Don’t Librarians Just Shelve Books All Day? Or How a Book Helped Me To Begin to Squelch Stereotypes

I’ve always been, well, a bit obsessed about the role of libraries in the world.  As a new librarian, I was never really able to put into words what I thought my role-well, actually, my mission, was.  I’d always hammer on about how important librarians were in a world where information was omnipresent.  I’d talk about the importance of librarians in developing critical thinking.  None of this felt right, though…because what I slowly, but surely, was starting to do (and inspired by so many amazing librarians near and far), felt so BEYOND just that.

But here’s the deal, and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you know.  I don’t think any profession is as stereotyped as librarians.  If you are reading this, you probably are a librarian, but I bet you get comments from your friends on occasion, too.  If I had a dime for every time that someone insinuated that my job consisted of me shushing children all day while I read books and occasionally shelve, I would be a very wealthy woman.

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Library Action Figure by Calamity_Sal

I was weary of CONTINUALLY trying to explain my role in a school.  And this was 2011.  I had already been a librarian for 8 years, in an inner-city middle school and an inner-city high school.  I read, with horror, of the massive cuts to school librarians going on in some states. Cutting a librarian was like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

When I first stumbled upon The Atlas of New Librarianship – I’m just going to be honest…I couldn’t stop reading and thinking about it. In it, Professor David Lankes says that “the mission of all librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.” Yes!  Finally, a mission that truly encompassed all that I was trying to do everyday.

As I started listening to podcasts and watching presentations online by Professor Lankes, my understanding of New Librarianship began to grow.  And his explanation of constructivism and how new knowledge is created through conversation really made sense to me…especially since I don’t want my library to be silent…I want my library to hum with productivity.

I’m going to stop right here and tell you …yes, The Atlas can be hard to get through…if that’s the case, watch this screencast RIGHT NOW, because it’s based on Professor Lankes’ other book, Expect More, which has similar themes.

And here’s what my response to this book has been…it’s not really anything novel…but I think, a lot, about how I am improving and COULD improve society.  It’s a lot of little things, like the books I choose for my collection, and how I sometimes order a book with certain students in mind, and then I go and put that book in the hands of that student and I follow up a few weeks later and together, the student and I discuss that book.  It’s how I host a panel discussions with a group of students once a month, where they share their experiences with other students.  It’s how I use my libguides to organize content. It’s how I host therapy dogs before exams – because it’s hard for my community to focus on academics in the stress-filled days before exams.

Most nights, I do this exercise before I go to bed.  I call it jumping down the rabbit hole, because I like metaphors. I think about a time during the day that I facilitated the gaining of knowledge.  Maybe I helped a teacher make a project better.  Maybe I put a specific book in the hands of a kid.  Maybe I encouraged a kid to create something to print on the 3D printer (for free). I think about how these things can play out.  What if that kid is so inspired by that book…that book makes him interested in politics..and 20 years later he becomes Mayor of Nashville.  It happens.  Maybe access to the 3D printer puts that kid on a path to creating something that will help thousands of people live better.  It happens. We don’t always see it play out.  If that kid has gained new knowledge and is applying that knowledge in a way that will improve his community, then it’s enough. And the fact of the matter is, that’s MY JOB.  How freaking lucky am I?

I can’t wait to share more with you, but in the meantime, read The Atlas of New Librarianship, and by all means, watch some screencasts.

And don’t forget to jump down the rabbit hole.  Because you are EXTRAORDINAIRY.  Now go out there, find out what your community needs, and figure out a way to do it.

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Rabbit Hole by Rubyblossom