Last week in my intro course to Librarianship, I stumbled upon an abyss of possibilities when it comes to the occupational identity of librarians. I was introduced to a variety of different schools of thoughts and paradigms of what a library is and the function of the librarians that attend to them.
In many parts of Europe, the library functions more as a facility for the preservation of culture. In the Americas, libraries are collections of primarily books, magazines and dvds. In the ancient world, libraries were cultural centers where knowledge was being created and scrolls and artifacts and records were only incidental to that process.
It seems to me that the role of libraries change depending on who’s describing the library, the time period, the location and the “cultural objective.” Which brings me to the central question I was left to sort out at the end of class. What exactly does it mean to be a librarian?
If the library, as it is in parts of Greece, is to be a para-museum, are we cultural documentalists? If the library, as it is in most of the Western sphere is a series of collections of recorded knowledge, are we mere organizers, categorialists, and stewards of books? Even more provocative is the remaining possibilities: if the library is a sort of cultural center for the transmission and inspiration of ideas, are we the disseminators of knowledge? Are we cultivators of information literacy? Are we stewards of information regardless of what form it takes, be it scroll or book or electronic file?
The conclusion that we were left with at the end of class was that the Librain’s work has an activist spirit to it consistently. Librarians are to “improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their [respective] communities.”
WOW. Talk about pressure! Pressure to overcome biases and ignorances within communities to encourage the creation of unbiased information; to overcome our own biases and ignorances; to traverse and erode social, economic, linguistic, racial/gendered/ablist barriers in the dissemination of information to create nigh-universal access to information; to cultivate literacies and high-order thinking; and to stay relevant as people doing this work in a world where information isn’t stored in simply a “destination” like the library building, but is available on Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook (whose goal is increasingly to facilitate in the sharing of information themselves) and a variety of mobile applications.
So now, I’m not so much left with a question of what a librarian’s purpose is. The question I have now is, “how do we do it all?”