Week 8: Why Libraries?

This week’s lecture centered on why libraries exist and what is special about libraries that make them unique to the community. According to Lankes, libraries’ main reasons for existing are that they provide collective buying , economic stimulus, centers for learning, a safety net, steward of culture, cradle of democracy, and symbols of community aspirations. In a nutshell, these ideas are all based in empowering the people of the community.  If libraries are all about empowering people, they sound like a pretty valuable piece of the community, yet there is still skepticism around the future of libraries.

Through my own experience, what I’ve heard from my library school classmates, and various articles and blog posts, I’ve gathered that there are quite a few people out there that believe libraries are becoming obsolete. Many people say that the internet and ebooks provide the same services a library would and these services are now accessible from home, therefore there is no reason to go to the library. Maybe this accounts for a small population of people who used the library to only check out books, but it is an over generalization to say libraries are only as good how many books they lend out.

Lankes reports a statistic that something like less than 1% of libraries have been closed during the recent economic downturn. This suggests not only that libraries are important to the community despite (and in some cases because of) economic hardship, but also that those library skeptics are missing something. Some library services may be becoming obsolete due to new technology, but the new technology is also allowing libraries to adopt more and better services.

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Week 7: Librarians

A concept from this thread that I have thought about before and reconsidered while reading was the issue of what librarians should do when the amount of information out there is too much and too complicated to be handled. The example from the Atlas of the data being gathered from US highways is an interesting dilemma in librarianship that will probably be encountered more and more. Lankes gives four possible options, three of which are obvious non-newlibrarianship approaches (I actually did not even read “Catalog it All” because I automatically thought “No. Please, don’t even try that”). The choice that Lankes suggests, to embrace it, is really not as simple or concrete as the others.

Restructuring and reevaluating the core of the library is necessary in order to keep up with the future of information and knowledge creation, but it is a concept I have trouble wrapping my head around. It sounds great when talking about Conversation theory and how to get members involved in a conversation, but it’s hard to visualize what that might look like in the future. In relation to the highway data example, the Atlas wants librarians to look at the data in terms of the conversations it is used in, but what if there are no conversations about it yet? New data is created constantly, so how can librarians help facilitate conversations from data they and possible the member do not know anything about. There has to be some starting off point created by librarian or other professional that gives access to the data being collected, and then some way for it to be organized before a conversation can happen.

Week 6: Improve Society

To go along with the post from last week on communities and the library’s role to serve its community, this week’s thread on improving society put some limitations on that concept.  If the community’s needs dictated everything about the library, there would be chaos. The needs within a community are never the same from person to person, so just providing the service without consideration of other factors may be counterproductive to another community members effort to create knowledge. “Improving society” might sound like a vague and idealist notion, but it is necessary in order to govern the library.

Saying that a library’s main goal is to improve society gives context to what a library should be doing, but at the same time complicates its mission. Ethical dilemmas arise and the library needs policies and procedures that make it a safe place for the community. The library staff have to make decisions based on their own judgement and interpretations, which may end up in opposition to some or all of the community.

An example that I keep thinking of is from my library where I went to high school. The library was set up so that you entered through the doors at the front and had to exit at a different door towards the back. Simple enough most of the time, but the exit made you walk all the way around the building to get to the parking lot where the buses picked the students up. So students at dismissal time would want to leave through the front door and be yelled at by the staff and made to go to the exit door. The community centric person in me says that the library had it wrong and that they should have listened to students and allowed them to exit closest to the buses. So why did they not do that? Because they only had a limited amount of machines that had the sensors to detect if material was leaving the library without being checked out, and those sensors were at the exit location.

What I hope the library considered was that preventing theft of materials was beneficial to both the library and the community. Economically, theft would hurt the library for obvious reasons, but also in consideration of safety because reporting theft might scare people away. The library made a judgment call and used “satisficing” to determine how they create an optimal situation with the resources that they had. There was backlash from the community (angry moms whose kids missed the bus) but serving the community in this situation was ultimately not best for the community.

Week 5: Communities

The focus of this week’s thread is communities.  From the mission of librarians, we know that libraries are there to facilitate knowledge creation in their communities.  The inclusion of communities in the mission statement is very important, as librarians who try to facilitate knowledge creation would be stuck without knowing who is creating the knowledge and what knowledge people wanted to create.  The needs of the community should dictate what services a library offers.

In the thread, Lankes says that credibility is even decided by the community.  At first, this was a puzzling concept to me, as I imagine Librarians to be authorities on what should be considered a credible source. After thinking about the example given of the “memoir” that was found to be made up, I realized that it would be a disservice to the community to label that as not credible.  There are a number of ways that the source could be used.  For someone who wanted to know about the author’s life or the realities of drug addiction, then citing the “memoir” would probably not be a good idea. For someone who was interested in creative writing, it might be useful to use the source as an example of writing style. Saying the source is simply not credible and removing it from the collection doesn’t take into account all of the needs of the community. Saying something is “credible” does not make something right or true (it could be debated whether anything is ever really “true”).  The conversations that people have regarding the source, either with themselves or others, can still create knowledge. 

