It’s time for the end of the year post. You know the one filled with lists, lessons, and proposals for the future. I would not want to buck the system. So let’s start with some lists:
This is a list of international cities I visited as part of conferences and meetings this year. They were all spectacular. You know what I learned from this European Tour? Every country’s librarians think another country’s librarians are in better shape. In the U.S. we envy the support libraries in the Nordic countries get. The Italians envy how U.S. public libraries are integrated into the communities. I have talked with librarians in Africa, the UK, in Chile, and throughout the U.S. You know what I learned? The prosperity of your library has a lot less to do with where it is then who is in it.
In Kenya librarians pack libraries onto the backs of camels. In Egypt, the library of Alexandria became a beacon of liberty in the Arab Spring. Across Illinois librarians embraced entrepreneurship and transformation in towns like Eureka and DuPage and Joliet. I found innovation in Delaware, Vermont, and Dallas. I found amazing libraries in urban cores, and rural outposts. I have seen a suburban library take the idea of a newly graduated LIS student and turn itself into a Maker Space. What I learned from my travels? You create your own landscape.
- Mainstream Hack
- Militant, and
- Lacks “self esteem as a librarian”
These are the names I’ve been called this year. The good news in 2011 was that my Atlas of New Librarianship was published. The better news was that the book did what I hoped – started conversations. Many of these conversations were thoughtful, intense, and fruitful. Some, however, were not.
A mentor of mine once said that questions are good. If you present something and it raises no questions, it means it wasn’t interesting enough to comment upon. This year I must have said something interesting. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t take some of these comments personally. There was a lot of cursing in front of my computer. However, I learned to take a deep breath, and always respond to the substance of the comment, not the vitriol. I also learned that no name stings so keenly as the silence of mediocrity. I have a healthy respect for those who take the time to comment in public regardless of their position. I fear those who disagree, but remain silent. That is not how we move the field forward.
One of those names, however, takes some further comment. One commenter said that “Lankes’ deconstruction of the library profession to an inexplicit pottage of universalistic buzzwords is an indication of his lack of self-esteem as a librarian.” Now of all the criticism I have received in my life, lack of self-esteem is a new one.
The comment implies that by questioning and reimagining the profession that somehow I, and others, either dismiss the value of the profession, or “know not what librarianship is.” I like to think I know what it is, but I admit to being more focused on what it can become.
As Ranganathan enshrined in his 5th law “the library is a growing organism.” That is, to know what librarianship is today does not mean you know it tomorrow. It will change. eBooks and websites in our collections, digital reference and gaming in our services are today’s latest changes, but librarianship HAS ALWAYS evolved and changed. It is the defining aspect of a vital and relevant profession that it evolves and reforms itself.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines esteem as “respect and admiration.” I have an immense respect for the field and librarians. However, the lesson that I have taken away from this year, and that I will carry as a theme into the New Year is to expect more.
For far too long we have treated the innovators and leaders in our field as exceptional. While they are brilliant and brave, we can no longer treat them as the exceptions. We must see their work as the standard. Librarians who have raised their budgets in these economic times should not be treated as fortunate, or beyond the norm; we must see their example as the new normal. We must stop seeing those who create new technologies, or who raise the usage of our services as superhuman, and see them as the benchmark. No longer can we allow the mediocre of our field train the expectations of our communities. No longer can we simply talk about the future of our field among ourselves, sheltered from the withering criticism of the uninformed.
We must expect more of ourselves. We must stop talking about doing “more with less” and start talking about “doing better to get more.” We must expect all librarians, with degrees or without, with tenure or not, to lead and innovate. No more worker bees.
We must expect more of those whom we serve. They are not customers or consumers – they are members of our libraries with an ownership stake in our survival. They are not users that simply take and leave nothing behind….they are our collection – pour ultimate mission.
This is my resolution: expect more, of myself, of you, and of those whom we serve. So let’s give ourselves a huge pat on the back for making it through a very tough year, toast the New Year, and then get back to the work of making the world a better place.