Reflections on Librarianship

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The following is a letter which was recently posted to the ALA Council List by PLG member Elaine Harger in which she reflects on where libraries, specifically public libraries, fit into the communities in which they are situated. She brings important questions to the table with regard to the roles and responsibilities held by both individual libraries and larger library affiliated institutions in light of economic and environmental disaster. Please read as food for thought and thank you to Kathleen de la Peña McCook for making this available to the broader PLG community!

Dear colleagues,

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about all the suggestions made this past week regarding topics for discussion at the Membership Meeting at annual. I have also been thinking about ALA and librarianship in general in regard to environmental issues and have yet another idea to add to the hopper.

How do we make libraries relevant in the face of ecological degradation and disaster? For instance, did libraries in New Orleans inform their users about the probability that a hurricane like Katrina might cause the kind of damage that it, in fact, did? It was well known to civil engineers, journalists and others that a big hurricane would devastate the region, but did libraries ever highlight that information so that people might be better prepared? And, what role did libraries in wealthy areas play in fostering a spirit of civic unity with people in poor areas? How did libraries inform users of the likelihood of massive numbers of people becoming refugees? And, what should a library’s responsibility be in the face of the ecological stresses scientists are now warning us about? What is ALA’s responsibility as a leader within our profession? These are not academic questions — each one of our communities is vulnerable and we are all interconnected in vital ways. I think it is time for a discussion of these issues, as they are at the heart of a conversation that the entire nation needs to engage in. Yes, we can discuss what we’d like to see an Obama administration do in regard to libraries, but we need a _vision_ of the direction librarianship must head toward in the face of environmental (and economic, social and political) problems before we can take a wish list to the new president.

Librarianship needs to take a good, hard, eyes-wide-open look at where we are physically, historically and morally in order to transition the profession to meet the pressures of a future the likes of which we’ve never seen. If we are to make good on our promises to bear witness of what happened in New Orleans, then we need to reflect on what our responsibility is in preparing our own users and communities for the “disasters” that await us. We can certainly “hope” that President Obama will lead us in the right direction regarding these matters, but we really should be proactive and let him know that we have been thinking about the role librarianship could play in the transition to a more just and healthy world.

This afternoon I read an essay by Arundhati Roy entitled “Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?” In it she makes a special point about honorable people who get elected to positions of power. I highly recommend this essay, which can be found at:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/95259/Do-Turkeys-Enjoy-Thanksgiving

We can’t passively “hope” for a better world, we need to be that change, and in order for this to happen within librarianship we need to do some serious reflection on where we fit into society, what that society is truly like and what we would like it to become.

All my best,

Elaine Harger
Councilor-at-Large

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Campaign for Older Adult Library Patrons

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We ended the 2008 Lifelong Access Institute (see following post) with Fellows sharing their “elevator pitches” to key stakeholder groups- their management and staff, advisory or governing bodies, and to older adult library patrons themselves. Here is what we heard from the 2008 participants:

Making the case to the community:
“Public libraries are essential in helping individuals and communities navigate an ever more complex culture with less and less social social services. If we can successfully engage boomers, they can help ensure that libraries evolve in relevant and cost effective ways for future generations to come and sustain a democratic society of informed, engaged and skilled citizens. Can we count on you to support our library initiative?”

Making the case to potential partners:
“You know we have health information. And because we’re neutral ground and have trained librarians, the information can be trusted. But, did you know the library is also a brain health center? We stimulate minds, connect generations and collect legacies of wisdom. We can reduce unnecessary emergency room visits with information, by reducing loneliness and keeping minds active. Let’s talk about how we can partner.”

Making the case to colleagues and/or the board:
“We’re reaching out to a new and expanded population.This group has high expectations for themselves and for what library services they feel they should be offered. We have such a strong infrastructure for youth services, and we should be bringing an equally strong commitment to our adults as well. This advocacy is important because it has long-term implications due to longer life spans. This is a way to cultivate a powerful advocacy through votes, money, and influence.”

Carolyn Caywood, 2008 Lifelong Fellow and librarian at the Bayside Special Services Library in Virginia Beach, prepared this 3-minute overview of her Lifelong Libraries project for the Virginia Beach Public Library management team:

Senior Services Plan

Slide 1 Image: Whistler’s Mother at 67
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* What assumptions do we have about “seniors”? [feedback from audience]

* We need to get past these assumptions and explore possibilities, see positive aspects of aging. What can we as library users hope for, as we grow older?

Slide 2 Image: Westminster Canterbury Calendar

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* Life after 65 has changed. Boomers are better educated, more diverse, and more likely to live through their 70s than any previous generation. But Boomers will not use libraries and reading in the same ways that their parents did.

* Life for older adults can be a time of liberation, creativity, wisdom, and community-building. Libraries are uniquely qualified to facilitate these positive aspects of aging.

* The large population who will “age in place” in Virginia Beach will drive public policy decisions about land use, transportation, and tax revenues. We must engage these older adults in support of City services rather than in competition with other service needs.

* Boomers are predicted to work in retirement and we need to adapt our expectations of volunteering and part time jobs to take advantage of their expertise. We need to support “re-careering” aspirations in addition to leisure reading and lifelong learning.