Social Literacy

Map Location
F, G, 1
Thread Location
Page 76

Elizabeth Gall

Agreement Description

The Atlas defines Social Literacy as (i) the power of identity in groups, and (ii) the process of defining and expanding social groupings to further our aims (p. 93). Although the recent emergence of online social networking tools has reminded us of the need for librarians to facilitate social literacy, it is an issue that has been present and in need of attention in libraries much longer than Facebook has been around.

The Atlas argues that literacy is a radical topic and librarianship is a radical profession. The truth of this statement shines through in the argument that librarians must work to facilitate social literacy within the profession in the same way they facilitate the social literacy of members. There are some serious issues with social literacy in libraries, and librarians cannot ignore them if they want to facilitate social literacy among members. In the library, there are librarians and nonlibrarians, and the groups are clearly defined. This division affects members, nonmembers, paraprofessionals, and librarians alike. If social literacy is the power of identity in groups, the social literacy of libraries is divided and ineffective. If the librarian and nonlibrarian groupings identify themselves as separate groupings that simply function in the same space, neither will be able to clearly define themselves or their aims. Ultimately, the library will not function in a way that serves the needs of its community.

As librarians define their identity as separate from the rest of the library staff, members, and nonmembers, they deny those groups’ input in defining their identity. Let’s return to the Atlas’ other definition of social literacy, the process of defining and expanding social groupings to further our aims. If librarians want to play a role in this process as they facilitate other groupings’ social literacy, they must open their own grouping first so they can learn what their new role is and embrace it.

If librarians are to facilitate social literacy, must they participate in defining member groups? Can they define these groups if they are not a part of it? Reason says no. How can you define a group if you do not have intimate knowledge of it from within? Imagine defining a word after seeing it written alone, without a context. Instead of defining librarians based on their title, libraries are beginning to define their role based on the groupings they serve. As their role is redefined, librarians are becoming a part of these member groupings. Instead of reading one word, they are reading a paragraph.

One example of active library participation in member groupings is embedded librarianship. Kesselman et al. (2009) define embedded librarians as those who provide information services as a part of the group. They further explain, “Embedded librarians are, first and foremost, integrated into their settings, be they traditional or nontraditional” (Kesselman et al., 2009). They argue that, for librarians to find their place in our increasingly digital and constantly changing world, they must actively engage with the populations they serve regardless of their location, purpose, or aims. Embedded librarians can function in a range of intensities. They may manage a grouping’s online presence and provide digital resources to meet their needs. They may attend regular meetings or simply read a group’s monthly newsletter. No matter what, they must become a part of the groups they serve to facilitate social literacy.

Forrest (2005) discusses a library that took a different approach to librarian involvement in member groups. The Generals Libraries at Emory University found that it is better able to serve the university community by creating market councils for different member groups. By becoming directly and continuously involved in the groups, librarians are better able to define them and provide services that best suit their needs. Two years after the implementation of market councils, the General Libraries at Emory University found they are an effective way to respond to and serve different member groups. Regardless of the setting, librarians must redefine their own grouping and become a part of other groupings if they want to facilitate social literacy.

Related Artifacts

Forrest, C. (2005). Segmenting the library market, reaching out to the user community by reaching across the organization. The Georgia Librarian, 42(1), 4.

Annotation: The General Libraries at Emory University realigned its organizational structure along functional processes. It created market councils for different segments of the university population. The population was divided by area of study as well as certain demographics, undergraduate, international, and so on. The councils’ goal is to ensure that the functional units of the library are aligned with the needs of the subset of members the council serves. As a result, the functional units define themselves according to, or dare I say as a part of, the member group it serves. As a result the library is user-focused and better able to define and serve the needs of different groups on campus.

Kesselman, M., & Watstein, S. (2009). Creating opportunities: Embedded librarians. Journal of Library Administration, 49(4), 383.

Annotation: Kesselman et al. first define the embedded librarian, next examine the role of the embedded librarian in higher education, and finally discuss the practical implications of embedding librarians. A librarian can be embedded in any kind of library, within any community, and part of any group. An embedded librarian is one for whom a regular part of work is to provide information and information services as part of a group. Embedded librarians function as part of member groups on an increasingly frequent basis. These librarians facilitate social literacy as parts of the groups they are defining. Some librarians are extremely involved in the groups and others are less active participants, but they are all developing the social literacy of librarians along with that of the groups to which they belong.

  • Bill Stevens

    Interesting concepts…as an Embedded Librarian into the Business Programs at our University (Undergraduate and Graduate), my colleagues and I constantly discuss what is an Embedded Librarian versus what is a Library Liaison…from what read here, there is only an Embedded Librarian, regardless of how ‘physically’ embedded into a given program one is.