Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What Libraries Are and Are Not

Last week I admitted that almost a year ago (well, 9 months) I asked for ideas and requests for posts I could write about on my blog and promised to make good on honoring the requests. Well, this week the suggestion/request I ignored came from Donna Lanclos:

Wow - that is a topic about which I could (and maybe should?) write a PhD dissertation, but I'm game to take a crack at it.

First, let me say: your mileage may vary. In fact, I'm almost certain it will.

picture of a fuel economy sticker from a new car.

So what, in my decidedly limited perspective (remember - academic library administrator, who has always worked at smaller schools, and almost exclusively at private institutions):
  • The biggest clue to realizing what a particular library is or is not..? Is what kind of community you are serving. This will determine the partnerships you form, the collections you build, the services you provide. It will determine most of what your library is and is not. Let me be a bit more specific:
    • Are you going to collect popular fiction? And I mean beyond the pop authors who have transcended to the point where there is sufficient literary criticism to warrant buying their books.
    • Are you going to provide access to social workers?
    • How about the kinds of databases you subscribe to, like WestLaw or WindowsWear Pro or NoveList?
    • Will you be open on weekends?
  • The next thing I really want people to think about is getting over the "we're not just books!" thing. Y'all...? We are books. Sure, I've worked at libraries that had unusual collections. I work at a school with a fashion program right now, and we are going to be offering sewing machines for check out really soon. And it's important that people know what else we have, but the book is our major brand association, so stop it.
  • The most important thing, though, when thinking about what a library is or is not...? LIBRARIES ARE NOT NEUTRAL. Let me say that again: libraries are not neutral. We have never been. We make decisions about what to collect, about what to offer, about who to hire. Even if you tell yourself it's because of space concerns and staff expertise and budgetary constraints, you are still choosing. WE are still choosing.

That brings me to the biggest takeaway I want you to get from this article. Leaving aside the "should" and the "could" and the "would" of the thing, everything libraries are and are not comes down to the people working there. They can be disturbingly conservative or so far left it might scare you. They can pretend that libraries are neutral and therefore come down on the side of the oppressors. They can be so well meaning that it's hard to fault them (and that is true of people across the political spectrum). Libraries might look like they are about computers or books or democratization or a host of other things, but they aren't. Libraries are the people who work and go there.

picture of a soap box.

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