This is a post that corresponds with my graduate coursework in the field of library and information science. If you are not interested in reading my homework, simply skipping any post that begins with “IST###” should put you in the clear.
I have held many library cards in my relatively short life. I went to good primary and secondary schools, so I always had access to those libraries. Thanks to my mom’s status as a public school teacher, we were able to have a family membership in her school’s town, which was by far the best public library in the area at the time (it probably still is, though there are a couple contenders now). I loved going to the library after school and making friends with the children’s librarians.
However, I wouldn’t be satisfied with my family’s library membership. I also made sure to become a member of nearly every library possible, even when I didn’t strictly need to. As soon as I had proof of residency somewhere, I went to the library to get a shiny new card. So it came to pass that I possess library cards from three different counties in New Jersey, and two different public libraries in Australia. This does not count the fact that every university ID I have ever had is also a library card and my primary/secondary school libraries did not require cards. I don’t have any from New York State yet, but it’s really only a matter of time.
So I really love belonging to libraries. I love the resources that they provide for me, and I love them even more now that e-resources have made it unnecessary for me to leave my house to access much of what I need. Maybe this behavior isn’t so unusual in the crowd I roll with now, but I didn’t see any of my peers rushing to join libraries at the time.
This week in my Introduction to Library and Information Profession class — a class that surveys the many aspects of librarianship and the library/information industry in general — we have been discussing the mission of “new libraries.” The overall premise of this class seems to be that the world has changed (is still changing) and so must libraries, but it is not yet clear how that change will manifest. Indeed, the conversation so far has been emphasizing that library members, as much as current and aspiring professionals, have a major role in shaping that change.
Our text-book, The Atlas of New Librarianship (2012), written by our professor, David Lankes, says about the concept of Constructivism,
Librarians don’t make learning happen; rather they both create the conditions for learning and fulfill the need for learning on the part of the member. Constructivism and motivation are very much about a member-centric view. The effect of librarians is seen in the member. The power is ultimately resident in the member (p 27).
Apart from the slight overuse of the word “member,” this statement, and related statements in our video lectures, smacked me in the face. I have been a patron of so many libraries, but I have never felt like I could help construct and give meaning to the library myself. I have always felt like a passive user (especially while sitting at home checking out e-books from my couch).
When this concept came up again in my Reference and Information Literacy course, and it was actually suggested that another viable word for library patron is library owner, I knew I had to write about this for my response blog post. I have certainly never felt a sense of ownership in any of the libraries to which I have belonged…and I think that this is probably 92% my own fault. I never tried to partly own the library. In all my library-joining, I never even thought about how my tax money, tuition money, etc. was helping to pay for the library; that in the most literal, economic sense (but not a vindictive, mean person sense), I do partially own the library. Kind of. I certainly never considered my role in the library in other ownership senses either. I never took an interest in learning about the programs my libraries offered or how I could get involved. I never asked myself what I could contribute to the library community with my own skills. Of course, my memory is imperfect, so maybe I am not giving myself enough credit. However, the fact that this concept surprised me so much is, I think, indicative of at least my most recent library participation.
I’m still not totally comfortable with the sense of members as owners, because (as my vindictiveness caveat earlier probably suggested) it feels vaguely threatening. It makes me think of conquistadors and colonialism, like I would be walking into the library and surveying my domain. Maybe this attitude is preferable to complete passivity, but I prefer to think of a symbiotic relationship. The library needs the people (and for more than just funding) and the people need the library. They each contribute to the betterment of the other.
Seems obvious now I really think about it. I hope I can hold up my part of the bargain moving forward.