Door-to-Door Librarianship

IST 511 Thread Four: Community, or Do Houseboat People Need Librarians?

Door-to-Door Librarians
A book I was reading for another class on rare book librarianship emphasized the need for a rare book librarian to get out of the stacks and spend time promoting his or her program to the academic community as well as the wider local community. 

Originally, I pictured librarians as door-to-door salesman types:

Librarian:“Sooo, I hear you are a physics professor! Quantum physics is still physics, right? Well, we have a great deal right now, limited time, where you can actually touch a FIRST EDITION of Galileo’s famous work– ON MOTION!” 

Professor: DOOR SLAM

Librarian: “Sooo, I see you have two toddlers! Well, we have a great deal right now,  limited time, where you can actually read Godey’s Lady’s Book for mid-19th  century child-rearing tips!”

Community Member: DOOR SLAM

Later the book talked about exhibits and events that could be held to draw in a local audience, which seemed a better way to reach the public with your rare book collection than going door-to-door with a backpack full of rare books (not to mention better for the books). Even in the material-centric world of rare books, community outreach is more important.  What is the point in maintaining a collection without a community to use and enjoy it?

Real World Library Experience
In my interview with librarian Sara Kelly Johns, we spent a great deal of time talking about how librarians need to be involved with the community as a participant and a facilitator. 

Sara talked a lot about her work as a school librarian and the ways that a school librarian can serve the community. Librarians look for the issues that are keeping their administrators, teachers and students awake at night and then look for a service they can provide to help.  By starting not with “What services can I offer based on my own expectations?” but with “What services does my community need me to offer?”, the librarian can create a program that will be useful and important to the community.

By starting with community needs, staying relevant to the community is easier.  As the community changes and adapts to its environment, the librarian adapts his or her library programming to better suit the developing community.  When a librarian knows the community well enough, this adaptation becomes less reactive and more intuitive.

Note to Self:
If being a door-to-door librarian is not realistic, maybe I should consider becoming a houseboat librarian.  I am sure there are unique needs voiced by the houseboat community that are not being served by landlubber librarians. 


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Interdisciplinary Friendship


You know your Med School friend is meant to be a doctor when she sends you regular updates on her Anatomy Lab because she is SO excited about what she is learning.

You know you are NOT meant to be a doctor when her regular updates aren’t quite as exciting to you.

Best of luck in all your endeavors Liz, but please stop sending me Med School texts at dinnertime. Also, no more puns!

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IST 511 Thread Three: Facilitation, or Serving the Needs of the Community In The Strangest Ways
Survival of the Deadliest
In Florida, nearly everything in nature is trying to kill you.  Crocs, gators, brown recluse spiders, poison oak, barracuda, Man-o-war, lemon sharks…nature in Florida isn’t cute and cuddly, it’s lethal and dangerous and YOU are its next snack.

Nature Puts Out the Welcome Mat…Or at Least Sits On It.
When my family first moved from Rhode Island to Florida, the state was experiencing an El Nino year, meaning it rained more than usual ALL YEAR LONG.  The water rose so high that nature decided that the safest place to wait out the flood was our house.

The first week we were in our new home, Mom opened the door to get a package from the UPS man and a snake was curled up on our doormat.  The UPS man handed the package over the snake, said “I think that’s a water moccasin, ma’am”, and left. Mom shut the door and refused to go outside for a few days.

The Snake that Ruined Christmas
Around Christmas, Mom was in the backyard trying to convince the plants in the backyard that they enjoyed being continuously drowned in a torrential downpour. As she opened the sliding glass door to come inside, something slithered over her foot and into the house. A long brown ribbon of snake shot past her and headed for the only thing indoors that looked like the outdoors: the Christmas tree.

Upon seeing the reptile’s unconvincing impression of a christmas decoration, Mom screamed bloody murder, swept my toddler sister up on a table and told me to run for help while she stood guard with a broom.  A friendly neighbor helped her knock the Christmas tree over, snake still desperately clinging to the trunk, and roll the whole kit and kaboodle out through the sliding glass door.  We watched nervously through the glass to see if the snake would emerge, but we never got a chance to confirm if the neighbor’s ID of “probably a pygmy rattler” was true. The Christmas tree never came back inside.

What Does This Have To Do With Libraries?
When I was working in Florida and living from paycheck to paycheck, the local library was my entertainment.  I went to lectures on local civil war history, learned to scrapbook, did yoga with some adorable old ladies, saw classic movies. But I will always regret that I did not make it the Indigenous Non-Venomous Snakes lecture.

The idea of someone bringing snakes into a library seemed so wacky that it could only happen in Florida.  Snake lectures are usually held in Nature Centers and Zoos; the only creatures regularly welcomed into the library were the therapy dogs that “tutored” children learning how to read. So why were they doing a lecture on identifying non-venomous snakes in the library?

