Archive for April, 2014

Public Libraries, Little Free Libraries, and Embedded Librarians

April 28, 2014

It’s time I got around to posting something about my experience at the Texas Library Association conference earlier this month. I had a great time! It’s a huge event — I heard that the total attendance was over 7,000. That makes it probably the second biggest conference of librarians in North America, next to ALA.  One thing I particularly value is that it it takes a holistic view of librarianship, and tries to appeal to all sectors and contexts. Naturally, it’s dominated by public and school librarians, but there’s plenty for academics, librarians in the corporate sector, and other specialized settings too. Thanks to that breadth, I was pleased to note the presence of some public and school librarians, as well as academics and specialized librarians, at the sessions on embedded librarianship. Similarly, I benefitted from the opportunity to hear speakers whom I might not otherwise encounter, like Ross Todd speaking about evaluation in school library media programs, among others.

But my most surprising experience was my conversation with Todd Bol, co-founder of the Little Free Libraries program. (littlefreelibrary.org) Coincidentally, I’d had my own first close encounter with a Little Free Library just a couple days before. I noticed a newly-installed one outside the Janney School, a public elementary school in the Tenleytown neighborhood of Washington DC, and took a picture of it, which I used in my presentation. 236

So I mentioned this to Todd, and we fell into a lengthy conversation. I learned what an extensive network of Little Free Libraries exists, how well organized is the effort to sustain it, and something of its history. I won’t repeat all the details here; you can go to the website to check it out. (And I encourage you to do so.)

The point is, the Little Free Library movement facilitates and leverages local initiative. Where Little Free Libraries thrive, it’s because someone in the community believed in the idea enough to take initiative, and the community supported it.

So, what’s the relationship between Little Free Libraries and the local public library? Are they competitors? Should they have nothing to do with one another? Or is there a role for public libraries to engage and partner with the Little Free Libraries? I think the latter. But not to take over Little Free Libraries, or sponsor them, or manage them. That would undermine their fundamental strength, which is community, volunteer-led initiative. Rather, I can imagine ways that public libraries could support and encourage the Little Free Libraries in their communities — everything from publicizing them (and maybe planting the idea for others to start them) to hosting meetups of local Little Free Library stewards. The idea would be to facilitate, not to control. That kind of relationship is true to David Lankes’ mission statement for librarians: to facilitate the creation of knowledge in their communities. It seems to me it’s also consistent with John Pateman and Ken Williment’s principles of community-led public libraries, as well. (See their book, Developing Community-Led Public Libraries.)

This could be one element of a public library’s community engagement strategy. Obviously it shouldn’t be the whole strategy. There are other needs that the Little Free Library doesn’t meet, and that the public library needs to be involved in. But it’s one way of magnifying the energy that already exists in the community — and it’s one more opportunity to embed librarians in the community as well.

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Embedded Librarians in Second Life

April 24, 2014

I’m looking forward to joining Dr. Valerie Hill (Valibrarian Gregg) and the ACRL Virtual Worlds Interest Group in Second Life for a presentation / discussion about embedded librarianship, this Sunday, April 27, at Noon SL Time (US Pacific time) / 3 p.m. US Eastern. It’s free, so if you haven’t been in SL in awhile, this is a great time to dust off your avatar and join us! Here’s Valerie’s tweet about it, which gives the Second Life map location:

Diverse Initiatives, Common Challenges

April 21, 2014

I’ve posted my presentation for the Texas Library Association Conference on Slideshare, at http://www.slideshare.net/davidshumaker/shumaker-diverseinitiativescommonchallengesapril2014 . It’s entitled “Embedded Librarians: Diverse Initiatives, Common Challenges.”

I especially enjoyed preparing this presentation, because it gave me a chance to some ideas that had been percolating for quite a while: that different sectors of librarianship are experiencing similar pressures and undergoing similar trends, but we are too stovepiped as a profession to notice, most of the time. I took an audience poll at the beginning of the session and was delighted to find that there were public librarians and school library media specialists in the room, as well as academic, corporate, and other specialized librarians.

If They Close the Library …

April 2, 2014

“If they close the library, how will they know they even have a librarian?” I’ve heard this statement before, and I heard a variation on it again yesterday, in a conversation about information services at a nonprofit organization. I wonder if it’s still a widespread concern among librarians. If it is, that’s sad, and troubling.

It implies that the visibility and value of the librarian come from the size of our domain, the number of volumes, the square footage, the listing in the office directory. In the age of information ubiquity, that attitude is the gateway to irrelevance.

Now, I do believe there are plenty of contexts in which the physical library is important and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But even in those contexts, we have to start with the question, what does the community need from us? If the answer includes a physical library, fine. If the physical library needs a book  collection, fine. But in other contexts, the answer will be that the community no longer relies on a physical library space, or collection. And regardless of the answer, librarians must demonstrate that they add value by applying their unique professional expertise, not only as custodians of buildings and collections. In those cases, the space and collections are the platform, not the pinnacle.

So, here’s my answer to the opening question: “Because the librarian is going to get out there and connect with the community and contribute to its members by applying the skills of librarianship!”

What’s yours?