Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Librarians "are the blender to the community's milkshake"

The above was a quote from our professor, David Lankes, in class (Introduction to Libraries and the Information Field) last night.

For the benefit of those reading my blog who are not MLIS students at Syracuse here is a brief explanation of what this post is about.  For one of my classes we have been instructed to blog about what we learn/discuss in class as a way of encouraging conversation among students and provoking thought.  Our teacher, David Lankes, has recently published the Atlas of New Librarianship (a satisfyingly square publication) and you can find out about it on its accompanying website and him on his personal website.

Polka Dot Milkshakes by jamieanne, on Flickr
You'll never look at the public the same way again
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  jamieanne 

So, how are we a blender?  This came up in the discussion of why we need libraries - a question that everyone reading this will have been forced to answer at some point in their lives by family, friends and strangers alike.

One of the main points of consensus was that the library gives a sense of community and a safe haven to those who need one.  It is, as Marilyn Smith, Petit Library Branch Manager, explained to me, thought of as the 'Third Place'.  The library is not work nor home but provides something in between and, as such, is an integral part of the community.

Another facet of the purpose of libraries is for education.  Obviously libraries are geared towards teaching, providing information, educating people in every part of knowledge available and they are responsible for equality and being intellectually honest (not unbiased, since, as Dave pointed out, that is impossible).  So libraries provide insights into new technologies (or indeed animals as one library in Northern Onondaga country is lending out a dog for 20 minute sessions at a time) and should provide access to information on all sides of a topic in order to encourage equality.

Blender With Ingredients by adpowers, on Flickr
Look familiar...that's right, it's your colleague
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  adpowers 

Libraries are also responsible for diversification* and this is where librarians as loud kitchen appliances come into play.   A library is somewhat of a melting pot (to keep the kitchen metaphor going) for people from all walks of life and provides them with a chance to broaden their horizons, learn something different, mix with new people within their community, take a dog for a walk or just sit and relax in a different setting.  It brings communities together and provides them with a centralised place for obtaining knowledge across disciplines and, in this sense, libraries are the churny bits that encourage diversification within a community milkshake (and we can also be pretty sharp churny bits if you consider some librarians' disapproval at late returns).

Mudslide Resin by boodoo, on Flickr
Scary librarians
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  boodoo 

But, the main point to remember is that all of these aspects of libraries are only possible because of librarians themselves.  As was pointed out, a library would not be a safe haven, a diverse learning environment or an education in technology without librarians.  Can a room of books be a library without a librarian to bring it to life?  I don't think so and I will strive to be such a librarian.

*Libraries are not just diverse in terms of their effect on the community but, more and more, they are having to diversify in order to survive.  A recent discussion has popped up concerning Post Offices and their potential place in libraries due to their role in the community - something common to the USA and UK.

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