’s foundations? which works carried on the conversation afterwards, does this creator know these other creators personally? do they go out for drinks together? do they subtweet about each other? which connections build up the authority of this thing? which connections are ossified into fact or convention and which vibrate with potential for new exploration or embodiment?
And what happens when you put this undulating set of connections next to another set of connections? What gets remapped? What blossoms? What fades?
As a librarian, I know a lot about our search systems, our collections, collections available elsewhere, information flow in an academic context, my community…. But what I really see and tend and navigate all day every day are these gossamer threads. The connections that give everything meaning.