Little Things Mean A Lot

by

One of the principles of embedded librarianship is that librarians are  important whether they work in libraries or not. In exploring the landscape of embedded librarianship, I’ve encountered embedded librarians who are part of library organizations (but spend a lot of time away from a library space), and others who are not part of a library organization at all.

My focus on this principle makes me hyper-sensitive to rhetoric that over-emphasizes the institutions and minimizes, de-values, and depersonalizes the professionals. I think this happens a lot, subtly, in our professional literature.

A case in point is the headline “Libraries Applaud Dismissal of Google Book Search Case” on p. 10 of the Jan-Feb 2014 issue of American Libraries. Why “Libraries” and not “Librarians”? The source of the applause mentioned in the article is the Library Copyright Alliance, a coalition of ALA, ACRL, and the Association of Research Libraries. The first two of these three have individual, not institutional members. The only person quoted in the article, other than the judge, is ALA President Barbara Stripling, who is presumably speaking for all those individual members.

So, again, why not “Librarians Applaud …”? Substituting the institutions for us professionals lends subtle credence to the old stereotype of librarians a self-effacing mice, and implies that our opinions as professionals don’t count, only our institutional identities count.

On the positive side, a better balance is struck in Barbara Stripling’s President’s message in the same American Libraries issue, p. 6. It’s entitled “Advocating for School Librarians: The Peril and Promise of School Libraries.” As the title implies, it addresses both the need for professional teacher-librarians, and the role of the library as space in the educational setting.

Getting this balance right is critical. Emphasize only “libraries” and we’ll get just rooms full of books (and maybe computers), passively administered, possibly by staff members who lack the professional skills to embed themselves and their resources into the educational mission. Such libraries won’t deliver value, and will play into the hands of those who might like to cut them out altogether. Instead, we need skilled and motivated professionals who can demonstrate in their work day to day why  they are essential to the education of our children, and that cutting them out jeopardizes our future as a society.

(By the way, you can read both these articles and more at http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/issue/januaryfebruary-2014 .)

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One Response to “Little Things Mean A Lot”

  1. salgore Says:

    Thank you for stating this problem so clearly. It’s significant. Our organizations and institutions seem to fret about and work towards promoting the value of libraries without ever realizing that the value of librarians is different.

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