Sunday, July 28, 2013

Opening Up a Can of Libraries on All the World's Problems

I’ve been thinking a lot about the world’s big problems lately.  Fracking poisoning our water supply, pesticide cocktails killing off the bees, climate change, privacy and the government’s reach (and the public’s inability to adequately gauge appropriate levels of either)--it’s all so overwhelming.  I believe that staying informed and voicing our opinions on these issues can help, but it’s a minor kind of help at best, a lot of the time.

So I like to go looking for domains in which the efforts of the little people can have outsized positive consequences. Luckily, my own lovely librarianship is one where small-scale and grassroots efforts are doing incredible things for communities, the country and the world by bridging access gaps, addressing special needs, promoting literacy and so much more.  Here are just a few of my favorite examples of such efforts--I hope they brighten your occasional gloomy outlook!

  • The Volunteer Librarian Brigade: This radical, grassroots effort based in New York City brings the ‘roving librarian’ concept to a whole new, and necessary, level.  It doesn’t occur to many people out on the street to go to a library to get help, so these folks bring the library to the streets.  Professional librarians train volunteers in the basics of reference and research work, then they all head out to make a difference.  If you’re in the New York area, consider joining up!
  • Librarians Build Communities: In the same wheelhouse, this is a web-based service pairing librarians (and their skills) with communities and organizations in need.  It’s another kind of roving, this time focused on the things librarians do that are not necessarily book-oriented.  Why haven’t we been doing this for decades?
  • The Internet Public Library: Another go-where-they-are entry, this website brings reference services to the masses over the non-threatening medium of the Internet--and as a bonus, it provides real-world experience for LIS students, which is always great (and somewhat rare!).  Search their site or submit a query, and dedicated (or dictated) volunteers will soon have a detailed answer for you.  It’s hosted by Drexel University’s College of Information Science and Technology, so you can trust their quality-control to have some cred.
  • Little Free Library: As far as i’m concerned, this one is almost venerable at this point--not because of age, but because of the impact it’s made during its existence.  So simple, so good.  The mini libraries built with the support of the folks running this show are cute, artsy, and/or surreal in form, and they’re popping up all over--taking ‘take a book, leave a book’ up a level or twelve.
  • ALA Think Tank: Social media drives this community that underscores the quirky, funny, and unabashedly rough-hewn side of librarianship.  This group is an incubator for great ideas and great librarians.
  • LibraryReads: This is a brand-new book recommendation initiative.  It’s extremely open--any employed public librarian will be able to contribute recommendations and reviews once the service launches in the fall.  Sure, it’s a major undertaking with a snazzy website and everything, but by its nature this kind of reader’s advisory has a very personal touch.  And of course, pulling book recommendation out of the hands of the publishers’ echo chamber and the rarefied ivory tower of the critics can only be a good thing for readers!
  • Libraries Changed My Life tumblr: A great public outreach tool.  What better way to pump up the public than by asking them to share their own beautiful bibliotecky memories?  The posts so far are funny, sweet and throat-lump inducing.  And it’s a tumblr blog, which is just so full of win right now, to use the argot of the day.
  • Queer For Books: An individual effort that fills a serious gap, this evolved from an LIS student project into what is, in my ever so highly qualified opinion, the go-to resource for LGBTQ resources and knowledge for the information professional.  LGBTQ patrons tend to languish on the underserved side of public institutions, due to the population’s innate tendency toward invisibility and a lack of awareness of those knowledge gaps on the part of non-LGBTQ professionals.  This fills those gaps most admirably for librarians.  Big kudos to my web-friend Sami Gardner for building this.  If my readers do nothing else with my blog, please put this site in your toolbox!
  • The librarian who banned a book: I love this guy and what he did and why he did it.  He made a stir over what is often an ossified  issue that is often condemned by rote, or worse, ignored entirely.  Of course we all mostly oppose book banning, but until it happens in our community, we are rarely moved to agitate for the right of freedom of expression and inquiry.  If that sounds gloomy for this hope-oriented post, take a page from DiMarco and...ban a book at your library?  Never thought I’d be saying that...
  • Librarians LOUD: Okay, so this might be a little bit of tooting my own horn. I was part of a group of library students at the University at Buffalo who staged this three-day event last year, which included a game-filled festival, lively panels, an information booth, visible read-outs around campus, and a rally outside the university president’s office building.  The goal?  To raise awareness that we exist, that we have voices, that yes, you need a  master’s degree to be a librarian.  We hoped to get students and faculty talking about those noisy, kooky kids with the silly signs out on the pavement--and we succeeded.  Now we’re planning Librarians LOUD 2--Louder and Librarian-er! (That’s not what we’re calling it.)  This year, we’re hoping to get other schools and libraries involved, too.  Wanna be loud with us?  Email me at!

The point of all of these examples is that everything librarians touch turns to gold.  Okay, maybe not gold, but we do a lot of things to make a lot of things better--our patrons’ lives, their communities, and our own profession.  Radical, individual, and/or grassroots expressions of the knowledge, power and importance of librarianship help move society forward.

That makes me feel better.

No comments:

Post a Comment