When I went to library school, the school was actually IN the library, so there wasn’t much question about us having our own library. The Paul Wasserman Library — an independent library at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies — is having its collection and staff folded into the main library on campus. CIS students are predictably unhappy about what they see as a rather sudden and disdvantageous change. A few of them have started the Save Wasserman blog. If you’re curious who Paul Wasserman is, you can read his commencement speech (pdf) to the graduating class of 2005.
I’ve started swimming at the local pool because I’m out of shape and swimming is about the best exercise that doesn’t leave me gasping for breath because of my asthma. I’ve done it all of two days now, so I’m not bragging, just had an observation. There are a few lifeguards at our pool. When I was a kid at the pool the lifeguards were hunky older kids. Now that I’m an adult, I’m somewhat amused to find that the lifeguards are children. The pool has a long set of complex rules to follow, most of which I understand and some of which I don’t.
I found myself on one end of the pool yesterday contemplating a swim to the other side when I remembered one of the rules: “no swimming in the diving area.” I’m not sure what that means. I’m not sure if I was in the diving area, I was certainly in the roped off section of the pool where the diving board is, but that’s half the pool. I’m not sure how you get out of the diving area without swimming, so maybe they meant “no lap swimming.” I’m not sure if that’s one of those rules that’s only for kids, in the same way all the kids have to get out of the pool once an hour so the lifeguards can have a break, but the adults don’t have to. I considered asking one of the lifeguards, but she was up on a big tall chair and I felt like it might be sort of a stupid question. I stayed on the side of the pool for a while before I decided to forge ahead, figuring someone would stop me if I were wrong. Can you see where I am going with this?
I had one of those “Aha!” moments where I realized that my feelings of confusion probably mirrored how people feel in the library all the time. All I wanted to do was enjoy the community resource, but I was having a hard time understanding the norms, and was trying to avoid attracting attention from the powers-that-be. There are a lot of rules, some of which are very important and some of which are less important. Some of the rules are severely enforced, some of them are occasionally enforced, some of them are never enforced. They are usually enforced by the librarian, who gets his/her authority from places unknown [to most people who have a loose idea that they work for the town/city]. Rule enforcement can be a gentle reminder or a harsh reprimand. The librarian can often be inaccessible in various ways [refdesk as barrier, computer monitor as barrier, lack of smile as barrier] and patrons often have the feeling that the librarian has “real work” to do that does not involve helping them.
I think we’ve made great strides, as a professsion, removing people’s physical and technical access barriers from library services. I think more and more people, when asked about their childhood libraries, are going to have positive stories of story times, community programs, and great YA book, instead of stern admonishments and shushing. I also think that the more comfortable we feel within our institutions and with our communities, we may start to forget what our library looks like to someone seeing it for the very first time. That person may be from a different city, state, or culture, and may have a different understanding, or a total lack of understanding, of our library norms. Access also means social access.
This is not my perspective at all, however I don’t think it’s tough to see where these people are coming from. I’m not sure if the linking to fee-based database articles locked behind a password entry page is intentional [see links under the words “been scandalous”] but it has an inadvertent side effect of driving home the opposing viewpoint: we learn and understand through free exchange of information. What that exchange is limited through fees, accessibility, or censorship, we all learn a little less. [thanks steven]
Knowledge for Sale: Are America’s Public Libraries on the Verge of Losing Their Way? [pdf] Utne reader article by Chris Dodge former Hennepin County [MN] librarian and current Utne Reader Librarian. Very very good. You might also recognize a familiar face or two [hi Jenna!] in an articfle in the same issue The New Monastic Librarians [pdf]. What do they mean by monastic? Dodge Explains
Like those who once copied texts as a way to save them for a more enlightened time, a cadre of “new monastic individuals” must take up the task of protecting the knowledge they love.