Communities – Monday’s Question

Librarianship is having an identity crisis! What are the communities we serve? Do they change? How do libraries as physical spaces affect their communities? Do they do so in the same way as ten years ago? 50 years? What’s your definition of the role a librarian plays in community? Taste-maker? Gatekeeper to the realm of knowledge?

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  • Erin O’Connell

    A public librarian I recently interviewed spoke directly to this notion of an identity crisis. He said, “There is a contingency which fights to remain as
    keepers of information when the successful marketing of librarians as sources
    of current and vetted information would be paramount to our success in coming
    years.” So perhaps in the past our purpose was to simply answer questions, but now we’ve shifted (or should shift) to validate materials and point user/member/patrons in the right direction. We must allow them to teach themselves. So it seems that one role is as gatekeepers of knowledge. This allows user/member/patrons to “walk through the gates” and access the information with our help. 

  • Anonymous

    This is exactly what Ned Potter, aka the Wikiman, discusses in one of his posts where he looks at the changing role of librarians in the access to information.  People used to need librarians (in role as gatekeepers) in order to access information and now people have access to so much information that they don’t know what to do with it.  This is where librarians as gatekeepers of the good information – they facilitate access to authoritative and validated information.

    So librarians are still gatekeepers but function in a different way.  

    Ned’s post is here http://thewikiman.org/blog/?p=1570 and has a brilliantly clear Prezi to explain the above points.

  • Ben Chartoff

    2 things
    1.) I hadn’t really looked into Prezi before now, I’d heard it was like ppt, and ppt works fine, so I wasn’t interested. How un-librarian-y of me! The linked presentation is fantastic! I’m going to have to learn this software, very, very cool…
    2.) I agree with Erin O that our role is starting to be less about doling out information and more about validating information. As gatekeepers (choosing what information, from the vast pool of available information, to “let through”) I see us having 2 main roles.
               i.) Finding and recommending new resources. When I taught research skills in my Astronomy class,          
                    one of my goals was giving the kids a few “go-to” resources which weren’t wikipedia. Nasa.gov and 
                    scienceworld.wolfram.com/, for example.
               ii.) Showing patrons how to filter information on their own. Teaching google advanced searches is a      
                      great place to start, but we could also teach how to evaluate a wikipedia page (they’re going to look     
                      there, so they should know when they can trust what they find, and how to double check  
                      questionable information), or, more generally, what makes a source credible (this is a much more 
                      complicated question than it used to be! I’ve been taught that that all .edu and .gov websites are 
                      credible, and most .coms are not. Really? Hmm…)

  • Anonymous

    Ben – Prezi is wonderful and a great way of waking people up at a conference (not that anyone ever dozes…)

    As for your point 2.  I agree that librarians need to help discuss authority of open source sites like Wikipedia and I think that it is important to get this message across to children as they start using such resources.  Should this be the job of school or public librarians?

    I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 program in which teachers were being lambasted for not suitably educating pupils in searching the internet.  Most pupils thought that YouTube was more authoritative than the BBC or government websites.  Is this the job of the school librarian to correct or the public librarian where they can also educate adults?

    • Anonymous

      In regards to your question about teaching, first of all, that’s a horrifying thought. Youtube, the ultimate authority? I shudder at the thought. But I digress: I feel like having a school librarian do the teaching would be the best course of action, mostly to nip stuff like that in the bud. From my own personal experience, adults will often not listen to you when you try and teach them something. “Why is he wasting my time with this? Why can’t he just give me the information I need and let me go?” With students, you have a captive (read: imprisoned) audience; they’ll learn, whether they want to or not. 

      An adult class or program at a public library would be great, but on a large scale, I think the responsibility rests with the teachers. -Jake

  • Anonymous

    I think librarians should act not only as gatekeepers, but as tastemakers, like Dave talked about in class last week. I have a friend who loves the services the library offers, but she prefers the layout of a bookstore like Barnes and Noble, where there are tons of themed tables to browse through. She finds what she wants to read, writes it down, and then heads to the public library to take it out. I think we would get more traffic in public libraries if we took on the responsibility of being tastemakers like bookstores do, instead of shying away it. In my experience, large collections can be overwhelming, and many people would rather take ten minutes to browse through tables of handpicked selections than randomly explore the stacks.

    • Marie

      I do the same thing with B&N… I walk through my various favorite sections, check out what’s new, and then request them at the library! :)

    • Anonymous

      I know some libraries are trying to do this in their new releases section. They put them on display so that people know what new books are out. I tend to head to that section first to browse through.

    • Loranne Nasir

      Just before coming to SU, I worked at a large academic library that maintained a “New Acquisitions” section.  They’re a great idea, but are highly impractical and unhelpful if they aren’t done right. Case in point: our new acquisitions were kept in the corner of a reading room on the 3rd floor, and were really only used by certain faculty who had advocated the creation of this section in the first place (or the lucky few members who happened to be doing work in that reading room and stumbled upon them). They were not filtered at all, which is to say we weren’t necessarily doing our job as taste-makers. Putting a large quantity of new acquisitions on display without any context or thought put into what our members most want to read is not all that helpful. There was no editing, and at least 1000 books were placed on those shelves on a weekly basis.

      This is to say nothing of the frustrations this caused members who were actually searching for these items out in the stacks, as we had no way of keeping track of what was placed on these special shelves.

      • Anonymous

        That’s interesting, Loranne. I think that if we were to weed through the new releases like Barnes and Noble does, we can appeal to our patrons in that way. Then, maybe they’ll just go to the library instead of stopping at the bookstore first!

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure I like the word ‘Gatekeeper’. I realize we’re using it to invoke someone who has access to information, and the skills to turn that information into something helpful. We, as gatekeepers, would hold the keys to this Fort Knox of knowledge and help people find their way around. That sounds great right? What could be wrong with that?

