Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Me, Too!: On Agendas in Libraries, Especially Mine

If you haven't yet read Chris Bourg's fantastic post, "Agendas: Everyone has one " and Barbara Fister's response, "Admitting Our Agendas," please do. The TL;DR synopsis of both posts is that both of these women are coming clean about having a driving force, an agenda behind their work in libraries. In Chris' case, she claims "a feminist and queer agenda for libraries [that] is a unapologeticly activist agenda, rooted in values of democracy, inclusion, and equality." And Barbara's push is reflected in her statement that, "We shouldn’t help students 'prove' something that is contrary to the evidence. We should help them find information and encourage them to form opinions based on the evidence."

While I am also a feminist who pushes students to deal with all the information they gather, not just the information that supports the opinion they had coming into their research, my own agenda is slightly different. And here's a hint:


It's the reason I teach information literacy skills the way I do and the thing that drives me to make the library as appealing and inviting as I can. I want to get members of my community into my building, literally or figuratively, where I have a better chance of achieving my agenda. Why would this be behind everything I do as a librarian when I work at a college, and why would I admit it? Shouldn't I be focused on purely academic skills? Nope, nuh-uh, and not even, because my agenda is tied to knowing the truth about my students, even when the faculty members don't agree with me (which is thankfully less and less often as time goes by).

What I know is this: even at elite colleges and universities, most students will not go onto be professional academics. The majority of undergraduates are pursuing higher education because of the promise of better jobs. I've said it so many times in work conversations that I've lost track, but I'm putting it here because it is a (slightly pompous but) perfect way to capture my agenda: our education system is churning out a generation of Spartans, but what we need is Athenians. We need people who can think for themselves, not people who march lock step because it's what they were told to do. We need people who actually take the time to learn the stance of someone who's running for political office, not people who support the candidate who seems like s/he would be a good drinking buddy. To put it bluntly, my agenda is that I want to help graduate critical thinkers who are, therefore, well informed voters.

We've all got agendas when we think about it. For some of us, it's something that pushed us to pursue this career field in the first place. I applaud Chris and Barbara for coming clean with theirs, and have added mine to the list.

What's yours?


  1. I love this! One of our ALA core values is Democracy -- and I think I've talked before about how important it is for us to remember the important role libraries play in producing an informed citizenry. Brava to you for owning it, promoting, living it!

  2. Totally excellent agenda. I wish we in higher ed thought more often about the fact that few students (undergrads,anyway) will go on to do more of the subject we are teaching and think harder about "so what? what does this mean in the greater scheme of things?"

    This is why I also say we shouldn't focus on making students better students (though we want them to succeed at school) but rather on making them able to think through finding and using and making information for whatever purpose they may have in future, which is probably something none of us can foresee.

  3. Ditto all above. During my online live lectures I move the conversation to "how this will look like in your place of work/home". If I had the leeway I would include civics lessons! No more appropriate place, say I.