Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why 'Librarianism'?

Well, you all made it through my first couple of blog posts, so your reward is a much shorter one!  I’d like to cover something that should have been the subject of my first post, but it kind of took second place to addressing the situation in Boston that week.  Nevertheless, I will tackle it now--why did I name my blog ‘Librarianism’?

There are a couple other blogs with the name out there, thus my inclusion of the word ‘viva’ in the url.  My apologies to those who have gone before, but I figured my way was clear, as those blogs seemed inactive, and their use of the word ‘librarianism’ didn’t seem to have any especial political bearing on their content in the way it does on mine.

I have an idealistic notion of the place of ‘-ism’ in our world.  It gets a lot of guff, mainly from its association with a certain Red Menace of yesteryear, whose influence I theorize has colored certain folks’ perception of anything ending in those three letters ever since, no matter how benign.  Or, if not exactly benign, then no matter how positively if uncomfortably transformative.

To me, the main purpose of the ‘-ism’ appendage is to transform an identity into a movement.  The ‘-ism’ makes a statement that there is a body of goals and characteristics--not necessarily shared by every member of the group, but which every member can point to and agree makes up the tapestry of a collective identity they all share, an identity that is bigger than stereotype and misconception, an identity that is worth making known.

And so it is with librarians.  We are legion, and we are varied, but we almost invariably share certain common goals and values.  Those are well known to most of my audience, and for others, I’ll be getting into some of them in the future.  For now, suffice it to say that to turn ‘librarian’ into ‘librarianism’ is to turn those values, all too often idle in the midst of day-to-day library management and customer service, into action.

(I should mention that I don’t presume to be one of a few librarians leading active, value-driven careers.  There are many who live according to their versions of my idealized actionable librarian values, and have done so since long before I was born.  My only presumption is to throw my hat in the ring with them, and offer my particular views on the action in that ring.)

I would consider myself on the radical edge of the librarianist tapestry.  I’m still figuring out what that means.  There’s the intellectual freedom angle, there’s the LGBTQ service and access angle, there’s the inclusion of non-traditional materials angle, and so on--but those are hardly unique to me, or even at all remarkable among librarians.  Even my desire to confront the conventional wisdom of the profession, to shake up the foundations of our training--these are not really radical among my peers, in that they seem to be widely accepted concerns in the community, if to different degrees from librarian to librarian.

I can sum up my radicalism, I think--such as it is--in my assertion of what ‘service’ really means.  Service to our patrons and our communities, I believe, entails more than simply serving what they like and what they ‘need’ in a sort of subsistence fashion, but to look deeper, to push their boundaries, to see what is coming next; and then presenting it, advocating for it, and making our communities uncomfortable until they adapt.  I think you can see the trouble with that philosophy, compared to the library’s ‘traditional role,’ dictated as it is in part by the community’s approbation (and funding).  I stand by it, though.  We’ll talk.

But that is something I intend to get into in much greater depth down the line.  Sooner, I will treat you all to the instance of librarian-on-librarian intellectual aggression that actually compelled me to start this blog.  And after that, we can get into that time (yesterday) when I got into a fight with a more senior librarian about her deceased cat.  Not really.  But kind of.  And there’s a lesson in every tale!

But first, a library photo essay.  Look for that next week, if I find time during my trip to Miami Beach.  Have a good time in the meanwhile!  Mix it up and make it squirrely!

(Feel free to help me out with my sign-off.)

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