Wednesday’s Improving Society Question

The book says, “We don’t shelve books and change toner cartridges – we maintain an infrastructure for social action. We don’t reference resources and catalog artifacts – we teach and inspire.” In reality, we do shelve books and catalog artifacts… along with a huge number of other things. As you look towards your future, how much emphasis will you place on these more traditional tasks, and how much on the less traditional aspects, those associated with what we’ve been calling ‘radical librarianship’?

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  • Marie

    I’ll place as much emphasis as I need to on those “traditional tasks”. Letting books go unshelved so that I can spend time pursuing some non-traditional aspects wouldn’t exactly be serving my community. Perhaps I’m not understanding the question…

    though I suppose I’ll state here, for the record, I’m not a huge fan of the phrase “radical librarianship”. Perhaps I should come up with a coherent reasoning as to why, but it’s early. I’ll try to come back to that. 

    • Erin

      Marie, you are understanding the question perfectly! I also dislike radical librarianship. And I also think that for the time being, the more traditional tasks cannot go unnoticed altogether. The way I see it, yes, libraries are changing… but it’s not going to happen over night. We can’t just go crazy radical and leave the rest behind. We have to fuse the two together and phase out the more traditional tasks (if that happens to be what you think will happen, which I don’t necessarily do at this point). 

    • Erin O

      Marie, you are understanding the question perfectly! I also dislike radical librarianship. And I also think that for the time being, the more traditional tasks cannot go unnoticed altogether. The way I see it, yes, libraries are changing… but it’s not going to happen over night. We can’t just go crazy radical and leave the rest behind. We have to fuse the two together and phase out the more traditional tasks (if that happens to be what you think will happen, which I don’t necessarily do at this point).

      • Erin Bennett

        I totally agree with this! The conversation about changing libraries makes it seem like tomorrow all the books will be gone and everything will be digital. However the thing to remember is that change happens more slowly than we might think or want. This can be a good time if we take the time to figure out where it is that the trends are heading and what the community needs from us and adapt accordingly.

    • Anonymous

      I think I know what you’re getting at, Marie, in terms of ‘traditional tasks.’  While all the aspects of ‘radical librarianship’ are exciting and definitely extraordinarily valuable, I don’t think it means that the traditional tasks are not important too.  At the end of the day, books do need to be ordered, shelved, and placed in transit/ on hold.  It is the service the users expect.  And while I think its brilliant that we are ever increasing the possibilities for what a user can expect from a library, those traditional tasks are still important.  We might even find ourselves loosing the users who already have certain expectations from their library, if we  neglect the traditional tasks.

      • Anonymous

        Perhaps rather than questioning the necessity of the everyday tasks of the library (though I think there is room to do this, to some extent), we should instead be wondering who will be handling those everyday tasks. Many libraries are increasingly cutting back on staff and relying on volunteers to handle the tasks that require little training. This means librarians who spent much of their work week doing those kinds of tasks are either pulled away to do other kinds of work or, sadly, left without a job.

        It’s a trend that’s upsetting to many. But once that trend is set in motion, it’s going to be hard to halt. Librarians are going to have an awfully tough time trying to make the case that they’re needed, as trained professionals, for everyday tasks that are now being handled competently by non-professionals. Instead, making a case for a librarian’s worth specifically as a trained professional who is suited for professional tasks seems like a much more useful approach. That isn’t to say that one should be able to go through their career as a public librarian without ever learning how to, say, check out a book. But  letting go of the thinking that the less professional tasks are what a librarian “does” may be necessary in going forward. We, of course, realize that librarians do so much more than that, and now those handling payroll seemingly realize the same thing. The librarian’s reason for existence must then be found elsewhere, I think.

        • Anonymous

          I like this point Sean, but I think it’s important to consider that if any of us end up working in a very small library with minimal staff, we could wind up performing a lot of these tasks that aren’t necessarily best suited to our skill set. This may also become the case as budgets to hire other staff shrink.

      • Mikal S.

        Absolutely! I don’t mean to detract too much from the discussion, but I’m going to make a quick movie reference. There’s a scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ where the eponymous character gets defensive about blue collar labor being considered lowly and states that there’s honor in “laying brick.” I think that applies to any profession, and certainly to arguably menial duties with which librarians are tasked. As you said, Jillian, someone has to shelve the books. There are plenty of chores that need doing, and they shouldn’t be shirked or disdained because of idealistic aspirations. It’s simply not practical, on the one hand, but it also assumes a dispensability which undermines the work and value of industrious librarians.

        • Anonymous

          I literally just watched that very scene from ‘Good Will Hunting’ last weekend. :)

          • Mikal S.

            Awesome! It’s a great movie, definitely one of my favorites. Who would’ve ever thought I’d reference it in order to make a point on an issue related to librarianship?

  • Anonymous

    I can’t speak for Lankes, but following his train of thought, I think he’d have us peek into the future of librarianship with him, and in this future, I think one might argue we don’t see toner cartridges and books. Okay, maybe vestiges of them, but things are changing. Many libraries will either close or morph into different community service entities. (Just like they always have.) 

    My children will think a magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work. (Have you seen that Huffington Post video of that baby with the iPad?) They will need and want their libraries to offer radically different services, or they won’t participate. Thus, people who work in these libraries will have to radically change how the library looks, runs, feels, where it is, etc. The why of libraries won’t change, but I think many other aspects of them will before my career is over. 

    Lankes is calling us to action. Of course any job has the quotidian toner-replacing-shelf-reading equivalent, but it’s vital to take a step back, occasionally, to get perspective (why am I doing this job, anyway?). We should commune with each other about the why and look for opportunities to push our profession and field forward so we can inspire one another to do even more awesome work. A Magazine Is An iPad That Doesn’t Work video: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/13/baby-magazine-versus-ipad_n_1009172.html

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the video Mia. The concept presented here is fascinating, and somewhat unnerving. It’s not farfetched to think that eventually we’ll move beyond ebook domination to the point where most media and documents are electronic, interactive, and accessible. In the future will we even continue to teach children handwriting? It’s conceivable that they will always have access to some form of keyboard. These would be broad changes to society as a whole, not just to libraries. As long as libraries keep one step ahead of the curve in terms of what are traditional roles these tasks should remain relevant. Someone has to plug in the ipad.