    Here’s my issue: the word ‘gatekeeper’ invokes, in me, the image of the Emerald City guard in Wizard of Oz. “Nobody gets into my database; not no way, not no how!” Do we really want to give the impression that we keep the information under lock and key? For a more modern and less amusing approach, look at security guards at the airport; they’re gatekeepers. Whether you think they’re useful for our safety or not, you can’t argue that many people find them annoying. 

    Gatekeepers do not easily allow access. Gatekeepers screen rigorously, and don’t let everyone through. Gatekeepers restrict, gatekeepers reject, gatekeepers hoard. It sounds silly, and feel free to disagree, but I see benefits in a ‘tour guide’ approach. “Come on everyone, let’s go look at the information. Isn’t it pretty? Here is a short explanation that you might find useful”. Not restrictive; free. Not rejected; inviting. Not hoarding; on display. 

    And of course, tastemakers is always a good term. It implies that we’re working for our patrons/members/users/lions/tigers/bears, that our job is to serve the community’s tastes. With tastemaster, we become helpful public servants of the community, experts who freely hand out information, even if it does make us look like a) chefs or b) taskmasters. 

    Of course, it doesn’t have nearly as much panache. I say we make up our own word, right here, right now. 
    -Jake

    • Loranne Nasir

      Jake, I was going to point out exactly the same issue (though perhaps not as awesomely referencing The Wizard of Oz) as you did with the term “gatekeeper.” I wholeheartedly agree. I think the sentiment behind that term is great, but it has some seriously problematic connotations.

      • Marie

        yes, to both of you.

  • Anonymous

    Libraries as a physical space should reflect the unique values and goals of a community. I agree with the belief that a conversation is needed between community members and librarians to create a space to meet the needs of a community. Without a conversation, libraries are at risk of following a cookie-cutter model of what a “traditional” library looks like, which often leads to poor assumptions regarding the role libraries play in a community. These assumptions are what put us at risk for funding cuts and leads to a loss of relevancy and a loss of leadership and innovation in the field of librarianship. 

    • Anonymous

      What kinds of assumptions do people make about a library that involves it being “cookie-cutter” or “traditional”? Are you talking several rows of books organized in Dewey order and a computer section? What kinds of things could we do to avoid that; organize them according to a tastemaker system? 

      Perhaps one of the things a floundering library could do to revitalize itself is “rent” space out to local groups or small businesses, like having a Zumba class in one of the reading lounges. I think my old one in Elbridge is the rally point for the town garden tour. Is this something we should do as public librarians? 

      -Jake

      • Anonymous

        The assumptions people make are in regards to the “traditional” services we offer and limitations to our physical spaces. For instance, libraries no longer just offer books and a quite place to study. We (librarians) need to be better at marketing the innovative services we offer and showcasing the inviting meeting spaces we have created, which are often added in direct response to a community need. For example, the Fayetteville Free Library now circulates eBook devices, such as ipads, kindles and nooks, because many community members were interested in learning more about these devices. Everyday I have at least one person tell me they didn’t know we circulate these devices. Where is the gap in communication?

        I am sure people can post endless examples of non-traditional library services they have utilized over the past year and I would love to hear some ideas. I think the “identity-crisis” we face is because we are not always the best advocates and fail to empower others to be advocates for the library.

        • Anonymous

          Oh, “traditional” in regards to services, not architecture. I was imagining that we’d have to reinvent the way libraries are built into some new-agey, post-modern, outlandish building construction to make us stand out. :)

          That’s interesting about the eBooks and nooks et al. I’m one of the people who didn’t know that technology was widely circulated. During my librarian interview, my librarian said that before she retired (which, seeing as how she’s in her fifties, wouldn’t really be that far off in the grand scheme of things), we would start seeing totally digital libraries. If eBooks are already being circulated regularly then that day is even closer than we thought. -Jake

        • Anonymous

          Ruth Kneale makes a great argument out of that in her book, “You Don’t Look Like a Libraian.”  She raises a call to action for all librarians to challenge (VERY activel) stereotypes of our profession, not simply because they are annoying and dismissive, but also because these conceptions inform serious decisions in terms of budget allocation and relationships with the community.

          I believe you raise a great point about the assumptions of the nature of our spaces.  We definitely need to market ourselves as an entity that can mold itself into whatever the communiy needs, and not a strict, essentialist definition of what a library is.

          Dr. Lankes did a great job of addressing the conception of a library space as a “destination” or “third space” and Sean’s commentary really highlighted the ethical dimension of that third space.  The place that people of all ages can go when no one else is there.  Obviously, I can’t even IMAGINE how we’re supposed to market our spaces to the community as such.  “/

      • Anonymous

        I like this idea of renting out space to the community. The library is there to serve the community and what better way than to provide people the space to meet and participate in activities they love. I think many public libraries are already going in this direction as there are different groups that meet at the library and I know many libraries have game nights where people can come and play board games and Wii games. It goes back to the idea of libraries as that 3rd space that we as human beings need in order to interact with others in a comfortable and safe setting.

        • Matthew Gunby

          I agree, but I definitely think it is something that has to be assessed pretty regularly.  If you have three people attending zumba is this the best usage of the space?  If a more entrepreneurial service offered to pay more in rent than one that seemed to have a larger influence on the community where do you draw those lines?  I think that this far more than how closely a library follows the DDC are the concerns public librarians should be considering. 

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  • http://twitter.com/Flynnglish Charlotte Flynn

    Interesting discussion! I think one role of the library should be to support the resilience of the community, focusing on high-impact outcomes. I shared one example of how libraries might do this in an earlier comment, which seems to have gotten lost in the ether.