Week 4: Facilitation

As I was applying to LIS schools, I often spoke with my undergrad friends about whether becoming a librarian was the right choice for me.  Most were very supportive, others were skeptical, but almost all had one piece of advice. That was not to be the librarian that taught the class on every course’s syllabus telling students how to use the library for research.  Though it might sound very unlibrarian of me, I completely agree with them.  Most classes that required some kind of research project, which was essentially all upper-level classes, had set aside a class session where the class would meet in the library computer lab and have a librarian show the various online databases and how to use the library website to search the catalog. These were very useful skills to teach, but after sophomore year, they were just plain redundant.

After reading the thread this week, I would say that the problem with those classes most likely had to do with motivation.  The class was an opportunity to use the library resources with the help of the librarian, the professor, and also classmates, but most students would get nothing done during that period.  It wasn’t the fault of the librarian though. Everyone there was extrinsically motivated to be there for the attendance and participation points, but not intrinsically motivated by the opportunity to research (especially when the project is due in over month). 

There’s not much a librarian can do to force people to start research when they don’t want to.  But I can remember times when a librarian taught some handy research tools that I used sometime later in the research process.  The first time someone told me about using “*” for truncation, I literally spent a half hour typing in random words with * to see what the results would give me.  Did I find anything that I needed to use immediately for a source? No.  Did I use it later when I actually wanted to be researching a specific topic? Yes.  A better approach to using the class time in the library, might be to teach the research methods but let the students pick whatever topic they felt motivated to research.  That way the pressure to pick a topic for the final paper doesn’t inhibit the student from exploring databases and practicing useful skills.

Week 3: Knowledge Creation

This week’s thread focused on Conversation Theory and how knowledge is created when two people (or two parts of one person) make agreements. Reading this statement without reading the thread, you might think that sounds absurd. Lankes goes into detail describing what he actually means by “conversation” and “agreements” and how the process works. What I found most intriguing about this thread is that Lankes basically proves his point, by proving his point. He goes into how language is crucial in conversations whether you have an expert or basic vocabulary on the subject and that before you agree on anything you must understand what is being said. That is exactly what I did within the text of the thread. At first I didn’t understand the vocabulary of conversation theory. Not that I didn’t know what a conversation or an agreement was, but I didn’t know what they meant in the context of knowledge creation. After Lankes defined the smaller details of Conversation Theory in more basic terms and examples, I could understand the theory better and was able to agree with it and even better apply it to librarianship.

During most of the thread, I kept trying to think of librarian-like scenarios where Conversation Theory applied. This past weekend I was helping my boyfriend find an article to bring to his group for a research project. I thought “Great! A perfect chance to practice some database searching” (and to possibly show off with some Boolean logic). My boyfriend is a physical therapy grad student and told me he needed something on “rehabilitation and treatment of lateral epicondylitis”. There was about 5 seconds of blank staring from me. I could type that into the search engine but would be able to do nothing with the results. So I asked “what is epicondylitis?” And was told it is tennis elbow. That was better because I’ve actually heard those words before, but know nothing about tennis I had no idea how you get tennis elbow. After a brief explanation of elbow anatomy (which I won’t embarrass myself by trying to repeat) and how tennis players swing the racket, I exclaimed “Oh, like when your elbow hurts after you play Wii all day!” And in my mind I kept thinking Wii elbow whenever reading about lateral epicondylitis. In that interaction, there was conversation between two people that made it possible to attain knowledge.

Week 1: Mission

I found this thread of the Atlas to be both daunting and also comforting.  Daunting in that, as referred to in the title The Atlas of New Librarianship, the library field is in the midst of change.  The traditional concepts of librarians are being outgrown, leaving many people to question the value of libraries and librarians.  So, why would I find this comforting? Because the “newness” of librarianship is exactly why I chose this career path.  I cannot tell you how many times someone has mentioned the Dewey Decimal System as a response to me telling them I am going to be a librarian.  “Do I like the Dewey Decimal System?”, “Am I going to learn everything about the Dewey Decimal System?”.  No, of course I did not choose to become a librarian because of the Dewey Decimal System. I’d try to explain that libraries today don’t really have much to do with the library as a building, but more with the people who seek information.  Now I know what I really wanted to tell them was that our worldviews of librarianship were different. What I thought the Atlas accurately points out is that libraries are so often defined by their function, that people oversee the real importance of librarians.  Organizing and cataloging materials are important, but what purpose do those actions serve if no one accesses the materials or the content of those materials is irrelevant to the members of the community that the library serves.

After reading the thread and watching the video lectures, the thought that kept popping up in my mind was that the difference between people who “go” to the library and those who “use” the library.  Especially in academic libraries that serve university students, there are plenty of people who go to the library just to put in their headphones and type away on their laptops but they really aren’t using the library.  Others will search the library databases and check out books for research papers, but does that even qualify as using the library? People can do these actions basically on their own and there’s not much librarians can do to help in the process. It’s easy to see these people and argue that libraries are outdated and can be replaced by any room with computers and internet access. What you throw away when adopting this attitude is the people who are “using” the library.  People who do use the library are the ones asking the people behind the desks questions.  Maybe they need to know how to get a hold of specific reference, or they need ideas for tackling a research question.  People carrying out non-library specific actions get clumped in with the “users” of the library.  The challenge that new librarianship encounters is redefining what society believes a library is and making it a place that has more “users” than just “goers”.