Two reflections on librarianship caught my eye this week. The first is an article in the online journal Ethos called “Librarianship: A Philosophical Investigation,” by Kevin Michael Klipfel. Klipfel compares librarians to educators, using a paper by “humanistic psychologist and student-centered educator Carl Rogers” as his jumping off point. Rogers wrote that a teacher’s work boils down to discovery (learning what a student’s interests are), permission (enabling the student to pursue those interests), and creative connection (thinking of resources and getting them into the hands of the students).
After covering the ways people commonly misunderstand library work, Klipfel explains how librarianship fits Rogers’ model, and I think he’s spot on. My own library’s mission is to “connect individuals with resources in order to enhance lives and build community.” Our daily work, at its best, goes beyond troubleshooting to helping the patron see what went wrong with the print job so next time, troubleshooting won’t be necessary. Beyond looking up a book to showing someone how to use the catalog and other discovery tools to find a good read. Beyond simply handing over requested items to talking with patrons about their reading interests. Beyond creating displays and shelving books to asking patrons (or noticing) where they look for things and whether we’re featuring what’s interesting to ourselves or to our patrons.
And, most importantly, we have to be comfortable with the fact that when we teach people to access library resources themselves, they may not need us as much the next time they visit. And confident that by nurturing an engaged, educated patron base and making ourselves available to them as fellow members of the book tribe, we’re building a community invested in what we do. It’s a lot like the goals I set for myself as a manager — I want the folks on my team to talk over our vision (and our patrons’) for Adult Services, and to figure out together what they need from me to make those goals reality. And then, I hope, I’ll be able to get out of the way and watch cool things come to life. With patrons I want to engage them, enable them to have the library experience they hope for, and watch the library thrive.
I had all this on my mind when I read Ingrid Henny Abrams, aka The Magpie Librarian,’s interview with Scott Bonner, the director of the Ferguson, Missouri library. Scott explained that with schools closed in Ferguson, “. . . we made an ad-hoc school! I offered the library’s space, and put out metaphorical fires, and played taskmaster to the press, and the teachers and volunteers made an actual, working school.” The library went from a “quiet and businesslike” place to “Lots of kids, lots of people who’ve never been to the library before, lots of noise, lots of camera crews blocking doorways and aisles. I think we did the best job we could of partitioning school from library, but it was not anything like a normal day. It was a good deal better than a normal day.”
Scott did something else I really admire. He made this sign, which Ingrid posted on her blog:
He made sure the Ferguson community knew the library is a safe space, and would remain so. “Much of what we did was just continue to operate normally, staying open and offering services while letting the community know we were there for them.”
When I came back from the Public Library Association conference last spring, I summed up what I was feeling about my profession:
“What we do is awesome. What we do is community-building. What we do is hope-fueled and potentially narrative-changing. What we do can fill in the broken spaces in our communities, in our lives and the lives of those we serve. What we do is empowering — people can learn and grow and be their best selves because of the books and services and programs and presence we offer.What we do is shepherd the most egalitarian places in America. Our libraries when they are at their best are the very best of what our society can be.”
Scott and Kevin and all of you out there being what librarians are — including educators in the best sense of that word and keepers of safe places — make me so proud and happy to be a part of this incredible work.