Well, besides the “Oh, cool! Snakes!” aspect which I am sure drew small children of all ages, this lecture served a specific need in the community: figuring out if that snake on your doormat/wrapped around your Christmas tree/chilling on your patio was dangerous!

Alligators, crocodiles, sharks, colorful spiders–these things are clearly dangerous. But when you find a snake in your garage, you need to know if it is a corn snake, which will leave peacefully on its own, or a rattlesnake, which you should probably run over with your car repeatedly before it bites your children (both have happened to people I know). Having someone explain to you which snakes are venomous and which weren’t, with the visual aid of real non-venomous snakes, would clear up that confusion.

For people like my poor mother, who in her first year in Florida encountered more dangerous wildlife than she had ever encountered in all her years previous, this lecture would have been useful. Instead she learned to identify different snakes through experience, the input of others, and a now well-worn guide to Dangerous Florida Wildlife she bought at a garage sale. The library did not yet have a program that could help her.

But Seriously, What Does this have to do with Libraries?
In order to facilitate, a library has to know its community.  A Minnesotan public library doesn’t need a lecture on non-venomous snakes because the community doesn’t have a major snake problem; however, a Florida community could benefit from that information.  By recognizing the needs of the community and supporting them, no matter how bizarre, the library is facilitating the creation of knowledge for their community.

CAVEAT: Learning about non-venomous snakes does not mean you should pick up that non-venomous snake in your garage (although I have seen people do it). But knowing whether the snake’s bite could kill you or, heaven forbid, what snake bit you, could help when communicating to others, like Animal Control or Emergency Room staff, the gravity of the situation.

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IST 511 Thread 2: Knowledge

Creates New Knowledge based on conversations with Self and Others, records Knowledge

Creates New Knowledge based on conversations with self and others, records Knowledge

Creates Knowledge based on both Internal Conversation between written record of Greek Philosopher's Knowledge and Self, then comes to New Knowledge through conversation with others, Records New Knowledge

Creates Knowledge based on both internal conversation between self and written record of Greek Philosopher’s Knowledge, then comes to New Knowledge through conversation with others, records New Knowledge

Creates Knowledge Based on Internal Conversation with Two Texts (Greek Philosopher's and Enlightenment Philosopher's) and Herself, forms her own conclusions and creates New Knowledge in form of essay

Creates Knowledge based on internal conversation with two texts (Greek Philosopher’s and Enlightenment Philosopher’s) and herself, forms her own conclusions and creates New Knowledge, recorded in form of essay

Call me old-fashioned, but I like artifacts in libraries.  And I know firsthand that not everyone shares my love of old books.

The professor who supported my BA thesis used to get frustrated when I insisted on finding the oldest book in the library for my research on ancient funerary monuments.
“It’s no longer relevant to the field!”, he insisted.
“But it’s from the 1700s! How cool is that?!”, I replied.

My parents were frustrated when they came to pick me up from college because I “accidentally” adopted several crates of books from the early 19th Century that the library had weeded out from their collection (apparently, they were no longer relevant to the field) and left in a box labelled “FREE”.  Although I told my parents that they should be glad I had not adopted a dog, they made me leave the books behind.

I can agree that knowledge is a uniquely human construction and that libraries should foster the creation of knowledge, but I also believe that books,  as the surviving remnant of past knowledge, are essential to the process.

So please don’t burn the books. I haven’t finished memorizing Fahrenheit 451 yet.

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IST 511 Thread 1: The Mission

Thoughts from readings and group work for IST 511, based on Thread 1: Mission of the Atlas of New Librarianship by R. David Lankes

Working in the hospital, I met a man who said that everyone has an invention in their minds that can change the world if only it is created.  For a while we talked about his inventions in the past (new design for a boat propeller) and the inventions his son was making now and then we went on to talk about the development of submarines during the Civil War, a topic I was much more comfortable talking about because it was military history.   I didn’t want to tell him that I didn’t have any inventions I was hiding away, because I didn’t want to admit that my thoughts weren’t world-changing.

After my first week of classes, I started to have a sinking feeling that I was in the wrong place.  Constantly we were challenged to think of ourselves as innovators, entrepreneurs, and challengers to the preexisting system.  The expectation for constant innovation and advancement of the field seemed a heavy burden to place on someone who was still trying to not get lost on her way to class every day.  Changing the role of libraries in the community seemed Sisyphean considering how little people like to accept change.  Just look at how much people complained when the layout format in Facebook changed!

But with some time, as I figured out how to navigate the campus, I also came to the realization that I wasn’t alone in this pursuit of innovation; the people who came before us in the iSchool and the people who would follow were also working toward this goal.  If I want to work in a field that will be relevant in the future, I need to think about how to make it relevant now.  Graduate school goes beyond learning databases and the Dewey Decimal system; we have to study the big picture of globalization, technological advancement and social change in order to find a place for the field we hope to someday join—New Librarianship.

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