There are many skills library school can give you, but often, an understanding of the role of librarian activists isn’t one of them. While I took two classes on ethics and government policy in relation to librarianship, I didn’t come away from those classes with a practical idea of how librarians can advocate for themselves. Perhaps it is because librarians shy away from having an opinion on anything in an effort to remain unbiased. But libraries are constantly struggling to get a piece of the funding pie, and we need library advocates to do that. Who better to relate the awesomeness of libraries to politicians than the librarians themselves?
A recent post on whether librarians should be activists from Hack Library School got me thinking about this topic again. The author of the blog defines activism as:
“Activism is anything you do that supports a cause and encourages change.”
The post goes on to say that grand actions can be amazing and turn heads, but the little everyday things also make a difference in garnering support for libraries, as well as encouraging change in the way the public views and supports libraries.
I think, however, that librarians have a tendency to do small things and hope people notice. The small actions are important, but they need to be supplemented by more to ensure libraries remain to help people in the future.
As Banned Books Week nears, I got to thinking about intellectual freedom and the role of the librarian. This topic is basically a minefield for new librarians, but one I haven’t professionally encountered yet. No one has come to me asking to have a book banned. But it is important to realize the extent to which the idea of intellectual freedom pervades librarianship – for good or ill.
The support for intellectual freedom is codified into our professional ethics by the American Library Association:
“The ALA promotes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”
I read this a long time ago, and I have yet to review it. However, it was so good and made me think about a lot of digital issues that are relevant, that I figured it should get its own post.
Ready Player One is Ernest Cline was one of the most fun, fast-reading adventure books I’ve read this year. In it, Wade Watts is a poor orphaned teen who escapes the horrible junkyard the world of 2044 has become into OASIS, the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, a virtual world created by James Halliday – a visionary who was as obsessed with the 1980’s as he was with creating the best video game ever. Like many a visionary in his field, he hid his very own video game easter egg. Whoever solved the mystery, would earn the right to his entire fortune. Those hunting for it – called “gunters” or egg hunters – have been searching since 2014. It took an 18-year-old trailer park rat – Wade Watts – to discover the first key in 2045. Ready Player One is his story. Well his story, and a love letter to all things 80’s, with a special focus on videogames.
But OASIS is more than just a video game. OASIS is a huge simulation that serves many purposes – from educational zone to brothel. Wade himself described his upbringing in the virtual world:
“I was more or less raised by the OASIS’s interactive educational programs, which any kid could access for free. I spent a big chunk of my childhood hanging out in a virtual-reality simulation of Sesame Street, singing songs with friendly Muppets and playing interactive games that taught me how to walk, talk, add, subtract, read, write, and share. Once I’d mastered those skills, it didn’t take me long to discover that OASIS was also the world’s biggest public library, where even a penniless kid like me had access to every book ever written, every song ever recorded, and every movie, television show, videogame, and piece of artwork ever created.” p. 15-16
This is an outstanding dystopian adventure novel. While the geek references are many and varied, it is so much more than its geekery. Cline provides a smart puzzle, as well as thoughtful commentary on topics that are highly relevant, from Internet equality to prejudice in all its forms to the power of information. Here are some thoughts I had as I was reading.
A library science student came to the library today for help with a project that was quite similar to one I did while pursuing me own degree. In both you have to visit libraries in person and evaluate their services, as well as compare and contrast them. One of her questions was this: What is the mission of your library and who do you serve? My library’s mission statement stresses the need to meet both the entertainment and educational needs of my county’s residents, as well as patrons who come to us from the surrounding areas. As a huge supporter of lifelong learning (it is the source of inspiration for my blog’s name), I love my library’s focus on education. During my conversation with the student, I realized that many have a very narrow understanding of education. Generally, people see education as the structured process by which people earn a piece of paper that certifies that they learned something. This student can be forgiven for her misplaced focus because she is actually a teacher going for her library media specialization, but that’s not how I view lifelong learning at all. Instead, I believe learning is any knowledge acquired through experiences, whether those experiences be reading, watching, listening, or interacting. So when I say the library can support learning, I mean we can support it in more than just providing educational books or movies. Instead, I think the library has a vital role in teaching through example. Although, I think every business has the opportunity to better the world in this way. I was disheartened to see this headline in my own state: “Mother Says Bob Evans Customer Called Police On Her Son With Autism.”
For more information about the connection between libraries and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit Librariesandautism.org.
Those with ASD we can help by accepting and understanding. The American Library Association offers an array of resources focuses on serving those that are different from us in a way that helps our other patrons be more aware and accepting. Here is a list of more resources:
- Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transexual Roundtable: This subsection of ALA focuses on those whose gender identity differs from the “norm” (I hate that term!), although the norm is thankfully beginning to be more inclusive of everyone.
- Youth Services and ASD: This link further discusses the role libraries can serve those with ASD, especially youth.
- Diversity: Libraries can serve as powerful advocates for supporting diversity inside and outside the library. It’s our differences that make us beautiful, whether our differences are visible or under the service, they should be embraced and celebrated.
Collaboration is key to library success.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia
I recently had the wonderful privilege of going to local high school classes and getting a taste of information literacy instruction. One set of presentations focused on nonfiction and offered tactics for finding a book that the student could actually be interested in. The other class focused on the online and physical resources available at the public libraries, and sought to put a library card into every student’s hand. The presentations were terrifying and exciting, and I came back from each energized and happy to be a librarian.
When I began pursuing my MLS, I specifically picked a general degree knowing that by not choosing to go down the library media specialist track (meant for those intending to work in school libraries), I would be effectively locking myself out of that area of librarianship. I am not regretting my decisions, because I honestly don’t think I can provide as much help as I do as a library media specialist. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the value of school libraries.
I am, in fact, a supporter of school libraries and strongly believe that a healthy collaboration between school, public and academic libraries is required if we expect to prepare our youth to live and learn in such an information-saturated world. Indeed Library Journal’s Lisa Peet recently wrote about this very idea:
“No one institution can serve the needs of all students. School library budgets are declining, public libraries are struggling to keep their funding and work with a diverse and changing population, and academic libraries are focused on meeting the needs of students and faculty.”
So I thought I would put together an interesting round of Library Links that are related to school libraries, as well as the opportunities for collaboration that exist: