Revisiting Early Assumptions and Assertions

When I started this course 12 weeks ago, I had little background or knowledge about the world of professional librarians. Twelve weeks later, I still have a lot to learn.

However, upon revisiting my early assumptions and assertions about the profession, as discussed during the first few weeks of the course, I have to say that not too much has changed. Librarians do some amazing work for their communities, and their discerning eye for information will be absolutely critical as we enter a more digital age.  Much like I originally assumed, librarians aren’t confined behind circulation desks, shushing patrons and stamping books. They are managing databases, launching socially-minded programming for underserved populations, teaching people basic computer skills, and helping young children discover the love of reading.

Still, this course has given a deeper knowledge of libraries and how librarians work, and so let’s revisit those early assumptions and see how times have changed.

  • Librarians are there to help people.

By all accounts, I very much believe this to still be true. Librarians are part of the service profession, and meeting users’ needs make up a large part of librarians’ day-to-day job.

Thinking of how librarians best help their communities came out most clearly in my class’s discussions of various ethical case studies. We looked at how librarians interact with young people, the homeless and negligent parents – and how ethical library protocol should balance meetings the needs of all users. Should a librarian step in when a young person tries to check out a book on suicide? Is it right to drive the homeless away from a public library because of personal prejudices? Should librarians call the police if a parent leaves their young child alone for hours at a time? Helping others seems simple when you’re answering basic reference questions. When you’re dealing with ethics, things become a little more complicated.

  • Libraries protect and preserve information, because information is valuable

In my original blog post, I said that “libraries provide a massive public service, keeping track of our culture’s history and the way it expresses itself.” I still believe this. In fact, I believe it now more than ever after studying digital preservation as part of a group project this semester. At our blog, Preservation in the Digital Space, we looked at ways digital archivists are preserving and cataloging “traditional” content, as well as content that was born digital. Personally, I explored the work of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, a fascinating project that seeks to preserve digital content for future generations. Digital preservation is a vitally important field going forward, and it’s a chance for librarians to take the lead in protecting our country’s heritage. I can’t imagine a better mission.

  • Libraries work toward improving access to information.

When I first made this assertion, I was thinking primarily about digital librarianship. I was thinking about librarians finding new ways to manage and provide access to the vast store of digital content produced everyday, from blog posts, to Tweets, to Wikipedia articles. Because this is the direction I see my career going (hopefully), I was focused on finding relevance and making information useful to a generation that increasingly relies on digital sources for their information.

What I wasn’t thinking about was the basic function of access – making books, information, computers and resources accessible for everyone, specifically our society’s most underserved populations. No matter what happens with physical books – whether or when they will be supplanted by e-books and e-readers – libraries are vitally important places in a community. They are a completely democratic institution where anyone – regardless of their race, socio-economic status or education level – can find any and all the information they need to survive. Recent events have sought to undermine this mission, specifically, the news that the mayor of Miami-Dade is shuttering 22 libraries in Florida to avoid a tax increase. The cited reason for the closures: “People have said that the age of the library is probably ending.” The loss of these libraries will be felt throughout the Miami-Dade community, particularly among its poorest residents who need the libraries’ free computer and Internet access. If libraries (particularly public libraries) are going to survive, they need to remember their mission to provide access to all, and make it their rallying cry during budget wars.

  • Libraries are always changing, and should continue to change.

And they will. Going forward, I find the future of digital libraries and digital collections to be particularly fascinating, as is the struggle to transform traditional libraries into the thriving, bustling public spaces they need to be. The information profession is changing fast – whether you’re working as a computer programmer, a jounalist, or the CEO of Yahoo. Everyone’s job descriptions are changing, everyone is adapting. Librarians need to not be afraid of those frontlines, and instead should embrace change as a way to survive, thrive and do our jobs even better.

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