Wednesday, 16 November 2011

In response to today's discussion on youth empowerment through librarianship...

November 16th, 2011

We had a great discussion today about issues and goals for empowering youth.

One thing we did not address was the need for empowerment of librarians. How can we empower others if we cannot empower ourselves and our profession?

I think this is a really important consideration. Until we address the culture of fear in our field, any work we do can only communicate and spread that same fear.

Oscar Schindler, paraphrasing the Talmud, said, "Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."

Mother Teresa said, "Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you."

In Luke 6:42, Jesus is claimed to have said, "How can you think of saying, 'Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,' when you can't see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye."

Why the quotes? Wisdom.

Librarians, to wish to save the world is honorable, but the way to do it is to start with yourself.

A working metaphor for librarians...

A discussion Tuesday November 15th, 2011, about what it means to be an "Emerging Technologies Librarian" has inspired me. Rochelle Mazar offered up an interesting metaphor for librarians that I want to take and run with.

She said librarians are liquid. We are flexible and fill in gaps where there are spaces. I like this. I understood it as being alert to needs, and moving to meet those needs.

But a roundtable discussion hosted by the Progressive Librarians Guild - London Ontario Chapter on Wednesday November 16th, 2011, about empowering youth through librarianship, helped me visual this metaphor further. Another attendee at the roundtable challenged the metaphor as seeming too passive -- librarianship needs to break the boundaries, not be held back by them.

This got me thinking more about liquid, in particular water. Water doesn't just fill in spaces. It permeates. It erodes. It soaks in. Water moves limestone to create stalagmites and stalactites. It is an environment bursting with life. To me, liquid is not merely a passive agent.

Think of a dam bursting. It can't be held back forever.

Think of the ocean. It can be still, it can be turbulent, it can be incredibly destructive.

Liquid is powerful. It has incredible abilities to affect its environment in a myriad of ways.

It can also be bottled up.

I think this is a great metaphor for librarianship.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Questioning LIS Education re: Programming at Libraries

I recently attended an Interesting presentation and discussion titled "Commodity Audience, Commodity Everything: The Social & Economic Production of Consumers". The room was filled with Media Studies scholars, and so the discussion portion of the presentation was dominated by MS theory. I was unfamiliar with the theorists they were discussing, but interested in both the tone and direction of the discussion (as and outsider), and inspired by what I think MS theory has a to offer LIS. Particularly in terms of examining the theoretical basis for some of the activities we (as librarians or information professionals) engage in. 

For example, if corporations rely on consumer (and potential consumers') ability to utilize particular technological mediums to facilitate their (the corporations') ability to engage in direct marketing and increase the ability of consumers to impulse buy (ie. t-commerce), and thus feed the corporations' bottom line -- then, is the teaching of basic technological literacy (ie. a program to teach library patrons how to set up a Facebook account at a public library) making us complicit with a corporate agenda? How much of LIS professional activity becomes about educating/training docile consumers rather than critical thinkers? 
Is it ethical to ignorantly offer programs without considering broader social implications of our actions? Are we performing a dis-service to our patrons in the guise of serving the public? Who really benefits?

Playing Devil's Advocate re: Children's Libraries

It seems to me that along with the constructed notion of ‘the child’ comes a legitimization of a form of censorship in the guise of protecting the innocent. One of the ways this censorship plays out is in the often celebrated development of children’s libraries and collections. Books deemed suitable for particular age ranges are separated and isolated from other like items in opposition to library subject classification which intends to group like subjects together. 

The effect of this separation can be perceived as two-fold when it comes to censorship. Children are physically directed away from other materials in the library and their selection is limited by what is placed in the children’s collection. Adults are similarly affected when browsing because certain materials have been segregated to the children’s department, not allowing adult patrons to access them as easily. 

The intent of this action (segregation of materials) has been perhaps, or at least in part, to elevate the vulnerable position of ‘the child’ in remedy to past exploitation by giving them their own space. However, the negative consequence of this separation is the reinforcing of attitudes about children and adults: that children are somehow a different species requiring special treatment. There is a visible discomfort amongst adults not in regular contact with children who are suddenly faced with children. It is difficult to believe that this reaction is not influenced by the segregation of children in society.

The patterns of everyday living in our society further exacerbate the problem: adults and children spend regular portions of their days in separate buildings (children in schools with some adults to supervise them, while the bulk of adults are working in buildings with other adults); libraries have separate spaces for adults and children, as do certain restaurants, hospitals, public parks, etc.; and, as already mentioned, libraries create special collections for each group. 

Devil's Advocate P.O.V.: The supposed 'elevation' of 'the child' in our culture is not the evolved sentiment we have mistaken it for. It is a false over-compensation perhaps based on residual guilt for past wrongs to children. And the effect is censorship. When spaces are provided for children, this means that adults are not welcome in them, and vice-versa. 

Segregation of blacks and whites has come to be understood as unethical though at one time it was thought to be ethical by some. Is what is ethical changeable? Or is it an example of improved understanding that we no longer legislate segregation? Is it then only a matter of time before we recognize that the segregation of children is also unethical?